Sunday, December 7, 2008

Within Reason Will Be Back Soon - Stay Tuned...

A redesigned Within Reason page will be unveiled in the coming weeks. Please continue to send comments, suggestions and pieces to, and stay tuned.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Searching for Uncommon Denominators

Like Governor Mike Huckabee before her, VP candidate Sarah Palin turned in a suprisingly strong performance on Saturday Night Live this week. This begs the question: "Can these candidates ever be taken seriously?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Quick Hits

A few things that have had me thinking...

Wardrobe Malfunction
If history is to serve as any sort of barometer, Barack Obama would be wise to take care in choosing his outfits over the next 3 weeks:

Life, Liberty and Viagra
During the second Presidential debate, the candidates were asked if they viewed health care as a right or a responsibility. Senator John McCain replied that he viewed health care as a responsibility, while Senator Barack Obama proposed that health care is a right. This is a matter on which I have (briefly) written about in the past - see below - and one that promises to move toward the national forefront once this election is decided. Regardless of opinions, the matter brings forth an interesting question: If health care is a right, should Americans need to pay for it any more than they should their other rights? For example, we have the right to a fair trial, and if we cannot afford an attorney we are granted one. It is our right. No one debates the affordability of private attorneys, and no one debates that wealthier citizens can afford better legal protection. Should the same be the case for health care? It will be interesting to see how a potential President Obama constructs his argument for the idea of health care as a 'right.'

The next 4 to 8 year period has the potential to see the seating of as many as 4 Supreme Court Justices. Their views on health care as a 'right', along with the views of the rest of the Justices, may become very important. I believe there is a real chance that after repeated failures on a legislative level, the health care debate could move into the judicial realm.Obviously, the leanings of our next president, who will appoint these judges, may play a large - but somewhat secondary- role in expanding health care. As Mr. Fitzgibbons points out, even a Democratic president, more likely to favor a 'universal' approach, faces a nearly deadlocked Congress. As an example, the Oregon House of Representatives last week failed to pass a resolution that would add a clause to the state's constitution asserting each Oregonian's 'right to health care.' A national initiative would most likely face the same fate. However, by beginning to frame this issue as a matter of 'rights', a president, through careful judicial selections, may indeed advance (or conversely squelch) this topic further than previously achieved and provide a foothold for further action.

reprinted from Running a Hospital, March 3, 2008

Social Insecurity
Can we all agree now that it is a very, very good thing that President Bush was unsuccessful in his bid to privatize Social Security several years back? Of course, it would have expedited the fulfillment of his prediction that the system would be bankrupt by 2010.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

The world lost one of its true leading men this week when actor Paul Newman succumbed to cancer at the age of 83. Newman, best known as an actor for his roles in the films Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Color of Money, and many, many others, was equally well known as a great philanthropist. Through his Newman's Own Foundation, he has donated over $250 million to charity over the last two and a half decades.

Instead of trying to summarize, praise, and reflect upon this accomplishment, I feel it is more appropriate to follow Mr. Newman's example. Visitors to this site will notice the inclusion of advertising space throughout the pages. It will be the policy of the Within Reason blog to donate 100% of the revenue generated from advertising to Newman's Hole in the Wall Camps, as a small, heartfelt tribute to Mr. Newman and the principles in which he believed.

Visit to donate directly to the foundation, or for more information on how you can contribute to other charitable causes, please visit, or call them at 201. 818.1288.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Quick Hits

A couple of things that have had me thinking...

A quick, ahem, note to all those who are asking for the Federal Government to abstain from taking on a greater regulatory role over the American economic markets. These are some of the same folks who like to say "It's my money, not theirs." Well, take a close look at the dollar bill pictured above. There it is, in plain English, right above George Washington's head. A quick translation: it is our money.

If these knuckleheads on Wall Street, and those who share their laissez-faire views on economic regulation don't realize that they're ultimately playing with house money, how can supporters of increased regulation be faulted for wanting to prevent these glorified gamblers from going all in over and over - and losing every time?

A key function of a Federal Government - even to the staunchest conservative - is to ensure the equitable distribution of resources to its citizens. Therefore, the government is well within its right to act as overseer of a financial market - and the fiscal climate cannot always be used to consider the extent of regulation. Before you disagree with this point, consider if you're debating the "distribution" or the "equitable." Either way, it's going to be a moot point if this sort idiocy is allowed to continue. The markets can not, will not or do not regulate themselves.

Ready or Not...

If Sarah Palin is ready to be Vice President, and potentially President...

...does that mean this young man is ready to be named head of the Environmental Protection Agency?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Palin Identity

This clip, and actor Matt Damon's comments, have caused quite a stir these last couple of days. Since his entrance into the public forum, as an actor, Damon has often been an outspoken political commentator from the left of the political spectrum. Damon has often faced criticism for sharing his views and voicing his opinion - as every American has the right to do.

Damon, and other liberal celebrities who voice their political opinions, are frequently criticized for exercising this right. They are told by those who do not share their opinions that they should stick to what they know - making movies, music, and the like. To some, this may seem a fair argument, after all, what does a Hollywood actor really know about politics? Does Matt Damon have a grasp on intelligence gathering because he has starred as an American foreign operative? Has Martin Sheen gained a special perspective of the presidency by portraying our Commander-in-Chief on television? Of course not, that's like implying Bill Pullman should be elected President should our planet be attacked by aliens.

Now ask yourself this: Who was Mike Huckabee's most influential endorser this primary season? None other than action star Chuck Norris. The late Charlton Heston was politically active, and need I mention Arnold Schwarzengger? Why is it that these actors are considered legitimate political entities, while the liberals I mention above are cast off by the mainstream as loudmouthed radicals? The answer is just as Matt Damon explains it - in America, a bad Disney movie beats an insightful drama every time; and as time goes on, our political theater is turning into just that: theater. Maybe liberals would be wise to embrace their Hollywood peers and create their own Sonny Bono, their own Fred Thompson, their own Ronald Reagan. Or maybe, as Damon implies, politics is not theater.

As Americans, we all have the right to voice our opinions. Further, we all have the right, within the frame work of the Constitution, to seek political office. In this instance, the case is simple. Damon is well within his rights to voice his opinion. Palin is well within her rights to be running for Vice President. However, Damon needs only his citizenship as prerequisite to ably exercise his right. As for Palin, well, ask Matt Damon.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

All is Not Lost

It's been a difficult few days to be a New England football fan. One needn't look back that far, though, to find a point of reference, a scenario that casts some perspective on the recent turmoil that has set in upon Patriot Nation.

