Wednesday, February 28, 2007


A special report posted today on the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) features a satirical poem by reformist Saudi Arabian author and journalist Waheja al-Huwaider titled "When," which she describes in the introduction as "an ode to the troubles of the Arab citizen." The MEMRI post, which contains excerpts from the poem, can be viewed at, and is worth your time in reading. Considering the wonderful world of bliss that Islamic militants want to impose on the world, this satirical commentary from inside the Arab-Islamic world is a telling reminder of the differences between the 21st century in which we live, and the 7th century to which they would return us. Here are a few excerpts from the poem:

"When covering the woman's head is more important than financial and administrative corruption, embezzlement, and betrayal of the homeland - do not be astonished, you are in an Arab country…

"When you see that the authorities chop off a man's hand for stealing a loaf of bread or a penny, but praise and glorify those who steal billions - do not be too surprised, you are in an Arab country…

"When you are forced to worship the Creator in school and your teachers grade you for it - you can be sure that you are in an Arab country…

"When land is more important than human beings - you are in an Arab country…

"When young women students are publicly flogged merely for exposing their eyes - you are in an Arab country…

"When you cannot find a single garden in your city, but there is a mosque on every corner - you know that you are in an Arab country…

"When you see people living in the past with all the trappings of modernity - do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country.

"When you discover that a woman is worth half of what a man is worth, or less - do not be surprised, you are in an Arab country…

"When religion has control over science - you can be sure that you are in an Arab country.

"When clerics are referred to as 'scholars' - don't be astonished, you are in an Arab country."

This is a reflection of the joyous future the Islamists would force upon the rest of the world. Aren't you excited?

An interesting comment was made yesterday in an interview aired on National Public Radio. A representative of the UK Foreign Office (if I remember correctly) was being interviewed on the subject of the deportation of radical Islamists back to their countries of origin, and the interviewer asked whether this was not illegal or immoral, as these persons could face torture or execution in many cases if returned to their home countries. The response was interesting and elegant: the interviewee noted that the countries to which these deportees are most likely to be returned - Saudi Arabia and Pakistan - are ruled by Islamic Sharia law, the very law the Islamic radicals want to impose across the entire world. This being the case, why should they object to being returned to places where they will enjoy the divinely-inspired justice they want to bring to the rest of us?

Why indeed?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Weapons of Mass Persuasion

There are many things I find frustrating about the war in Iraq and the larger, ill-named "Global War on Terror," but one of the most maddening is the way we have ceded the information war to our enemies.

In an interesting article in yesterday's Washington Times, reporter Jim Saxton wrote about the brilliant war al Qaeda and its partners have waged on video and the internet, demonstrating a keen appreciation for what moves their intended audiences. The explosion of roadside bombs and the killing of American soldiers by snipers appear on the internet and in professionally-produced DVDs, accompanied by stirring music, poetry, and narration. Masked murderers and the bearded, turbaned mullahs who encourage them pump out video tapes and internet websites which incite their followers to violence with the most rabid and disgusting hate speech, masquerading as religious pronouncements and self-righteous anger against the evil West.

The fact that this happens at all is maddening, but what's even more frustrating to me is that we don't fight back. The American media replays the hectoring videos of vile morons like Osama bin Laden and his murderous flack Ayman al Zawahiri, yet objects when our own forces try to insert good-news stories in the newspapers. I somehow doubt that Iraqi insurgents consult their huge staffs of lawyers to worry about whether their activities are legal before doing them, while we allow our hands to be tied in this way.

What's wrong with this picture? Why is it permissible - indeed, legally protected - for thugs and murderers to freely distribute their hate propaganda, while American attempts to distribute our own information (okay, our own propaganda) are fought tooth-and-nail by our own media?

Welcome to what Thomas Hammes, a retired Marine Colonel, refers to in his book The Sling and the Stone as "fourth generation warfare" - warfare which "...uses all available networks--political, economic, social, and military--to convince the enemies' political decisionmakers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit."

No one on earth can beat the US military in a stand-up fight. But we can beat ourselves if we allow ourselves to be attacked by weapons of mass persuasion without firing back with our own. It's long past time to take back the initiative from the bad guys and those who would protect their speech while limiting our own.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, February 26, 2007

13 Things That Don't Make Sense

Not long ago, I ran across an article from the March 19th, 2005 issue of New Scientist Space titled "13 things that do not make sense." Of course, a title like that attracted my attention, and I discovered it to be a fascinating summary of 13 scientific oddities that have been observed and documented, and yet appear to be impossible according to the accepted laws of science. The observations range from the realm of cosmology (dark energy and dark matter in the universe) to nuclear chemistry (cold fusion) and medicine/psychology (the placebo effect), and make fascinating reading.

You can find the entire article online at, and it's worth reading if only to open your eyes to how strange the world around us really is. I remember reading a quote somewhere in which a scientist commented that the universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but it's queerer than we can suppose...and it's true.

Lots of things don't make sense to me, but most of them don't fall into the realm of science. Regular readers of this blog know they include topics like support for illegal immigration, unquestioning support for unrestricted ownership of firearms, and blind, unthinking political or religious faith. These are things that don't make sense, yet are within our power to understand and fix if we have the common sense and the political will. Since that's not likely to happen, it's somehow comforting to know that there are other things that don't make sense, can't be explained, and can be accepted with a sense of wonder, rather than a sense of outrage.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jim Zumbo, the Second Amendment, and Common Sense

A story in yesterday's Washington Post provides a cautionary tale about the employment of vast power driven by blind faith. No, it's not a story about fanatical religious zealots in the Middle's about people right here at home. It's about the ruthless, single-minded power of the national gun lobby, as represented by the National Rifle Association.

The story, in a nutshell, is this: a popular, respected outdoorsman and 40-year member of the NRA named Jim Zumbo made a comment in his blog in which he criticized the use of military-style semiautomatic assault rifles like the AR-17 (civilian version of the US Army's M-16) and the Russian AK-47 for hunting, especially of small game like prairie dogs. In the most inflammatory part of his blog post, he referred to such assault weapons as "terrorist rifles."

The response from the NRA and from gun owners nationwide was immediate, predictable, and overwhelming. Despite profuse apologies bordering on grovelling, Mr Zumbo was villified from every direction. His formerly popular TV show has disappeared from the air, the Remington Corporation has cut all sponsorship ties with him, and he has been forced to resign his position at Outdoor Life magazine. He has, in short, been ruined by the ferocious response of one of the most powerful organizations in the United States today.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is the holy writ of the gun lobby. It reads: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. These 27 words have been the source of some of the most bitter Constitutional and social arguments in the history of the United States. They have been parsed and analyzed in countless studies and legal cases at every level: the exact meaning of "a well-regulated Militia," "necessary to the security," and "infringed" have been endlessly analyzed and debated, but the Second Amendment remains a political third rail no one in Congress is willing to touch...and the fall of Mr Zumbo shows why.