It was one year ago this week, following Week One of the 2007 NFL season, that New England Patriots fans were smacking from another, much different bombshell. After a Patriots' drubbing of The New York Jets, the controversy that was to become known as Spygate came to light, and a season long storyline was introduced. Now, the Patriots and their fans find themselves in another dramatic predicament. After the loss of their star quarterback, Tom Brady, the season is in serious doubt, and the nay sayers are again circling above. Just as in 2007, however, all is not lost. Don't believe me? Well, consider the following:

Who Are Those Guys?: Here is a list of quarterbacks not named Brady to appear in Super Bowls since the 2000 season (*denotes winner): Trent Dilfer*, Kerry Collins, Kurt Warner, Brad Johnson*, Rich Gannon, Jake Delhomme, Donovan McNabb, Matt Hasselback, Ben Roethlisberger*, Rex Grossman, Peyton Manning*, Eli Manning*.

Sure, there are Mannings, a McNabb and a Roethlisberger, but for every MVP there is a Trent Dilfer, a Rex Grossman and a Brad Johnson. The idea that this a quarterback's league has been a bit overblown and artificially inflated by the advent of pass-friendly rule changes and the fact that you cannot watch t.v. for eleven minutes without seeing a commercial featuring one of the Manning brothers. Granted, new Patriots starting quarterback Matt Cassel will be a lucky man if he ever finds himself on any list of starting Super Bowl quarterbacks, but so would Philip Rivers, Carson Palmer, Tony Romo or Drew Brees. Each of the "second tier" quarterbacks on the list above had one thing in common: an excellent supporting (or leading) cast making up the team around them. Sound familiar?

The Favre Factor: Speaking of The Jets, they've suddenly become a popular pick to dethrone The Patriots as AFC East champions. These are the same Jets who last year won a total of four games, two of them coming at the hands of the lowly Miami Dolphins (who won only one game last season). Why this sudden, perceived turnaround from zeroes to potential heroes? A new quarterback, Brett Favre. Farve is a great quarterback, certainly, but in order to seriously contend for a division crown, a team must realistically aim to win ten games. For the Jets, this would mean a swing of six games. That is a tall order, especially when being placed, for the most part, in the hands of one man. Is it possible for a quarterback to have a six game effect on a team's record? Time will tell. In the case of the Patriots and Matt Cassell, a six game swing from last year's regular season total would put the team at ten wins, and in serious contention for the division crown.

You'd Better Be Sure: Last year, during the Spygate controversy, the Patriots did what they have done so many times over the course of their recent dominance: they banded together as a team. As has become their habit, the team adopted an "us against the world" attitude. Do you think the fifty-two players on this year's roster are having trouble coming up with a rallying point for this season? Better yet, do you think it wise to tell Richard, Rodney, Tedy, Randy, Wes, Laurence or any of the others that they no longer seem a threatening bunch? I'm sure there is some one out there, a la Pittsburgh's Anthony Smith, or former Eagle Freddie Mitchell - both of whom took the risk of publicly questioning the legitimacy of the Patriots and paid for it - who will. Well, you'd better be sure.

The Patriots and their fans have been through these situations before, and not only survived - but thrived. Last year, following week one of the NFL season, I wrote a commentary piece regarding the situation of The Patriots following Spygate. The closing words still ring true today:

"Where then, does this leave us? It leaves us exactly where Coach Belichick has always us wanted to be: rooting for a team that everyone is out to get. But this time, instead of having to conjure up Freddie Mitchell or a beat writer for the Charlotte Observer, he can point to the plain reality that is confronting his team."

Go Patriots.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Quick Hits

A few things that have had me thinking...

Money in the Bank - The world is waking up today to the news that the Federal Government is planning to "partially" assume control of the giant lending institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sounds like a good idea, seeing as they are both in serious danger of failing, and combined they control between $5 and $9 trillion of the nation's housing market. Of course, this is going to cost a lot of money. On the order of anywhere between $50 to $250 billion over the course of the next nine months to a year. Who will foot this bill? The taxpayers, of course. Don't worry, though; the 94 - ish percent of us in the workforce can pool together and get through this. It's not like our economy is in shambles, or we have two wars to fund, or that fuel prices are at all time highs. Here's my idea: Let's all return those DVD players, flat screen T.V.s and other gadgets and gizmos we purchased with our tax relief stimulus checks. You remember those checks, right? They were sent out to you courtesy of our President, all part of a plan to stimulate our economy. Well George, consider the economy stimulated. These tax cuts have added $3 trillion to our national deficit. That kind of cash might come in handy at times like these, but what do I know? File under: Call it a wash.

Just Win, Baby - John McCain caused quite a stir when he selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate on the 2008 Republican Presidential ticket. Another maverick move by an outside the box thinker, right? Well, not so much. In fact, just another example of the Republican tactic of doing whatever it takes to win. Now, don't get me wrong - having a female on major party ticket for only the second time in history is a noteworthy event, but the circumstances of Palin's selection are dubious at best.

In selecting a female, John McCain engaged in an obvious ploy to court female voters disenfranchised or discouraged by Hillary Clinton's exit from the Democratic race. Plenty of people disagree with this view, and many would label my opinion as 'sexist.' I argue that the sexism comes from the selection itself. Selecting a running mate based on a set of criteria that not only includes gender, but places it at the top of the list - that's sexist. The ploy is even more transparent when placed against McCain's stated goal to staff his administration with the most qualified and experienced Americans, regardless of their party affiliation. Palin's experience and qualifications, as far as being second in command, are shaky at best. This selection seems to have been the product of some hybrid Help Wanted/Singles ad:

WM seeks MWF for partnership, possibly more. Experience a plus, but not required. Must love America, Big Oil and family values. Qualified candidates please reply to US RNC as soon as possible. Background information helpful, but a full check will be run upon acceptance of the position. Country First!

Animal Cruelty - There is a lot of animal imagery tied up in our national political culture. From the mascots of our two major parties, to terms like hawk and maverick, to the very icon of our nation - the bald eagle. These animals, for the most part, are meant to embody noble, positive traits that we find in ourselves. We can debate the admirable qualities of some one labeled a "war hawk" and question how the Democrats got stuck with the ass as their party symbol, but where along the line did the pit bull become a noble beast? Forgive me for offending pit bull owners, of which there are many (and please don't tell your dog I've said this), but pit bulls are, at best, extremely dangerous attack dogs around whom you have to be on guard at all times, and at worst they are (by canine standards), fairly unintelligent, overly inbred attack dogs that maim and kill more Americans every year than any other animal.

Pop quiz: What animal does Sarah Palin choose to politically personify herself as? A pit bull! And, if you replace the "unintelligent" (Sarah Palin is very intelligent), with "uninformed", Sarah Palin was a pit bull during her RNC acceptance speech. Now ask yourself: why is that a good thing? Of course, Palin's peers have frequently used a different animal to draw analogy to her: the barracuda. To recap - What's the difference between a pit bull and an Alaskan hockey mom? Lipstick. What's the difference between an Alaskan hockey mom and a barracuda? Lipstick and lungs.

Nit Picking - Not a lot of press has gone to this story, mostly because it's more amusing than important, but it's still worth pointing out. During John McCain's acceptance speech, around the time he was speaking about veteran's affairs and his own personal experience of being medically treated upon his release from a P.O.W. camp in Vietnam, a picture was displayed on the giant monitor behind him of Walter Reed Middle School in California, not The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington as was clearly intended. The McCain campaigns response? We meant to do that! “The changing image-screen was linked to the American thematics of the speech and the public school was simply part of it,” said spokesman Tucker Bounds. Of course, I suppose they can't really admit the truth, which would go something like "The unpaid intern we had doing the audio visual work must have just typed 'Walter Reed' into a Google image search and picked the first one he saw. Our fact checker didn't catch the error because we do not have a fact checker."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Finding Our Level

In 2000, after weeks of battling the Republicans in Florida, Washington D.C., and the rest of America, the Democratic party - and Al Gore, decided to "get over it" and conceded the presidential election to George W. Bush. Gore's concession speech (video above) marked the end of this disputed contest, one which, evidence shows, was actually won by Gore.

Some heralded Gore's move as a sign of bravery, some saw it as a cowardly gesture of defeat. Few, however, could foresee the dreadful consequences that lie in store for our nation as its result. This concession marked the dawn of the Bush era, a president who's doctrine can best be summed up as "What are you going to do about it?" This concession by Gore set the political tone for the next decade, a tone that, unfortunately, still echoes today.

During the course of events that played out in Florida and across the nation in the fall of 2000, Gore supporters were told to let go, to face the "facts", and give up the fight. They were told to reconcile with the inevitable, stop whining, to get over it. In the interest of the nation,for the good of the whole, as it were, the Democrats conceded, handing Bush an illegitimate victory. And so the stage was set for the era of political capital, executive privilege, and a win at all costs ideology more suited for the gridiron than for the Oval Office. The United States, as a consequence, has suffered its most dreadful decade in a century, enduring untold and unforeseen hardship, all the result of a winner-take-all, loser-silently-step-aside mindset that has corrupted our most basic principles of democracy.

So after eight years of Bush's presidency, and the aforementioned woes that have plagued us, how does the Democratic party respond? By stealing a page from the Bush playbook to hijack the core elements of our democratic system, and exploit the intricacies of our electoral processes to install a candidate who's candidacy and rhetoric ring an eerily similar, albeit dis-tonal chord to that of George W. Bush and his followers.

Now, nearly eight years later, with the Democratic party convening "in unison" - all delegates seated and present - to nominate their candidate for the presidency, many are again being told to "get over it", to stop whining, to get with the program; and while the victor's supporters may be looking forward to possibilities of an America unrealized, there are those who have already seen a crucial element of the American anatomy dissected and discarded: the ideal that contends that there is no truth too difficult to comprehend, no honest vote that shall be left uncounted, no voice left unheard.

In a political system where victory is the ultimate prize, freedom shall be the first casualty. We, as Americans, must ensure that our democratic institutions are honored and protected, and not exploited, no matter the convenience presented by circumstance. Democracy is not the folly of the weak, the sport of the treacherous, nor a spoil for the victor. It is the voice of a people, the protector of decency, and the beacon of our nation.

Final popular vote results for the 2000 presidential election:

Gore - 50,999,897 Bush - 50,456,002

Electoral Votes: Disputed

Final popular vote results for the 2008 Democratic primaries, tallying the votes of all states and territories who's delegates are seated at the convention:

Clinton - 18,046,007 Obama - 17,869,542

Delegates: Disputed

Clinton has now played her part by conceding, and throwing her support behind Obama. Now, as was the case in 2000, the burden of unity falls to the victor. Obama must make every effort to heal the wounds caused by this bitter contest, no matter how superficial they may seem to his core supporters. As was pledged by George W. Bush in 2000, this task must be given the highest priority. Unlike Bush, Obama must carry this duty through to completion and unite the party that nominates him.

Our nation has been bruised, but has survived George W. Bush and his flagrant misuse of power. The Democratic Party is not strong enough to sustain a similar misstep from one of its own.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

If We Were French

As the world has been transfixed by the amazing accomplishments of Jamaica's Usain Bolt at this year's summer Olympics, I cannot help but think of an alternate scenario, one which would see our nation cry foul over the unbelievable chain of recent athletic events. To fully understand this alternate reality, one must bear in mind that the United States of America has gone without winning a gold medal in any sprint (100m, 200m, or 400m relay) competition for the first time since 1976. Let us imagine for a moment, that instead of celebrating Bolt's accomplishments, as we have, the nation chose to view Bolt as a phony, an affront to our national pride:

Surely, for this transgression against our national pride to have occurred something must be amiss. How can we just sit back and let this arrogant perpetrator relish in his achievements, basking in what must be an artificially attained glory? How can we let the legacies of Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson et al be tarnished by such a blatant act of cheating? Usain Bolt, a promising sprinter prior to these games, but in no means a contender for greatest sprinter ever, has suddenly - and suspiciously hastily - thrust himself into the hall of sprinting greats. Are we to believe this is a product of will power, of determination, a spectacle displaying the extent of humankind's ability? No. Instead, remember Ben Johnson, Linford Christie, and the cacophony of foreign cheats that have repeatedly tried to soil our national parade ground that is the Olympic sprinting medals podium.

Sound pathetic and unbelievable?

In short, it is; and it's disgraceful as well. Of course, that hasn't stopped another nation from taking this exact course of action when one of their beloved sports was dominated by an outsider. I'm referring, of course, to the treatment of Lance Armstrong by the French. A national hero in America, Armstrong is, to this day, considered a villian in France. As with Bolt, there is no reason to believe Armstrong's heroics were the result of anything other than unmatched preparation and unbelievable execution. The French, sadly, have chosen to believe otherwise.

So, let us continue to praise Usain Bolt for his amazing feats, and quietly note our own abilty to gracefully acknowledge when we have been bested by a superior athlete; for sport is still one of the arenas where Americans still display all of the characteristics and qualities that makes us a truly great nation.

P.S. Even though it may go against a lot of the dignity I speak of in this article (and taking into account what a polarizing state Texas has become recently), you've still gotta love this bumper sticker (Lance has publicly worn a tee-shirt emboldened with the same phase):

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Quick Hits

A few quick ideas that have had me thinking...

- While reading up on a story this morning detailing the Obama campaign's efforts to defend their supporters against implications that they are "mindless fans", I noticed that I could enter the official Barack Obama webpage via a link on the page. I could not help but think that if the Obama campaign is trying to shake the image of a mindless herd of followers, maybe "Join Us" is not the best invitation. Perhaps "Find Out More" or "Enter"?

- This is not meant to be offensive or demeaning to any gymnast or their fans, but how is gymnastics considered to be a competitive sport? I understand the degree of difficulty, the mastery of the form, and the supreme physical condition that these gymnasts are in, but how can this be a sport if winning and losing is based solely on the opinions of judges? I understand that more traditional sports, via officials and umpires, etc. have their own opportunity for human opinion and error, but this is different. If gymnastics, figure skating, and the like are sports, why isn't competitive painting? Even speed painting, were it to exist, would have a time limit.