I've written about this topic before in this blog. I am neither an advocate of strict gun control nor of unlimited and unregulated ownership of firearms of any kind. As with most things, I advocate a healthy dose of skepticism and common sense in approaching the issue. One of the favorite bumper-sticker level matras of firearms advocates is "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." That's true, of course, but it might be more accurate to say "Guns don't kill people, but people are able to kill more people, more easily with guns." I have never killed anyone, but I think it's pretty obvious that it takes time, effort, and strength to strangle someone, or beat them to death with a blunt object, or land a fatal blow in a contested knife fight. On the other hand, a loaded gun ready to hand can deliver a fatal injury almost instantly, at a distance, and with very little effort or time required for reflection. Once fired, a bullet can't be recalled to the barrel of the gun when sudden remorse strikes the shooter.

Gun advocates often cite the need for defense against external threats, and even our own government, as reasons for a need for unchecked gun ownership. In my case, though, I think I'm much less likely to be threatened by official organs of my government or by a foreign terrorist than by an angry man with a perfectly legal arsenal and a deadly grudge.

I can't think of any scenario that will cause people on all sides of the gun issue to exercise reason and common sense. If the Columbine High School massacre and the more recent Utah shopping mall murders aren't enough, I don't know what is. I have often written in this blog about the danger of blind faith and fanatical belief in an idea. Usually, I'm referring to blind religious belief, but the single-minded focus and imperviousness to evidence of the NRA and other gun advocates is very similar. Of course, an NRA zealot - no matter how fired up with the righteousness of his or her belief in gun ownership - isn't likely to murder those who object to that idea, whereas a political or religious fanatic will. But the nearly mystical belief in the sanctity of gun ownership has led us to a situation in which the nation is awash in weapons, many of them of military quality and with no particular sporting value. The only thing that keeps us from the sort of anarchy we see in Iraq and in the larger Middle East (areas also awash in guns and explosives) is the traditional American sense of tolerance, fair play, and respect for the rule of law.

Unfortunately, tolerance and respect for the law also demand empathy and common sense, and these appear to have been checked at the door as people arrive for the discussion of reasonable firearms regulation.

I'm sure the unfortunate Mr Zumbo will find another job, but his swift and brutal crushing by the mighty power of the gun lobby should provide a cautionary tale worthy of serious thought and analysis.

Read the Second Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1791, and think about what it means in the context of the social and political realities of the year 2007. If you approach it with an open mind, you may come to some disturbing, if obvious conclusions.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

The "Real" Tax Rate

This is the time of year when most of us complain about our taxes, Republicans vow to cut our taxes, and CPAs and professional preparers make a fortune either calculating those taxes or coming up with creative ways to avoid them. An interesting article on the MSN Money website puts taxes into a better perspective by pointing out that the federal income tax which is the focus of most of our complaints and tax-time anxiety is only one part of a very large range of taxes, most of which we don't even think about or are not aware of. These other taxes add up, making the real tax rate many people pay 40% or more instead of the smaller but more visible part we shell out to the IRS on April 15th.

There is, in fact, a vast array of taxes we pay daily, weekly, monthly, or annually. In addition to the visible state and federal income taxes, it includes sales taxes, Social Security taxes, real estate and personal property taxes, sin taxes on tobacco and alcohol, excise and utility taxes levied at the state and local level, inheritance taxes, and a wide range of taxes on businesses which are often passed on to the consumers, buried deep in difficult-to-read monthly statements. Adding all these other taxes together gives an average real tax rate of about 40%.

As so often happens, your government and the major political parties are not telling you the whole truth. They all ignore the true tax burden you and I face every day: the sum of many different taxes, some of which may be small individually, but which add up to a very large sum over the course of a year.

So, as you grit your teeth and crunch your personal economic numbers this tax season, remember that the income taxes you are calculating are only the tip of the tax iceberg. Real, honest tax reform won't come from reducing taxes across the board (the Republican view) or readjusting them to make higher-income taxpayers pay more (the Democratic view) - it will come from a serious assessment of tax policy across the board, and from a realization that taxes are not meant to be a vehicle for social policy engineering, but to raise operating funds for the government. A realistic tax policy will balance tax burdens at the federal, state, and local levels to bring coherence to an overly complicated, out-of-control system. Someone once said that the country needs a tax system that looks like it was designed on purpose; unfortunately, we probably will never get one, because the ability to curry favor with tax breaks and other tax-based incentives is too deeply rooted in our system of government.

But it's a nice thought.

If you would like to read the MSN Money article on which I based this post, you can do so at

Have a good weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Driving While Yakking

The Virginia House of Delegates yesterday passed a bill which prohibits teenagers from talking on, sending text messages on, or taking picture with their cell phones while driving. Cell phone use would be a secondary offense, meaning that offenders would only be cited if they had already been stopped for another moving violation.

While I think this is a good thing, I think it's stupid to limit it to teenagers. Each day I walk from the local Metro (subway) station to the shopping center where I park my car, and cross a busy intersection at which at least 50% of all drivers roar through the right turn even when the light is red, not bothering to look for pedestrians. If they look around at all, they look to see if they can beat whatever traffic is coming from the left, not for pedestrians crossing from the right...and most of them are also chatting happily on cell phones.

Driving is inherently dangerous, and requires the driver's full attention. I've seen some pretty amazing driver tricks on our massively crowded Northern Virginia highways - drivers not just talking on their cell phones, but eating, putting on makeup, reading newspapers, or carrying on conversations with back seat passengers. Given all this, a law banning cell phone use while driving is a great idea for drivers of all ages even if it only removes one potential source of distraction.

The larger issue, though, is that you can't legislate against stupidity. If we could, we probably couldn't build jails big enough and fast enough to hold all the offenders.

But it's a nice thought.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Getting Ready for the Next Big One

As I write this, I'm listening to the Diane Rehm Show on National Public Radio, and the discussion concerns the concept of resiliency, the ability of our nation to recover from natural disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina) and man-made catastrophes (such as 9/11 or a major industrial accident). You can also read an article on this topic by homeland security expert Stephen Flynn (who is Diane's guest on the show) on the CNN website at

This is a very important topic, but receives little attention because it isn't sexy. It concerns things like stockpiling of emergency equipment, establishment of tough construction standards in disaster-prone areas, setting realistic insurance rates, and a million other general public and private infrastructure measures that help us recover from disasters. Because it's not sexy, it tends to be ignored until disaster strikes, at which time state and federal agencies point fingers at each other, outraged Congressmen (who previously ignored the issues) thunder and posture for the cameras, and people who in many cases should have known better plead before the TV cameras for public help in recovering from their plight. Many of the actions which build resiliency also have economic impacts that provide immediate pain without immediately-visible benefit - high insurance rates in disaster-prone areas hurt now, regardless of the aid they'll provide later, and the construction industry doesn't like construction standards that add time and cost to their products.

Let's look at this dispassionately for a moment. One reason for the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina was the failure of the levees which protect the low-lying parts of the city. Those levees failed in large part because millions of dollars allocated for their repair and maintenance were diverted by the Federal government to other uses. And now, as New Orleans struggles to recover, we find people demanding assistance and cheap insurance so they can rebuild in areas which have proven to be high risk. Are we obligated to help them take such a risk?

Hurricanes are a fact of life. They happen every year. And yet we continue to build huge cities and homes directly on the most threatened stretches of coastline. Katrina devastated New Orleans. What will happen when another Katrina strikes Miami head-on? Or when a giant nor'easter hits New York? Will we have the resiliency to recover, or will we see the same flailing exercise in governmental ineptitude at all levels that characterized trans- and post-Katrina New Orleans?

Emergency preparedness and resiliency aren't sexy. They are mundane activities that eat up resources and don't show any return on investment - until they're needed, at which time they are valuable beyond price. We all gripe about paying insurance premiums until we need to make a claim, at which time we're glad we paid them. It's time to start paying more attention to the un-sexy street-level planning that provides the insurance for our critical infrastructure.

Because when the next Big One hits, it'll be too late.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Taxman Cometh

At six o'clock this evening I will have one of my most dreaded meetings of the year. Armed with a portfolio full of receipts, forms, and other documents, I will meet with Pat, the nice lady who, each year at this time, calculates my income tax.

As I've written here before, I don't object in principle to paying taxes. Taxes are, after all, the vehicle by which we provide our government with the funds it needs to operate. Taxes indirectly pay my salary, as I work as a contractor supporting a Federal agency. But I do object to some things.

I object to the fact that many people, especially those in the far upper income brackets, are able to hide large portions of their income from taxation using shelters and dodges unavailable to the average low- to middle-class taxpayer.

I object to the fact that many huge corporations pay no taxes at all.

I object to use of the tax system for social and political engineering, rather than for raising money to run the government. Consider that the standard Republican (and often Democratic) approach to funding new programs is by granting tax credits to targeted groups.

I object to the fact that my taxes are used to pay benefits of any kind to persons who flagrantly violate the law to enter and live here illegally, and then demand services to which they should not be entitled.

I object to the fact that much of the money we pay in taxes is spent to support nations which then villify us in the world community.

I have a lot of thoughts on the subject of taxes, and between now and April 15th I'll share them with you in this space. For now, the key points are these:

Taxes are a necessary evil.

We have a duty to pay them.

We have a duty to ensure that our government spends the taxes it collects from us wisely.

Hold these thoughts, and we'll discuss them later. In the meantime, cross your fingers for me as I get ready to meet Pat - a very nice lady who can either make me happy or reduce me to financial tears. I'll let you know how it comes out.

Have a good day. More thoughts later.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Rights - vs - Responsibilities

A few days ago, one of my friends sent me an article from Human Events Online titled Liberalism is Philosophically Un-American, written by Rabbi Aryeh Spero. As usual with such things, I was irritated by the needlessly inflammatory wording of the title, agreed with some of what the author wrote, disagreed with some of it, and was spurred to further thought by the whole thing.

You can read the whole article for yourself at if you want, but for now, let's concentrate on the first sentence, which reads: "Three of the distinguishing features of our historic American outlook are the emphasis of (1) right over wrong, (2) liberty, and (3) judging a person as an individual, not simply as a member of a group." I think this is a profoundly important thought which captures the source of both the best and the worst of America.

As you know if you read this blog regularly, I strongly believe that one of the things which sets America apart from most of the rest of the world is our emphasis on the rule of law - of right over wrong, as Rabbi Spero expresses it in his article. Although it's true that the quality of justice one can expect is enhanced by celebrity or the amount of money one can spend on lawyers, in general, our legal system is the envy of the world for fairness. Beyond home-grown justice, though, the traditionally American sense of right over wrong has led us to intervene, sometimes heavy-handedly, in support of oppressed populations (consider the Balkans, Iraq, and Somalia); actions which may be taken in good faith, but which often end up being condemned around the world for one reason or another (anger over national impotence, jealousy, political gamesmanship, etc). But the real focus of my comment today centers on Rabbi Spero's other two points: liberty and judging a person as an individual, not simply as a member of a group. While these are both key elements of the American character and national experience, I think they also contain the seeds of many of our current problems.

The unprecedented level of personal freedom enjoyed by Americans, and our traditional encouragement of individual initiative, have helped us to create the economic, industrial, and social superpower that now is the focus of both the world's envy and its jealousy and hatred. But here's the problem: where do the rights of the individual intersect with the individual's responsibility to the larger group? Much has been written about this topic, but only around the edges of the debate; it's the real third rail of American social intercourse. The relationship of rights to responsibilities is anathema to both the conservative Right and the liberal Left, albeit for different reasons. Conservatives generally venerate the rugged individual, unfettered by silly things like big government and overly-restrictive laws; Liberals generally see the larger group as more important and threatened by an over-focus on the rights and privileges of the individual. As with so many discussions of social issues, the argument has been hijacked by the extremists of the Right and Left, and it doesn't get the serious attention it deserves.

You don't have to look far for examples of over-focus on the individual. Magazines like People, Us, and Self celebrate the activities of celebrities (which frequently aren't the sort of actions I'd prefer my grandchildren to have as examples of good behavior). An empty-headed plastic quasi-celebrity like Paris Hilton, a tragic failure like Anna Nicole Smith, or a useless professional celebrity like Kato Kaelin (who?) get headlines, while the social workers, scientists and researchers working for the betterment of the larger society are relegated to page 6 of section D of your newspaper. Bill Cosby lectures the black community about its responsibility to set a positive example and free its young people from the culture of thugs and drugs, and is villified by that community for not blaming white America for its problems, instead.

Individuals empowered by liberty and economic opportunity and protected by the rule of law made America great. Individuals willing to set aside their ethnic and religious differences and work together made America the envy of the world, and incurred its jealousy.

The individual or the group? Which is more important? Neither. The individual, nurtured and empowered by the larger group, is the engine that built America. But no one in modern American society really wants to say that.

Have a good day. The next time you demand your rights, think also about your responsibilities. We didn't get where we are today without both.


Friday, February 16, 2007

News Flash: Darwin Claimed Responsible for All the World's Evil!