I understand that there are greater arguments over what makes a sport a sport. Is golf a sport? NASCAR? Darts? Maybe, maybe not. But let's put it this way: Kyle Busch won this past weekend's NASCAR race because he finished the race first, faster than anyone else. Jimmie Johnson had some really nice, artistic maneuvers along the way, and he drives a prettier car, to boot. He finished seventh.

- Gasoline prices, on a national average, have declined for 26 straight days. That's despite this period seeing a hurricane, two tropical storms, increased summer demand and an armed conflict in Georgia (the former Soviet Republic) that this morning shut down a major oil pipeline. What factor could be behind this suprising*, unexpected* drop? Hybrid technology? Stability in the Middle East? The discovery that liquified Alaskan Caribou antlers make a great synthetic oil?

It could be all of the above, but my money, literally, goes with the fact that this is an election year - and we've been down this road before. So the next time you are reminded how precarious the international oil situation is (and it is), warned that foul weather in the Carribbean, civil unrest in Nigeria, and not voting Republican can all have a negative effect** on oil prices, consider how effectively costs can be controlled when there is so much money on the line.
*To some
**For consumers

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A Pleasant Diversion

Electric Breeze - Ian McCarty

For a change of pace, I thought I would post a piece of music that I've been tinkering with on and off for quite a while. Feedback is welcome (though please try to keep any criticisms constructive), and please excuse the low production value (hence the tinkering). I hope you enjoy listening!

- Note: To allow the playing of this track, the autoplay feature on the WithinReason Radio player has been disabled. You may listen to WithinReason Radio by clicking "play" on the playlist widget.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Who's on First?

(CNN): A Florida man is using billboards with an image of the burning World Trade Center to encourage votes for a Republican presidential candidate, drawing criticism for politicizing the 9/11 attacks.

"Please Don't Vote for a Democrat" reads the type over the picture of the twin towers after hijacked airliners hit them on September, 11, 2001. Mike Meehan, a St. Cloud, Florida, businessman who paid to post the billboards in the Orlando area, said former President Clinton should have put a stop to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda before 9/11. He said a Republican president would have done so.

"I believe 9/11 could have been prevented if we'd had a Republican president at the time," Meehan said Wednesday on CNN's "American Morning."

-reprinted from Wednesday, July 16th

"Bush has spent more than a year of his presidency" at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. On August 19, 2005, "he broke Ronald Reagan's record of 335 days for America's most vacationed president and went on to take the longest presidential vacation in 36 years," Dale McFeatters wrote August 8, 2006, in a ScrippsNews editorial. -

For the record, George W. Bush, a Republican, was President on September 11th, 2001. Thirty-three days earlier, he had received a memo titled:

Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.

In November 2001, Bush mobilized the United States military in an effort to find Bin Laden "dead or alive." He remains at large.

In a related story, President Barack Obama has completely destroyed the American housing market, allowed the greatest 4 year increase of oil prices in history, and authorized a completely illegal and unecessary war in Iraq.

Don't say we didn't warn you.

I'll Take What's in the Box

Friday, June 27, 2008

Within Reason Will Be Back in July - Stay Tuned

After a lengthy hiatus, Within Reason will be returning in July. The site will still be available for browsing, and all links and features will still be operational during this period. Feel free to continue to send comments and submissions to Stay tuned...

Monday, June 2, 2008

Fair, Balanced, and Xenophobic

Look closely at the screen shot above, and you'll notice the letters "BHO." That would be the Fox News abbreviation for Barack Hussein Obama. Emphasis on Hussein, evidently.
John Sidney McCain's abbreviation is "MAC", for those keeping score.
Hopefully enough Americans realize exactly what it is they are dealing with when viewing Fox News. If not, this election could turn into a very sad commentary on the xenophobia that is unfortunately still very prevalent in this nation.
Fox News has positioned itself to be a newsmaker, in the most literal sense. Let's change the channel.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Clinton Apologizes to Obama Supporters for Temporarily Referencing Reality

Senator Hillary Clinton yesterday apologized to the nation for drawing reference to the fact that this is far from the first primary election to stretch into May, and beyond. Clinton's apology came one day after making the following statement to a South Dakota newspaper: "My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June, right? We all remember Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. I don't understand it."

Uh oh.
Did she just mention an assasination? A Kennedy? The past? First off, haven't the Kennedys been through enough? And, who does she think she is, drawing upon the past to explain the present, Lewis Lapham? Come on, Hillary, an assasination? Didn't you get the memo? This is the year of hope, as in "I hope you realize that you are being made to apologize for telling the truth while making a cohesive and relevant statement about why you are remaining in this race."
Reports indicate that Clinton decided to go with the Kennedy reference at the last moment, opting out of issuing this statement in its place:
"In 2004, the primary election season wrapped up nice and early, and George W. Bush won the general election. Let's change that. That's right, change. And you know how I'm going to do it? Well, first off, Senator Obama wants us to wrap this primary up right now. I'd like to sit down with John McCain. Republicans have been in office for too long. Together, we can change that."

Fox News is looking into allegations that Clinton was under the effects of her lady hormones while making this decision, and whether her lying, cheating husband played any role in this.

Barack Obama's campaign chose to issue the following statement in repsonse to Clinton's comment - "Sen. Clinton's statement before the Argus Leader editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign," - apparently opting out of "Good point" at the last moment.

John McCain has yet to comment on the situation. Nap time, apparently.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

An Open Letter to Senator Arlen Specter

Senator Specter,

I feel moved to direct this public essay towards you as a means to communicate, in plain public view, with what low regard it is in that I view your recent antics regarding the National Football League and the New England Patriots. Before proceeding further, and in the interest of full disclosure, I must make it known that I consider myself a Patriots fan, much as you consider yourself to be a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. As we are brethren in this loose fraternity of fandom, I would like to assume that I may skip the details that define the fandom of a modern, educated, and civilized man and proceed directly to my main point of contention; however your recent actions lead me to believe that such an assumption may not be entirely safe. Make no mistake, Mr. Senator, I do not question your impressive academic and professional credentials, nor do I imply that you are uncivilized, but rather, I doubt the context within which you view your relative place within the dynamic of sports fanaticism.

The so-called "Spygate" incident, as you know, is a sports scandal of historical proportions. Few events of the like can be drawn upon for reference, whether from a perspective of perpetration or punishment. A highly regarded, highly successful and highly profitable organization has been caught breaking the rules of the league within which it operates. The organization has been investigated, publicly and privately, and punished, publicly and privately. The infractions in question have been viewed by some within the league as simply gamesmanship, while others have been more harsh with their judgements. You sir, seem to be the harshest voice of all. For your voice is that of a United States Senator making no effort to conceal the fact that his voice is carrying the full weight and authority of his office. To this, sir, I must object.