One of my friends sent me an article from yesterday which fawningly reviewed a video presentation titled Darwin's Deadly Legacy. According to the article Jerry Newcomb, one of the program's two co-producers, claimed that "...Darwinian theory, 'which is scientifically bankrupt, has probably been responsible for more bloodshed than anything else in the history of humanity...'" He goes on to claim that "Darwin led to eugenics, which led directly to Hitler," and blames Darwin and the theory of evolution for everything from Hitler and the Holocaust to the Columbine High School massacre to modern attempts by parents to choose the sex and attributes of their children. One D. James Kennedy, PhD (although the subject of his doctorate is not given) hosts the video, and is quoted in the article as saying' "To put it simply - no Darwin, no Hitler."

I think the producers and their backers need to go back to school and learn to separate their religious beliefs from their science.

First of all, to blame Darwin and the theory of evolution for the twisted Nazi racial theories is just like blaming the inventor of gunpowder for the deaths of everyone who has ever been killed by a firearm. Dr Kennedy describes the theory of evolution as "a set of theories based on a crumbling scientific foundation." Evolution is a theory, true, but it's a theory with a pretty impressive load of scientific evidence to back it up. It's certainly not a perfect theory, as even its supporters will tell you, but it certainly has more factual scientific evidence supporting it than pseudo-scientific "theories" like Intelligent Design, which is nothing more than the Biblical story of Creation masquerading as scientific fact.

Adolf Hitler's racial concepts were shaped and motivated by a lot of twisted ideas that were current in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It wouldn't surprise me if Darwin's theory was churning somewhere in that mix of ideas, but to baldly state that Darwinian theories led directly to Hitler is ludicrous, and to quote Karl Marx (as Mr Newcomb did) as if his limited endorsement of Darwin's ideas proves the point is just silly.

The sad fact that the theory of evolution is being applied by some parents to select the sex or other attributes of their children doesn't make the theory itself wrong or inherently makes the application of that theory by human beings unfortunate. I would point out that devout Christians have committed unspeakable evils according to their interpretation of the Bible (more so in the past than today), and that radical Muslims do the same almost every day. But no one criticizes the Bible as being responsible for such actions, and radical Muslims will threaten to behead you if you imply that the Koran is anything other than perfect.

I think it's infuriating that people swallow claptrap like this video without thinking it through. Regular readers of this blog know that one of my recurring themes is that unthinking reliance on blind faith, whether religious or scientific, is a dangerous thing. Yesterday in this blog, I wrote about the latest flip-flop in the state of Kansas's attempts to decide whether they will craft their school curriculum according to accepted scientific theories or conservatively-dictated religious pseudo-science. True science has, for the moment, won out in Kansas. The Darwin's Deadly Legacy video, unfortunately, shows that the pseudo-science is still alive and well.

I'm sorry for all the people who will watch this documentary and swallow it whole without looking to see what agenda is being pursued behind it.

Don't let anyone - least of all me - do your thinking for you. Be skeptical. Study claims of truth from all sides. And learn the difference between hard science and quasi-religious demagoguery.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Evolution of Kansas Schools

One of the third rails of American education is the teaching of the theory of evolution, particularly to elementary and high school students. Religious groups, believing that evolution contradicts the biblical story of Creation, have spent years fighting through local school boards and the courts in an attempt to ban the teaching of evolution and to insert in its place the "theory" of Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is, of course, nothing more than biblical Creation dressed up as quasi-science.

In December 2005, a US District Court in Pennsylvania issued a thorough and devastating decision which effectively demolished the teaching of Intelligent Design in Pennsylvania. Judge John Jones's 139-page decision (Case 4:04-cv-02688-JEJ) clearly showed that the Dover School District's requirement to have the local schools teach Intelligent Design as an alternative to Darwin's theory of evolution was nothing more than a attempt to present religious doctrine as science, in violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state.

The gold standard for religious meddling in the teaching of science, though, has been Kansas, which has won international ridicule for its heavy-handed attempts to push religion-based concepts as science in its schools. But according to recent news reports, new elections in Kansas have brought more moderate and fewer religiously dogmatic persons to the state Board of Education, and new teaching standards reflecting mainstream science and the theory of evolution are being reintroduced into the schools.

While this is good news, it should also be noted that this event marks the fifth set of standards for Kansas schools in eight years, and could easily be overturned in another year or two if religiously conservative lawmakers are elected again.

Readers of this blog know that I am fiercely critical of dogmatic and intolerant followers of Islam, but I am equally critical of hidebound fundamentalist Christians and Jews who would slavishly apply the literal precepts of religious texts written nearly two millenia ago. Over the years I have come to have little respect for those who would impose - by force, in the case of Islam and by law, in the case of Christianity - their religious beliefs on others. Religions have been hijacked by their most extreme adherents, and have drifted far from their valuable role in providing a moral compass and guide to life in a complex time.

Kansas has won a small victory for rationality in education. One can only hope it will last, and that people of goodwill and strong moral fiber will seize religions back from those who would wield them as weapons.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Muslim Commentator Speaks Out

Because it doesn't happen very often, it's news when a Muslim actually dares to point out some of the absurdities of Islamic behavior and the glaring differences between the words and the deeds not only of radical Islamists, but of the Muslim mainstream. On the website of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI, which you can link to from this blog) is a translation of an article by an Iraqi reformist columnist named 'Abd Al-Khaliq Hussein in which Mr Hussein attacks the behavior of Islamic radicals and holds up the Pope and the nations of western Europe as examples of religious tolerance. You can link directly to the article here:

This is a very significant article, well worth your time in reading. I don't know anything about Mr Hussein's background and the amount of authority his opinions carry with other Muslims, but when any Muslim has the courage to stand up and criticize the lunacy of radical - and even mainstream - Islamic behavior, it's worth listening to him. Mr Hussein paints a devastating picture of the glaring difference between Muslim protestations of tolerance and the reality of their behavior, using their own words and symbols to make his point.

Here's a very simple, yet telling example: in discussing the violent Muslim reactions to Pope Benedict's comments about Islam in a speech last September, Mr Hussein writes, "I don't know why these people - especially the Muslim Brotherhood - deny the role of the sword and violence in the spreading of Islam. Arab-Islamic history is full of wars and raids ... the logo of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has a picture of the Koran and two crossed swords, as is clearly seen in the following picture:
"We see under the sword hilts the slogan 'Make Ready,' which is the beginning of the Koranic verse [8:60]: 'Make ready for them whatever you can of force and horses of war with which to frighten Allah's enemies and yours.'" He goes on to write later in the article, "The Pope taught a hands-on lesson in rapprochement among religions, civilizations, and cultures. He also gave an inspiring hands-on lesson in religious tolerance when he visited the Blue Mosque in Istanbul...and prayed with Muslims while facing Mecca. ... This is religious tolerance, oh Muslims. Do you have sufficient courage and humility to do the same? ... When will Muslims be governed by rationality and wisdom, and by the essence of true Islam in the interpretation of religious texts in their historical context and in accordance with the currrent era, so as to live in peace with the world? Is anybody listening?"