Allow me once more to insert a side note, again in the interest of full disclosure. Senator Specter, when I set out to write this essay, I had intended to include within it an indictment on your past actions regarding matters that many of your Pennsylvanian constituents, and many Americans, would consider to carry far more gravity. I intended to use allegorical references to the Iraq War, in an effort to illustrate your misguided ferocity in the search for truth. I was operating under an assumption that an examination of your public record would present me with ample ammunition with which to fire holes in your credibility on matters of truth, ethics and jurisdiction. What I found instead was an impressive collection of accomplishments, a body of work molded in a fashion consistent with the values and dedication required to distinguish oneself from such esteemed company. Yet, the more and more I found myself tempering my unfounded criticisms, more and more was my disappointment growing. For now, Mr. Senator, I am truly at a loss when trying to rationalize your activities.

Your decision to interject yourself and your office into the matters of a professional sports league, matters containing no legal or Constitutional significance, is flatly outrageous. As I write this letter, you and your staff are presumably preparing for your upcoming meeting with former Patriots employee Matt Walsh, who has recently turned in video evidence to Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League. By all accounts, this evidence will shed no new light on the matter, and many close to the situation feel the tapes, and Goodell’s own meeting with Walsh, will serve to put the matter to an end. Why then, Mr. Senator, do you feel it appropriate to interject? Why must you criticize the League for its handling of the situation? Why the meeting with Walsh, the meeting with Goodell? A man such as yourself, so critical of our Presidents forays into domestic surveillance and wiretapping, surely know the bounds of jurisdiction. Then why have you such blatant disregard for your own?

Allow me to close by returning to the issue of my fandom. The actions of the New England Patriots over the last several years have brought delightful highs, and agonizing lows. The recent revelations about their videotaping abuses has cast a pall over their accomplishments, one that will never diminish. As a fan the team, I wish it could be forgotten; as a fan of the sport, I know it cannot be. Senator Specter I urge you, out of respect for you and your office, to stand down and remove yourself from this issue. Your actions will stand for history to examine, and against the context of our tumultuous times, even such a talented litigator as yourself could not convince me that this is time well spent.

Sincerely and with Highest Regards,
Ian McCarty

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Knock Knock Knockin'...

In the summer of 1945, as the United States prepared to detonate the first nuclear weapon in the American southwest, several scientists on the Manhattan Project team, most notably Edward Teller, expresseed concern that the kind of fission reaction utilizied to trigger the explosion may not be containable. What Teller and the others feared was that the reaction would spiral continually, growing larger and exponentially more powerful (all within microseconds), and eventually ignite the planet's atmosphere. After debate, the team agreed that this was a possibility, albeit a very small one, but decided to move forward with the test as planned.

Obviously, the Earth's atmosphere survived. However, a very important ethical lesson can be drawn from this: Mankind will try anything once. One of these days, once is all it's going to take. Case in point: not satisfied with the strength of the first two nuclear devices deployed over Japan in August of 1945, the United States got right to work inventing larger, more powerful nuclear weapons. Edward Teller himself, obviously relieved of his fears of world annihilation, went on to invent the hydrogen bomb, exponentially more powerful than its predecessor.

As the video clip above points out, the Large Hadron Collider presents science with another risk / reward scenario, this one containing even more potential for unwanted disaster. This time, though, instead of approaching a frontier with a 'best guess' attitude of gauging the probable outcomes (a la those on the Manhattan Project, who had no hard data either way), scientists working on the LHC are working within the framework of the Standard Model of Physics, which, despite what they say about the specifics on black holes and supersymmetrical particles, does provide strong data that the fabric of spacetime will be stretched to its limit, so to speak, when these collisions occur. The reward to be gained is the completion of the Standard Model of Everything, or a completed Grand Unified Theory, as explained in the clip. Attaining this knowledge will allow scientists to define our universe with a single set of fundamental laws and values. This would allow for the expansion of our knowledge of the universe around us to expand exponentially, pun intended. Hopefully, though, one of the lessons we will not learn from this new set of rules is "never collide two protons at 99% of the speed of light."

Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity is the real wild card here. This is the model that has many scientists worried. Einstein's Theory would, in this case, point to the creation of these micro black holes that, being caused by release of energy from a single point in spacetime, would be stationary. Most theories regarding stationary black holes leads to them growing. That's the big risk in this case. There are also other, less disastrous, and even quasi-comical potential side effects, like the creation of CTCs (closed timelike curves), and the theory (presented in this article in the U.K.'s Telegraph), that we should look forward to welcoming time travellers when the LHC is switched on in the coming weeks.

There are times it seems that humankind's search for knowedge resembles that of a child crawling along the floor, constantly needing an adult to warn "Don't put that in your mouth." In reality, though, we are neither the adult (coincidentally, the Higgs boson is referred to by most as the God particle) nor do we seem intent on listening. Humankind's propensity for the bigger, faster stronger, more attitude leads one to suspect that if unsuccessful in this endeavor, manknind will surely find - to mix metaphors - somewhere else to stick his finger.

For the record, Albert Einstein disagreed with Edward Teller's concerns about runaway fission in 1945. He was right that time, let's hope his theory is wrong this time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Instant Replay

Tuesday saw an important, if unnoticed event in the ongoing Democratic primary election. Hillary Clinton's victory in Pennsylvania not only served to re-legitimize her campaign beyond any spectre of a doubt, but it also provided Clinton supporters with a key statistic that even her befuddled campaign simply cannot ignore: Barack Obama's lead in the popular vote has disappeared. With Tuesday's 1,260,060 votes in Pennsylvania's primary, Clinton moved ahead of Obama in total votes cast by a count of 15,116,076 to 14,417,134. Now, as usual in this primary contest, these numbers are accompanied by a host of caveats.

Most notable and most important is the issue of Michigan and Florida. Both of these states are having their popular vote counts, along with their delegate votes, withheld due to their violation of DNC rules regarding the timing of their respective contests. The total popular vote totals above include the tallies from both of these states; however, a major point remains. While in Florida both Clinton and Obama appeared on the ticket, in Michigan Obama was absent. Obama chose not to campaign in the state with the knowledge that the process would likely be all for naught. In doing so, though, his campaign provided definitive evidence that if there are no delegates to gain, the state is not a priority.
Campaigning directly to electoral votes, or in this case delegates, is a hot button issue and causes many to question the process of the electoral college. In this primary contest, where delegates replace electoral votes, the same principals apply, causing states to vary in importance in vague proportion to the number of delegates they carry. Through the years, various candidates have pledged to ignore this process and give each citizen of each state their proper attention regardless of the number of delegates - or electoral votes - their state carries. Obama has been mum on the topic, but his campaign strategy in Michigan does plenty of talking.

So what about November, when the votes at stake are electoral, and not delegates? A previous post on this blog points to the nature of victories achieved in the primary so far, and how they may translate come November. To recap (with updated numbers), to tally the electoral votes for each state won by the respective candidate shows the following totals:

Clinton: 284 Obama:193

Allowing for the fact that many of these votes will be gobbled up by John McCain in November is a fact that only further serves to support Clinton, as she has won far more traditional "blue" states, and Obama has been very successful in "red" states, likely to go to McCain in November. When presented with this case, Obama supporters have been quick to point to two arguments: Michigan and Florida should not be included in the counts, and Obama has a strong lead in the overall popular vote. It will be very interesting to see if Clinton's campaign can capitalize on the fact that Obama's argument concerning the popular vote is simply no longer valid, and the argument concerning Michigan and Florida is simply too petty a claim to stake in the face of such an important general election. By abstaining from the Michigan contest to focus on states where the delegates would count towards his tally, Obama acknowledged the very principle that cements Clinton's legitimacy: There are certain states that, for better or for worse, carry more importance in an election, and in those states Clinton has been overwhelmingly more successful.

Obama has done a masterful job at seizing momentum, inspiring his base, and marketing his campaign. But the fact simply remains that the numbers no longer add up to support his front runner status. The idea of this primary process is to determine which candidate will be most prepared and equipped to win a national election. Looking at the numbers above, it has done so. The time is drawing very near for Democrats to fall in line and concentrate on November, for this is an election they cannot afford to lose.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Theory of Memory

Think back for a moment to where you were when you viewed the above video, or even, where you were when you began reading this sentence. Chances are you are still in the same physical location as you are in now. Now take a moment to consider where you were an hour, a day, or a week ago. You will find, most likely, that your situation has changed, that you are no longer in the same place - or are you?

Our fundamental concept of memory is best described by drawing an analogy to a computer's hard drive. As we move through our lives, our brains encrypt information and store it away to be drawn upon and referenced again and again. Is this, though, the most logical diagram we can employ to gain full knowledge over our interface with the past? Perhaps.

Consider now a different approach. What if, like touch, smell, taste, sight, hearing, etc., our memory truly is a sense? Instead of drawing upon bits of information stored away in our brains like files, our memory is a physical sense of the past as it truly exists? This may seem like quite a stretch, but consider the following: In modern quantum physics, the laws of entanglement basically assert a general inter-connectivity between all physical aspects of the universe. Theories of conservation and relativity dictate (among many other things) that all mass and all energy, in all of forms, is neither destroyed nor created, but pass through various phases of existence and physical perception, and back again and again. Lastly, for the purposes of this specific theory, consider Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, which introduces the concept of spacetime, and some of the principles that bind this phenomena to the same laws that govern all other aspects of the physical universe.

Basically stated, all of these principles allow for the theory in which the past exists physically, right alongside the present and the future and all of the physical matter and energy we use as an interface to interpret our positions therein. Adding together all of these principles allows us to look at our perception of the past in a much different light.

I'll reference the video clip to illustrate the point further. The majority of our physical existence is dictated by a series of interactions with our physical surroundings, i.e., I see the coffee mug in front of me, I reach for the mug, grasp, touch, and feel the mug, bring it to my lips and consume its contents, as confirmed by my sense of taste. Through a combination of physiological maneuvers, both sensory and muscular-skeletal in nature, I have performed an action. But what if this action involved a coffee mug that was not in plain sight? What if the same mug was behind me? An act of memory replaces an act of sight in becoming the first step in determining the mug's physical location. Under the assumptions of this new, different theory, instead of referencing a snapshot of the point in time where I placed my mug on the table behind me, my brain references the point in time itself.

Just as the neurological experiments of Ben Libet (explained in the clip) point to a possible connection between our physical sensations and the future, could it be that there is a physical link between our senses and the past?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

U.S. Obesity Rates

I found this amazing - but startling - chart on Paul Levy's blog. Click through the slides to watch the unfortunate trend in obesity illustrated in dramatic fasion.

Read this doc on Scribd: obesity trends 2006[1]

This information is all the more alarming when the numbers are put into perspective. The following information is taken from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) website.

Defining Overweight and Obesity
Overweight and obesity are both labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. The terms also identify ranges of weight that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems.

Definitions for Adults
For adults, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat.

An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
See the following table for an example.

Height Weight Range BMI Considered
5’ 9”
124 lbs or less Below 18.5 Underweight
125 lbs to 168 lbs 18.5 to 24.9 Healthy weight
169 lbs to 202 lbs 25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
203 lbs or more 30 or higher Obese

(To calculate your BMI, click here)
With health care, and more importantly, health care costs continuing to draw national attention of a mostly negative ilk, the trends and statistics illustrated above may help to point out that many, many more people than just doctors, politicians and health insurance executives play a very fundamental role in determining the nature, and cost, of health care in this country.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the second United States invasion of Iraq. Since that day in March of 2003, over 4,000 American service men and women, and countless Iraqi soldiers and civilians have given their lives for...what? Trying to justify this crusade now involves revisiting the tired, and in many cases wholly discredited reasons that the Bush administration has paraded before the public time and again, without much care or regard for the public's reaction. To review:

- "Saddam Hussein is developing weapons of mass destruction."

Proven false. Not only were these claims unfounded at the time of their assertion, they remained so at the time of invasion and throughout the subsequent occupation. The United States did finally admit in 2004 that there were, it seems, never any WMDs in Iraq after all.

- "Al Qaeda is operating in Iraq."

Nope. There is categorically zero evidence that prior to 2003 Al Qaida was any more operational in Iraq than in was in Dearborn, Michigan. Of course, there's one proven way to ensure that Al Qaida will operate in Iraq: remove any form of a central government, and place 150,000 United States soldiers into the mix. Conveniently for the President, one can no longer argue that Al Qaida is not present in Iraq.

- "The world is a safer place without Saddam Hussein and his sons in power."

This is true. However, the world would most likely be safer without Kim Jong Il, Pervez Musharraf, and Vladimir Putin, too. Is it logical to go to war with every leader with whom there is a conflict of ideology? Hardly. Of course, if the removal of a despot could turn the tide towards world peace, who could possibly oppose that? After all...

- "A democratic Iraq will have a stabilizing effect on the rest of the Middle East."

How's that working out for you, George?

All kidding aside, the examination of the case for this war, now five years on (granted that many of these reasons "evolved" out of circumstance) sheds light on a great American tragedy. George W. Bush took office in 2001 claiming to possess the power to unite America, and the knowledge needed to keep from further dividing us. This is, quite literally, the exact opposite of the result we have endured and experienced. We are a nation divided, a nation at war, a nation in peril.

The menace of this administration has successfully curbed the tongues of those who have spoken out against it, and dissuaded its detractors from full engagement. As the Democrats in-fight their way towards another national election, maybe they should stop to consider their quest for an identity, in the wake of a humiliating eight years.