This is a very good question. The entire Muslim world is spring-loaded to take offense at the least hint of criticism or perceived insult, but has no problem with heaping the most vile and repulsive slander on Christians and Jews. The Council on American-Islamic Relations loudly protests any perceived criticism of Islam or allegations of discrimination against Muslims in this country, but is utterly silent about the outrageous behavior of radical Islamists (you can check it out yourself at their website,

Is anybody listening?

Yes, someone is listening - but all the listening and all the efforts at tolerance are coming from the western nations, and from the Christians and Jews who are so loudly maligned by Muslims.

Perhaps there are more Muslims out there like Mr Hussein, people of good will who can see that the Muslims are often their own worst enemies, that they create by their own actions the discrimination and anti-Muslim feelings they so loudly protest.

Perhaps those people are out there...but if they are, their complete lack of moral courage is demonstrated by their silence.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Let's Say I Break Into Your House...

Regular readers of this blog know that I have very strong feelings on the subject of illegal immigration. What's endlessly frustrating in this whole affair is the overbearingly righteous attitude of those who defend people who flagrantly violate the law, then not only expect the violation to be forgiven, but also expect to be rewarded for this in various ways.

One of my friends sent me the following, which supposedly is a letter written by a lady to her local newspaper. I've edited some of the spelling and grammatical errors, but it's otherwise as I received it:

"Recently large demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting the fact that Congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration. Certain people are angry that the US might protect its own borders, might make it harder to sneak into this country and, once here, to stay indefinitely.

Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests.

Let's say I break into your house.

Let's say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say:

  • I've made all the beds and washed the dishes and done the laundry and swept the floors.
  • I've done all the things you don't like to do.
  • I'm hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house).

According to the protesters:

  • You are required to let me stay in your house
  • You are required to add me to your family's insurance plan
  • You are required to educate my kids
  • You are required to provide other benefits to me and to my family (my husband will do all of your yard work because he is also hard-working and honest, except for that breaking-in part).
  • If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my right to be there.

It's only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I'm just trying to better myself. I'm a hard-working and honest person, except for well, you know, I did break into your house.

And what a deal it is for me! I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of cold, uncaring, selfish, prejudiced, and bigoted behavior.

Oh yes, I also demand that you learn my language so you can communicate with me."

I don't know if this actually is someone's letter to the editor or not. Knowing how things travel around the Internet, it probably isn't. But it does elegantly reduce the asinine arguments of those who support illegal immigration to a perfectly accurate metaphor.

I've said it before, and I'll keep saying it: this argument is not about immigration. Immigration is the bedrock on which America was built. The argument is about whether or not we choose to reward flagrant and willful violation of the law. It's also about whether or not Congress will finally decide to grow a spine and come up with a fair and reasonable revision of our outdated immigration laws, instead of kowtowing shamelessly in front of a Hispanic voting block they don't want to alienate.

Oh, and yes - going back to the house-breaking metaphor: that person living in your house also expects to be able to vote.

Can you spell stupid?

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, February 12, 2007

Winter in Northern Virginia, Part 2

No deep thoughts today...just a few comments on 'enjoying' Winter in Northern Virginia.

As I write this, the temperature outside my study window is about 15 degrees, the wind is blowing, and we're waiting to see whether the winter storm expected to start this evening will bury us in snow and ice or fizzle out (as so often happens). Forecasting the weather around here isn't easy...we sit on a sort of fault line between weather areas, and the type of winter storms we get depends on a complex mix of arcane factors understandable only to the meteorologists. One sure thing, though, is that we'll have a better time of it than the folks in upstate New York who are digging out from under 14 feet of snow.

Agnes and I often scoff at local reactions to a little snow - I grew up in Western Pennsylvania back when school didn't close unless the snow was deeper than the bus roofs; Agnes grew up in the foothills of the Alps. For us, a snowfall of an inch or two or three - cause for widespread panic and stockpiling of toilet paper and canned goods around here - is cause for a yawn. Ice, of course, is different...we do get lots of ice storms here, which are far more dangerous for driving than snow...but you lives where you do and you takes your chances.

Winter is not my favorite season. While I enjoy sitting in front of a roaring fire, sipping a cup of hot chocolate laced with peppermint schnapps and looking out at an unbroken field of glistening white snow, I much prefer sitting out in the yard, watching the beautiful ladies stolling by in their light summer clothes. For me, the true first sign of Spring isn't the first's the first young lady in a sleeveless blouse.

I'm ready for Spring. I know it's just mid-February, and winter is just getting started, but I'm officially through with Winter. Snow, exit stage left. Cue the sun. Let's get warm.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Shift Happens

One of my friends sent me a link the other day to an extraordinary presentation that I wanted to share with you. At, you'll find a video titled "Did You Know?" that will change the way you think not only about the future, but about the things we do in the present that will shape it.

Over the course of six minutes, this video presents a range of eye-opening statistics and provides food for thought about where we are and where we're going. Here are a few examples:
  • In the year 2002, the Nintendo Corporation invested more than $140 million in research and the same year, the U.S. government spent less than half that amount on research and innovation in education.

  • Each month, more than 2.7 billion Google searches are executed on the Internet. Who answered all these questions before Google was available? (And my own parenthetical question: are the Google-provided answers better, worse, or the same as might otherwise have been obtained? That's a question for a future blog post.)

  • A week's worth of the New York Times contains more information than a person in the 18th century was likely to come across in his entire lifetime.

  • The 25% of the population of China with the highest IQs is greater than the entire population of North America...which means that they may well have more honors children than we have children.

  • And finally, name this country: richest in the world, with the largest military, strongest education system, and highest standard of living; the world center of business and finance, with a currency accepted as the world's standard of value, and the world's center of innovation and invention. The country is 1900.
I urge you to invest six minutes of your day to watch this compelling presentation, and a bit more time to think about what it all means. You may not agree with all the statistics, or with the interpretation offered. But as the end of the video says, "shift happens." Things change. And if we aren't prepared to change with them, we could be the next dinosaurs.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 10, 2007

News Flash: Anna Nicole Smith Still Dead!

Yesterday, I tried to take the high road in looking at the sad life and death of Anna Nicole Smith. Today, I'm fed up with the whole thing.

The story of this quasi-celebrity has been the lead item on CNN and most other national news outlets ever since her sudden death on Thursday, and with each breathless new rehashing of the story more titillating and tawdry details have come out. The latest, as of this morning, is that a third man - a prince, no less, the husband of actress Zsa-Zsa Gabor - has come forward claiming to be the father of her child. And just to complicate the whole paternity kabuki dance a bit more, Smith's sister says the father could also have been Smith's deceased husband, via artificial insemination with frozen sperm.

I'm sorry, but I have to say it: this is beyond stupid. Anna Nicole Smith isn't worth all this attention. She's dead. Get over it. The only part of this bizarre story that's important is the future of her five-month old daughter, who is now the focus of multiple paternity suits by men who don't care about her, only about the vast fortune to which she is now the probable heiress. Everything else about Anna Nicole Smith's vague celebrity and made-for-tabloids life isn't worth the paper it's written on or the electrons that are manipulated to spread the story across the Internet. People are dying in Darfur. American soldiers are fighting for their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. AIDS is still ravaging Africa. Anna Nicole Smith is still dead.

Get over it.

Have a good day. Rest assured I will never again waste your time writing anything else about Anna Nicole Smith.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, February 09, 2007

The Death of Anna Nicole Smith

It's probably a sad commentary on our society and interests when, at a time when Americans are dying in Iraq, the larger Mideast is in turmoil, and thousands are dying every day in Darfur, the lead story on the national news is about the death of a single, sad, quasi-celebrity.

Anna Nicole Smith passed away yesterday from causes yet to be clarified. The 39-year old former topless dancer, Playboy model, reality TV 'star,' and society gadfly leaves behind a five-month old daughter of uncertain parentage and joins in death her 20-year-old son.

Ms Smith will be missed by her family, friends, and fans, but the unfortunate end to her turbulent life calls into question her lifestyle and the way in which we create and devour our celebrities. She leaves behind a squalid custody and paternity dispute over her daughter, a still-unsettled lawsuit over her claim to the vast fortune of her late billionaire husband J. Howard Marshall, and an empty space in vacuous 'reality television' that some other 'celebrity' will surely soon emerge to fill.

I don't understand what people saw in this lady. I didn't think she was especially attractive (you can read previous posts in this blog for my thoughts on feminine beauty and desirability), and if you ever saw any episodes of her TV show or her interviews on CNN's Larry King Live, you could see she wasn't a particularly talented or articulate young woman. She was a creation of her free-wheeling lifestyle and of our general worship of over-the-top celebrities. In a world populated with beautiful, intelligent and articulate women like my wife and many of my coworkers and dance friends, I have to wonder what people could see in a shallow and plastic artificial celebrity like Anna Nicole Smith.

But I don't mean to speak ill of the dead. Her sudden and unexpected death at the end of a short and strange life is a tragedy, and on a human level she has left a gap the lives of her family and friends that only time will fill. As John Donne wrote in his work Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, "Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls - it tolls for thee."

Let's share in the real grief that accompanies Ms Smith's death, while we look at her life as a cautionary tale for ourselves and our children.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

363 Tons of Cash

Can you imagine having so much money that you couldn't count much money that you had to weigh it?

According to testimony in Congress on Tuesday as reported by CNN, between December 12th, 2003 and June 25th, 2004, the United States government shipped more than $5 billion (yes, that's billion, with a b) in cash to Iraq to finance the initial days of Iraqi sovereignty. $5 billion in cash weighs approximately 363 tons, and must be shipped on pallets in Air Force transport planes. It was, according to one member of Congress, the largest payout of U.S. currency in the history of the Federal Reserve.

Three hundred sixty-three tons of dollars. Seven hundred twenty-six thousand pounds of greenbacks. And in a January, 2005 report, the Special Inspector for Iraqi Reconstruction, Stuart Bowen, said that nearly $9 billion was unaccounted for after being transferred to Iraqi ministries.

What on earth are we doing? More important, what are the Iraqis doing? When there's so much money available that it's counted by weight, the temptations are obvious. Three former Army Reserve officers and two civilians stand accused of rigging bids to steal about $8.6 million in Iraqi reconstruction funds, but this is clearly the very smallest tip of the iceberg.

According to the Cost of the Iraq War website operated by the National Priorities Project (, the cost of the war as of February 6th is approximately $378 billion, of which the share for the state of Virginia is $10.2 billion. And what do we have to show for it? Iraq is a bloody shambles, billions of dollars have been squandered, more than 3,000 American service men and women are dead, we still don't know exactly who we're fighting, and our hopes are pinned on a surge in forces that might have helped a few years ago but is of questionable value now.

What could we have purchased at home for $378 billion? How many failing schools could have been improved? How much crumbling infrastructure repaired? How many improvements in our health care system? Instead, we have graft, corruption, and violence on a scale difficult to imagine.

363 tons of cash, with $9 billion unaccounted for. As I write this, I'm looking at the blue plastic folder that contains my tax preparation records for this year. If I make a hundred-dollar mistake on my taxes, the Internal Revenue Service will come down on me like the proverbial ton of bricks with draconian interest and penalty charges, and the threat of going to jail for cheating Uncle Sam, even accidentally. But who is going to go to jail over the loss of $9 billion in Iraq? Who's responsible? L. Paul Bremer says he's not. Military commanders were busy fighting a war. The Iraqis are busy murdering each other. So far, only five low-level scam artists stand accused...and were I a betting man, I'd say they'll probably end up being acquitted.

Where is the outrage? I'm furious beyond words at what my grandchildren won't have because my government squandered so much cash that it had to be measured by the ton, and no one is accountable.

363 tons of cash. Think about it. And be outraged.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Last Harry Potter Story

Scots author J. K. Rowling announced last week that she had completed the seventh and final book of her wildly popular Harry Potter series, and that the book would be published on July 21st. Needless to say, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows shot almost immediately to the #1 position on as a result of pre-publication orders.

Why are these stories so popular with readers of all ages? I think there are several reasons. First of all, they're spectacularly well-written; Ms Rowling's use of the language recalls the brilliance of Charles Dickens. The major characters - Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and the evil Draco Malfoy - are all characters to whom we can relate (who hasn't lived through the high-school agonies of studies, young love, tense relationships with friends, and problems with bullies that plague Harry Potter?). In addition, the stories are masterfully plotted; although they are complex and contain numerous running subplots, everything moves ahead and holds our interest...we keep turning the pages.

These are great stories for both adults and children, although one must admit that as the series develops the plot gets darker and less suitable for the youngest readers; indeed, the last half of the sixth book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, has moments of sheer horror that equal anything ever written by Stephen King. But the glorious beauty of Ms Rowling's writing, her masterful manipulation of the language and delightful use of plot and imagery, make the Harry Potter stories not just marvelous entertainment for all readers, but good examples of the finest in modern written English.