This is a party all too familiar with scrutiny, with lying under oath and impeachment. When is it that Democrats will realize that their "moral high ground" cannot automatically exclude the act of confrontation, and that if one precludes themself from retaliation, their adversary will perpetually attack?

This may not be the most cohesive, compelling, or thought provoking piece you hear on behalf of these ideals, but hey, as our President loves to point out, "fool me once..."

Never Forget

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Who's Winning?

It's no secret that Americans are witnessing one of, if not the closest Democratic primary contests in recent history. The nightly news is reaching the saturation point for the terms "superdelegate," "do-or-die" and "momentum." Recently, the story of this run-off election has focused on Barack Obama's momentous charge towards 11 straight primary victories, his ever growing list of influential and powerful backers, and his seemingly inevitable march towards the White House.

There is no denying that Obama enjoyed quite a February. Coming into the month trailing Senator Hillary Clinton, with many observers questioning just how long he could hold out, something unexpected, at least to most, began to happen: Obama began picking up some very key endorsements. Most notable were Ted Kennedy and John Kerry, the two U.S. Senators from Massachusetts, both former presidential candidates themselves. The reasoning these two Democratic stalwarts pointed to was that Obama, to paraphrase the two, "felt like a winner." At the time, this seemed an odd notion. Clinton was leading in the polls, had secured strong results in the early primaries and caucuses, and looked to be well on her way to securing the nomination. Then a funny thing began to happen: Obama began winning. He didn't stop winning, in fact, until this past Tuesday, when Clinton defeated him in Ohio, Rhode Island and Texas (more on this in a minute) in what was looked upon by many as a last ditch effort to save her campaign.

Even now, many Obama supporters claim that Clinton's victories this week were "too little, too late," and the time has come for her to step aside and allow Obama to secure the nomination. Indeed, it is hard to argue with Obama's supporters, who can point to 24 primary and caucus victories, including the aforementioned 11 straight, and to a well oiled campaign machine that seems to be impenetrable even to Clinton's fiercest attacks. Then again, a closer look at the numbers to date suggests there may not be an argument at all.

This November, the two (sorry, Ralph) eventual presidential candidates will be vying for the magic number of 270 electoral votes. Each state is worth a predetermined amount of these votes, and in nearly every instance in modern campaign history, it's winner-take-all. Looking at the Democratic primary and caucus results to date, a very different picture than the one being illustrated in the media begins to take shape. If electoral votes were to be handed out right now to Senators Clinton and Obama based upon their victories to date, the results would read like this:
Clinton - 229 Obama - 190
Now, there are a few caveats to these numbers, and they are as follows: The primary contests in Michigan and Florida are currently being withheld from the delegate counts for either candidate. Clinton won both Florida and Michigan, but Obama did not appear on the Michigan ballot, and both contests were disqualified by the Democratic National Committee for taking place too early in the primary season. For the sake of argument, Michigan's 17 electoral votes will be struck from Clinton's tally, bringing her to 212. Next is the issue of Texas, which held both a primary election and caucuses on Tuesday, in a confusing and yet unresolved election process. Two thirds of the states delegates are awarded to the primary victor, while the remaining third are doled out in the caucuses. While the results of this process are still being calculated, one number has been confirmed: Clinton won the popular vote by roughly 100,000 votes.
In the figures above, Texas' 34 electoral votes were not awarded to either candidate, nor are they likely to be in November. In fact, many of the states won by Clinton and Obama will go to neither in November, regardless of who ends up winning the nomination. Texas, like many Southern and Midwestern states, is "red," meaning it will nearly always end up awarding its electoral votes to a Republican.
So what does this mean for Clinton and Obama? Well, looking again at the election results to date, they show Clinton having won two traditional "red" states: Arizona (sure to go to home town favorite John McCain), and Oklahoma. No doubt there are other states, Tennessee, Arkansas and Nevada that teeter on the "purple precipice," if you will, but none of the states is a true home run for Republicans. Taking away the electoral votes of Arizona and Oklahoma drops Clinton to 195 in this tally. Obama, on the other hand, has won a whopping seven "red" states: South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, North Dakota, Idaho and Alaska. Like Clinton, he was won several "in between" states, but for this argument only the seven states listed will be subtracted. In doing so, Obama's total electoral votes drops to 139.
Granted, this calculation is far from scientific, and if elections were held again today the results may change, but in viewing the statistics in this light, one must wonder who's time has come to step aside, and who, in fact, "looks like a winner."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Philosophy of Rhetoric

If we rightfully discredit our President for basing policies on intangible and emotional ideals such as terror.... should we look upon a candidate who bases their campaign on different intangible and emotional ideals, however appealing they may be?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Lighter Side...

(Ed. Note: I'm not making this up...)

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, speaking in Turkey, urged the Turkish government to quickly wrap up its recently begun military operations in Northern Iraq and move to open diplomatic channels in an effort to resolve the conflict between the neighboring countries.

Gates, who in 2006 succeeded Donald Rumsfeld as the military's highest ranking civilian, will meet on Thursday with Turkish leaders to discuss the escalating crisis between Turkey and Kurdish rebels operating out of Iraq's northernmost province of Kurdistan. At Wednesday's press conference, Gates began to lay out the United States' expectations for Turkey's future actions.

"It's very important that the Turks make this operation as short as possible and then leave, and to be mindful of Iraqi sovereignty," Gates told reporters, going on to add "I measure quick in terms of days, a week or two, something like that. Not months."

The Defense Secretary also added "There certainly is a place for security operations but these also need to be accompanied by economic and political initiatives...," and set a stern warning for Turkey by concluding "Military activity alone will not solve this terrorist problem for Turkey."

Eyewitness reports, including photographic evidence, conclude that Gates was able to maintain a straight face throughout the press conference, not once even cracking a smile.

Herein lies the quintessential example of the arrogance and indifference that embodies the Bush administration. It seems that at no point during the preparation of these remarks, did any staffer, advisor, or even Gates himself stop to think "Maybe we should avoid the topic of timetables, that's kind of a sticky topic in this neck of the woods," or "Does it somehow seem strange that I am advocating diplomacy between two parties between whom there is a longstanding history of physical violence, and all the while the nation I am here to represent is currently engaged in an illegal, unjust and immoral war that was initiated, in part, by the side stepping any form of diplomacy whatsoever?" Of course, if these questions were raised, they were quickly cast aside, in much the same manner as has been any shred of reason or decency in this administration.

In the Bush administration, it seems, there is no questioning yourself, there is no fact checking, there is no apathy. These traits are instead replaced by blind ambition, with the accent on 'blind."

What is most unfortunate about this latest series of events, is that one almost gets the feeling that the United States is looking forward to plying the tactics of its unique brand of diplomacy upon Turkey. Sadly, though, it seems the only preparation that goes into these diplomatic ventures, like the meeting scheduled to occur on Thursday between Secretary Gates and his Turkish counterparts, consists of an American diplomat standing in front of a mirror, practicing their best "Did I stutter?"