Sadly though, there are some die-hard religious conservatives in America that would keep these wonderful books out of school libraries and away from young readers. These persons believe the books are "satanic" because they "celebrate" witchcraft rather than belief in God. These modern-day Puritans recall, on a somewhat smaller scale, the most severe religious excesses of the ultra-conservative Wahabis of Islam, who would strip life of joy and happiness in the expectation of some imagined future paradise. They don't appreciate the stories for their value as entertainment, they hate them for their exploration of themes with which they don't agree.

Don't let such persons do your thinking for you. If you've not read the Harry Potter stories, read them now. Read them for their plots, their glorious attention to detail, the masterful use of the language, and their wonderful depiction of characters to whom we can all relate.

Go, Harry! You can find me in my local bookstore on July 21st...and after that, don't bother me for about a week - I'll be busy!

Have a good day. Read something that other people don't want you to read.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

The Color of War

Writing in the February 3rd issue of National Journal, Sydney Freedberg, Jr, looks at current data to determine whether ethnic minorities are overrepresented in the American military. The conventional wisdom states that the military is heavily populated with rural, lower-income blacks and whites who have no other economic opportunities open to them, and that by enlisting in larger numbers than more affluent whites, they suffer a disproportionate number of deaths. The results of Mr Freedberg's study will probably surprise you.

He notes first of all that while blacks have for more than 30 years made up a larger proportion of the Army than their overall proportion of the population, that proportion has declined since 2001: in that year, blacks made up 24% of the Army; today, they comprise approximately 14%. In terms of casualties, at the end of 2003 (the first year of the war) 71% of the service members who had died since 9/11 were white and 14% were black; at the end of 2006, the cumulative toll was 75% white and only 9% black. An analysis of military personnel by home Zip Code at the time of enlistment compared to the average income of the neighborhood doesn't provide much illumination. According to University of Maryland sociologist David Segal, who studied the data, about the best conclusion that can be drawn is that "both the richest 25% and the poorest 25% of American society are underrepresented in the military, and the middle 50% of society is overrepresented."

Like all statistics, these are open to many interpretations. Mr Freedberg notes that there are many complex social, economic, and patriotic factors which propel men and women to enlist in the military, those factors vary by race, religion, income level, and geography, and the distribution of casualties is affected by individual military specialties (infantrymen are far more likely to be killed or wounded than, for instance, cooks). But the overall conclusion is inescapable: the old chestnut that Iraq is a poor man's war is not quite accurate.

As a retired career military officer, I understand the sacrifices made by those who wear the uniform. I have seen the great advantages of a military career for improving relations among persons of various races and religions, and for growing shallow young people into strong, self-confident adults. That some of those people will die is a sad and inescapable fact. But we do all of them a disservice when we reduce their sacrifice to a simple question of black versus white, rich versus poor. They're all Americans, and they deserve our support even when we may object to the policies they are called upon to carry out.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Immigration Reform, 1917

And you thought immigration reform was a new topic...

On this date in 1917, with a majority of more than two-thirds, Congress overrode President Wilson's veto and passed the Immigration Act, which required a literacy test for immigrants and barred Asiatic laborers, except for those from countries with special treaties or agreements with the United States, such as the Philippines. Advocates of immigration reform had petitioned the U.S. government as early as 1894 to legislate that immigrants be required to demonstrate literacy in some language before being accepted, hoping to limit the number of lower-class immigrants flooding in from Southern and Eastern Europe. Congress passed a literacy bill in 1897, but President Grover Cleveland vetoed it. In early 1917, with America's entrance into World War I three months away, xenophobia was at a new high, and the bill restricting immigration was passed over President Wilson's veto.

This provides an interesting historical perspective on the immigration issue. In 1917, the immigrants everyone worried most about were Eastern Europeans and Asians - not Hispanics or Africans. Then as now, the concern was with the potential effect on the US economy and society of large numbers of undereducated immigrants. But a critical difference between 1917 and today is that in 1917, the Immigration Act sought to limit legal immigration; today, we look for ways to keep out people who simply ignore the law and flood illegally into the country in search of work and social benefits.

My paternal grandparents came to the US from Hungary - legally - in the early years of the last century, and I brought my wife to the US from Germany - legally - nearly 25 years ago. While the US is a nation built by immigrants, it's also a nation of laws. When we pick and choose which laws we will obey based on abstract concepts of perceived social and economic justice, we lose one of the things that sets us apart from the rest of the of the reasons, in fact, that so many people try to come here, legally or illegally.

After all, how many people do you see risking arrest and deportation to break into social paradises like Mexico, or Saudi Arabia, or Bangladesh? I think you get the point.

I haven't fulminated about illegal immigration in this space for a while, but today seemed like a good day, given the anniversary of the 1917 Immigration Act. While that legislation was ill-conceived and probably could never get through Congress today, in 1917 it seemed like a good idea. Immigration reform is still desperately needed, and it's too bad we'll likely never see comprehensive legislation: the conservatives only want punitive measures, the liberals only want to follow their ideas of social responsibility, and no one is willing to compromise. If you read back far enough in this blog, you can find my proposal for a comprehensive reform of our immigration policy. I sent it to my senators, my representative, and the White House...and received very nice form letters telling me how seriously each recipient took the problem and how hard they're working to solve it.

And it doesn't take a lot of effort to see how far that's gone.

Have a good day. Support legal immigration - it's what made this country the envy of the world.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Peace Be Upon Whom, Again?

The Quran, the holy book of Islam, begins with the words, "In the Name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful." A standard expression in the Islamic world, when referring to Mohammed or other major religious figures, is "Peace be upon Him" (so frequently used that it's often simply abbreviated "PBUH" in English translations).

For a religion which places such emphasis on the graciousness and mercy of God, and on the wish of peace upon people, graciousness, mercy and peace continue to be in miserably short supply across the Middle East, and particularly in Iraq. Yesterday, an enormous truck bomb killed more than 100 people and injured more than 200 in a crowded Baghdad market. Sunni and Shi'ite militants continue to murder each other at a horrifying rate - an Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman said that more than a thousand people have been killed in the last week alone in various acts of sectarian violence.

As I asked in my post on January 25th: where are the voices? Where are the Muslim religious leaders with the courage and humanity to condemn the staggering violence committed in the name of their religion? Why is the Council on American-Islamic Relations so concerned with filing lawsuits about alleged discrimination against Muslims in this country instead of taking a stand - loudly, publicly, in the Middle East, and in Arabic - against the horrific actions that turn much of the Western world against Islam?

In short, where is the graciousness?

Where is the mercy?

Where is the peace?

It's long past time for Muslims to stand up and be heard for something other than self-righteous prosteletyzing and hectoring denunciation of those who don't believe as they do. It's time for them to get their own house in order, to show each other - and the rest of the world - that Islam is what they claim it to be: a religion of graciousness, mercy, and peace.

But, as always, I'm not holding my breath.

Today is Sunday, the Christian day of rest and worship. In the Catholic Mass, worshipers are exchanging a sign of peace with one another. While that's going on, Muslims in Iraq and Gaza and elsewhere are exchanging bombs and bullets.

Peace be upon whom, again?

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Face of Impending Doom

Got your attention with that title, didn't I?

Actually, it comes from a young lady who dances with us on Friday evenings. The "Face of Impending Doom" is the deer-in-the-headlights look of sheer terror she wears when she suddenly realizes she'll be asked for a dance by some partner she knows will zip her around the floor, dragging her through patterns she doesn't know. The "Happy Face," on the other hand, is the thin-lipped, clenched-teeth smile that says, "Oh, well, it's only a three-minute dance, so I may as well make the best of it!"

But there's another set of meanings we can apply to the Two Faces of Katy, and they relate to the ongoing debate over global climate change. Yesterday's release of the long-awaited scientific report which concludes that human activity is "very likely" the cause of global warming highlights the two faces of the climate change argument: The Face of Impending Doom is worn by those who see climatic catastrophe in our future if we don't mend our ways now; the Happy Face is worn by those who maintain that current global warming is only a phase of normal global climate variations which are measured in thousands, if not tens of thousands of years. The Face of Impending Doom points to the cautionary movie The Day After Tomorrow; the Happy Face says things are really okay, and warns of the economic collapse of life as we know it if actions necessary to fight global warming are taken now.

Who's right? Were I a betting man, I'd put my money on the hard science behind yesterday's report. Even without scientific analysis, I think it beggars the imagination to think that the activities of billions of humans don't affect the environment. It's true: living is bad for your long-term health.

I'm reminded of a joke by the great Jewish comedian Myron Cohen, who told of a frail, skinny fellow who showed up at a lumber camp looking for a job. The head lumberjack just laughed at him and told him to go away, that he was obviously too weak for such a manly job. The man asked for a chance to prove himself, so the boss told him to take an axe and cut down a one-inch sapling. Slice, the man cut it with hardly an effort. The boss then told him to cut down a three-inch tree. Slice, and the tree was down. A six-inch tree. In seconds, the little man had it on the ground in pieces. Now the lumberjack took the man to a mighty, towering oak and told him to cut it down. The axe flew, and in minutes the huge tree was nothing more than stacked firewood. The lumberjack was amazed, and asked the little man where he had learned such skill with an axe. "In the Sahara Forest," the man replied. "You mean, the Sahara Desert," corrected the lumberjack. "Sure, now," said the man.

Yes, humans can drive climate change. It's happening. And the way to resolve it isn't by putting on either the Face of Impending Doom or the Happy's by putting on the Face of Resolve and doing what needs to be done.

Have a good weekend. Resolve to educate yourself about global climate change. And Katy, thanks for the use of your faces.


Friday, February 02, 2007

Too Many Boys

Yesterday my friend Jake sent me a very interesting essay by Herbert Meyer titled What In the World Is Going On? A Global Intelligence Briefing for CEOs. The article addresses four major transformations the author believes are shaping political, economic, and world events, each of which he contends has "profound implications for American business owners, our culture, and our way of life." The four transformations are The War in Iraq, The Emergence of China, Shifting Demographics of Western Civilization, and Restructuring of American Business. Today, I'd like to look at the shifting demographics issue.

It's no secret that the American population is getting older as the birthrate falls and the existing population ages. The same is true in Western Europe and, to a far greater extent, Japan. This has profound implications for the social fabric and the economies of these regions, as fewer young workers will be earning the money and paying the taxes to support an ever-increasing elderly population which requires a wide range of social and medical services. But another problem, which has been quietly noted for some time, is the growing surplus of boys, particularly in Asia.

Many families in Asia prefer to have boys, who can go to work and help support the family, rather than girls, who are viewed as less valuable. This preference, coupled with technologies which allow the sex of an unborn child to be determined during pregnancy, has greatly skewed the proportion of male to female births across Asia. In an article in the March/April 2006 issue of Foreign Policy magazine titled The Geopolitics of Sexual Frustration, Martin Walker analyzed the birthrates in various Asian countries. What he found was shocking: while Nature's general ratio is 105 male births to every 100 females, in China and parts of India that ratio is 120 to 100; in Taiwan it is 119/100, in South Korea it's 112/100, and in Singapore it's 118/100. In some regions of China, the disparity is even greater - as much as 136/100.

What does this mean? Essentially, that Asia will have an enormous surplus of young men who reach sexual maturity and are unable to find wives. And what will all these sexually frustrated young men do?

That's the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. In his book The Lucifer Principle, Howard Bloom theorizes that women have historically selected mates on the basis of a capacity for violence that will protect them and their children. Is that true in a modern, industrialized society? Probably not, at least in general. But as more men contend for the favors of fewer women, things could probably change. Think about two drunks in a bar slugging it out over the privilege of wooing the same woman...and multiply it by millions. It's a scary thought.

So if you needed something else to worry about besides global warming and intolerant radical Islam, here it is. The face-off between an aging West and a young, overly male, and sexually frustrated East just might be the biggest problem our coming generations will face.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

America's Ballroom Challenge

Although there are a lot of topics out there that require serious commentary and thought, this morning I want to write a few words about some great television we watched last night: the first installment of "America's Ballroom Challenge."

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm an avid amateur ballroom dancer, my wife is a dance teacher, and we participate in ballroom competitions as a Pro-Am couple. In my opinion, there's not a better sport for keeping you healthy, socially connected, and mentally alert. In last night's program, six couples competed for the American Smooth championship - and the dancing was just as great as you would think it should be at that competitive level. The head-to-head group dance competition was great, but the show dance routines were truly amazing. In particular, Mazen Hamza and Irina Sarukhanyan's show dance, which combined a powerful tango with a complex karate kata, was fantastic and took a well-deserved first place in that part of the competition. This was the incredible climax of their routine:
I encourage you to watch the show for the fun and excitement of an elegant and powerful sport. You can find the schedule and more information at the PBS website for the show ( And once you've watched it, why not give ballroom dancing a try yourself? If you need a sport to help keep you in shape, you can go to the gym and lift weights with a bunch of sweaty show-offs, or you can run a few miles ... or you can take a beautiful lady in your arms for a fast Quickstep or Viennese Waltz.

It's the most fun you can have with your clothes on.

Have a good day. Take some dancing won't regret it!