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Hung Up

Last week, Attorney General Michael Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell sent a strongly worded letter to Congress, condemning the Senate for allowing the Protect America Act to expire, which effectively ended the legal practice of domestic spying - at least for the time being. For those who are not aware, the Protect America Act is the Bush administration's program that allows the Federal Government to eavesdrop on the telephone and email conversations of American citizens without a warrant. Read that sentence again.

For roughly twelve months, the Federal Government, with the cooperation of major telecommunication companies, has been listening to you. Your phone conversations, your emails, your text messages, virtually every communication you have made with the assistance of an electronic device has, potentially, been intercepted and reviewed by our government. This is all being carried out under the premise of providing "national security." This has all been necessitated, proponents of the Act argue, by the "increased post 9/11 threat level." Furthermore, this practice must be continued, the same proponents state, to provide for our continued safety against further acts of aggression.

The main sticking point that prevented Congress from allowing this bill to be extended was verbiage that granted retroactive immunity to the telecommunications firms who corroborated with the government to carry out these previously illegal wiretaps. Senate Democrats wish to strike such clauses from the bill, and allow for lawsuits brought by affected individuals against said firms to proceed. Reading between the lines, this would illustrate an acknowledgement on the part of Democrats that these practices are entirely illegal. Why else would they be willing to set precedent allowing for suits to be brought against some of the nation's largest and most profitable companies? More importantly, though, why don't these elected leaders strike down this bill for what it truly is: an illegal and unconstitutional act perpetrated by the Federal Government against the peoples that it governs?

In 1859, John Stuart Mills wrote:

As soon as any part of a person's conduct affects prejudicially the interests of others, society has jurisdiction over it, and the question whether the general welfare will or will not be promoted by interfering with it, becomes open to discussion. But there is no room for entertaining any such question when a person's conduct affects the interests of no persons besides himself, or needs not affect them unless they like (all the persons concerned being of full age, and the ordinary amount of understanding). In all such cases there should be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand the consequences.
Mills is absolutely correct in his implied definition of a plausible, tangible and practicable line that separates and distinguishes the rights of society, in the present case defined as the government, from the rights and freedoms of the citizens that said government holds jurisdiction over. By blocking the passage of this bill, the Democrats, albeit unwittingly, acknowledged one of the fundamental elements that defines our society: the freedom of We, the People "to be secure in [our] persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

In effect then, the Protect America Act does one of two things (if not both simultaneously): It either abolishes the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, or it defines the very act of communication as a probable cause, deserving the attention and scrutiny of the persons and bodies that constitute our government. This act strikes at the very core of freedom; the very existence of such a law denigrates the society upon which it is enforced. Our Senate Democrats therefore must be applauded for blocking this bill, if only by default.

It seems that the line that separates freedom from repression has become blurred in the eyes of some within our government. Let us all hope that the fog perceived by this misguided few does not set upon us all, for this is the blinding, strangling fog of absolutism, of authoritarianism, of despotism.

It is a strange case of irony that dictates that these are the imminent threats that come from within.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The New American Philanthropy

"The real philanthropists in our society are the people who work for less than they can actually live on, because they are giving of their time and their energy and their talents all of the time...they're giving to you."

-Barbara Ehrenreich, from the 2005
Lewis Lapham film The American Ruling Class

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines philanthropy as: "goodwill to fellow men; especially: active effort to promote human welfare; a philanthropic act or gift; an organization distributing or supported by philanthropic funds." American society generally tends to conceptualize these acts as those being carried out by individuals or organizations of ample means for the benefit of those who's means are more modest, if not meager. When watching public television, for instance, viewers are reminded that these programs are being provided for, in part, by the generous contributions of the well endowed for the betterment of the society at large. The same is very often the case when one visits a museum, a library, or a homeless shelter. Apart from serving their primary roles, these edifices serve also as monuments to the charity of a select few; the often invisible benefactors whose generosity is preserved as permanent testimony towards their legacies.
There is, however, a much more prevalent and much less lauded form of philanthropy taking place in America every day. As Barbra Ehrenreich points out, those of meager means give charitably of themselves every single day. This theory is both relevant and tangible, in that the current economic climate of the United States points to a historic concentration of wealth at the very upper echelons of society, coinciding with record amounts of charitable giving taking place. All of this sounds like it debunks Ehernreichs assertion of who the true philanthropists are, but the numbers deserve a closer look: large scale philanthropy is being dominated by the very few of the very few. Most notably, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have combined to set the new high watermark for charitable giving. While Gates and Buffett are certainly not to be criticized (and should, of course, be highly commended), their unprecedented generosity has most definitely skewered philanthropic statistics.
In 2006, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had an endowment of $34.6 billion. According to, to maintain its status as a charitable foundation, it must donate at least 5% of its assets each year. Considering the tax advantages to be gained by allotting such a large amount of wealth towards philanthropic means, the Foundation is mutually beneficial. This begs the question: What of Ehrenreich's "real philanthropists"? What advantages are afforded them in this current economic environment, where the gap between rich and poor grows at an ever increasing rate?
In his 2007 book, The Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman makes an argument for the return to a New Deal - era Federal Government. Among the basis of his argument are the need for universal health coverage, and more topically, the need to eliminate the enormous disparities between the rich and the poor. Krugman argues, effectively, that the Bush tax cuts severely undermine the integrity of our society by propagating such disparities through encoding them into our laws. Krugman, and many others, argue not only for a repeal of Bush's tax cuts, but a renewed emphasis on the increased taxation of the super wealthy. Such tax codes were prevalent during the New Deal era of the 1930s and 1940s, and carried through to the prosperous years of the post World War II economic boom.
While certainly effective, measures such as these, as well as most others designed to more evenly distribute wealth among the population, focus solely on the wealthy. Is there a way, perhaps, to come at this issue from both ends of the spectrum? Perhaps by framing the task within this new parameter of philanthropy, the concentration of wealth can begin to move down the demographic scale and become more in line with the make up of the country’s population.
Proponents of the Bush tax cuts, and similar programs with duplicitously marketed agendas, point to broad scale tax relief, and the fact that "everyone" benefits from these measures. Taking the country's recent economic performance into account, one wonders how much longer such proponents will be able to say so with a straight face. Perhaps a movement in the opposite direction is needed. Perhaps Americans can recognize who it is among them that truly give. Maybe some Americans will recognize that federal assistance programs are not enough to help those that are truly in need, that the definition of poverty, both ideologically and mathematically, is sorely outdated.
Too long have the poor in this society gone unheralded and unaccounted for. Too long have the actions on their behalf been unsuccessful. Too long has the true value of an individual been hidden behind the dollar sign. In the past, it has taken truly tragic events to help society to define who its heroes truly are, yet this definition is incomplete. Society must act now so that the task does not fall to further tragedies to complete this definition.