Friday, December 21, 2012

Jumping the Gun: Why Most of the Gun Debate After Newtown Isn't Helpful

Jay Carney got some flak after the Newtown massacre by saying "Today is not the day to talk about gun control."  Detractors almost universally said "if not now, when."  They were right.  We can say what we want, when we want.  But pushing for gun control immediately after the incident, before the facts come in, increases the chances that we'll just say or do something useless.

Many of the loudest gun control advocates are pushing for assault weapons bans, because a semi-automatic assault rifle was used to kill the children in Newtown.  Many gun advocates, including many pundits and politicians who have previously opposed these bans, are saying that nobody needs weapons like this.  I'm generally inclined to agree with this, but any time the government tells me what I do or don't need, the Libertarian part of my psyche cringes.  One thing they say that makes sense is that certain weapons only belong on the battlefield.  The trick is identifying what that means.

The definition of assault weapons is a bit vague.  Automatic weapons are always considered assault weapons.  Not all semi-automatic weapons are considered assault weapons, only ones with certain characteristics are.  The assault weapons ban defined an assault weapon as a weapon with detachable magazines and at least two other characteristics that were considered typical of assault weapons.  The problem is, a few of the things that potentially define something as an assault weapon seem mostly or entirely harmless.

Two examples are pistol grips and collapsible stocks.  A collapsible stock is a stock that can be shortened in order to be customized to the size of the user.  I don't see how this makes a gun noticeably more dangerous.  A pistol grip allows the user to control the recoil more easily.  One could argue that it makes a shooter more able to shoot people more quickly.  But it also makes them more able to shoot static targets more quickly or deer more quickly or whatever.  Typically, how quickly someone can kill targets has more to do with the skill of the shooter than the type of stock or grip that a gun has.  This ban seems to be designed to ban guns that look dangerous. They may like they belong on a battlefield, but many of them are no more or less dangerous than more ordinary looking weapons.

Another problem with fixating on assault weapons is the fact that they are not used in most murders.  Most murders are committed with pistols, which is probably why the last assault weapons ban had no noticeable effect on homicide rates.  The President echoed this in the presidential debates, noting that most murders involve "cheap handguns".  Even some mass killings are done with pistols.  The Virginia Tech massacre, the worst school shooting ever, was done with two handguns.  By focusing entirely on the specific circumstances of the shootings in Newtown, we risk ignoring most of the violence in this country. 

Another thing that has come to the forefront is a focus on mental health and identifying people with problems and treating them.  Many, if not all, of the mass murderers in recent years have had some kind of mental health problem.  Disturbing behavior by the Tucson killer was reported by many classmates at a local community college he attended and nothing was done.  The Aurora killer's classmates also reported strange behavior and nothing was done.  On the other hand, The Virginia Tech killer and one of the Columbine killers had been diagnosed with mental health problems prior to the attacks and had received treatment.  The Newtown killer was known to have some mental problems and some reports suggest his mother was about to have him committed.  These instances all suggest that more intervention is necessary and when it happens it needs to be more effective.  But what's also true is that most murderers are not crazy.  Most murderers kill for a relatively mundane reason: an argument, jealousy, revenge.  Angry results in more murders than crazy.  Focusing only on the mentally unstable ignores most of the problem.  It's always a good idea to improve mental health care (or any other health care), but this won't fix most of the problem.

As with every other mass shooting, the debate over the "culture of violence" has reemerged.  We are told that America has a history of violence and our culture glorifies violence and contributed to this.  But this actually doesn't make any sense.  The same violent movies and video games that are common in a America are equally common in other nations where murder is extremely rare.  American movies are commonly watched in Canada, the UK, France, Germany, and Australia.  They buy the video games too.  France, the UK, and Germany have far more violent histories than America.  Yet murder rates are low in all of these countries.  Not only would attempting to silence or deter these forms of entertainment be a violation of the First Amendment, it would be a complete waste of time.  Other countries are able to avoid real violence, despite the fact that they are exposed to the same amount of fake violence as we are and despite the fact that they have histories as violent, if not more so, than ours.

While I'm on the subject of foreign countries, it has to be mentioned that other industrialized nations have stricter gun control laws.  In some, like Japan and England, this results in low rates of gun ownership and low murder rates.  Others, like Canada or France, have relatively high numbers of gun owners (though not as many as us) but still have low murder rates.  And some others, like Brazil and Russia, have low rates of gun ownership but much higher murder rates.  What this means is the presence or lack of guns and gun control laws doesn't appear to predict a country's murder rate.  The source of the problem is something else.

This doesn't mean gun control is useless.  I think some gun control measures makes sense.  Smaller magazine size is fine.  I truly don't need a 30 round clip to defend myself.  If I need to defend myself from an attack and need more than six or seven bullets to do it, this is the sort of attack I should be running away from.  And limiting magazine size won't prevent me from buying more than one gun.  This won't stop people from producing homemade high capacity magazines, but I still think it will reduce the chances of mass shootings occurring.  Background checks should be required for all gun purchases.  Instant background checks should be available everywhere.  There must be a way to make background checks possible at gun shows.  This won't stop strawbuyers, but it will still prevent many felons and crazy people from getting guns. Lastly, one thing that often goes unmentioned is that many criminals acquire guns from licensed dealers who make illicit sales under the table. So another thing that must happen is additional enforcement.

But as for the rest of the debate, it's a hasty reaction which will have little or no effect.  We won't fix the problem by renewing an assault weapons ban that didn't accomplish anything significant the first time, other than boosting assault weapon sales before its passage.  And hand wringing over movies and video games is a waste of time.  This is a multi-faceted problem that will probably take decades or generations to fix.  We won't be able to control it if we only respond to the headlines.  We will not fix anything if we attempt to resurrect legislation that already failed once.  We must be willing to commit to rigorous analysis of all aspects of the problem and explore all possible solutions, while being mindful of the Constitution and its guarantees.  We must accept that this requires a prolonged effort at the grassroots level by all citizens who want the violence to stop.   If we want to prevent future violence and respect the memory of the victims of violence, we must attempt to find solutions that actually work and shake off the tired old rhetoric that solves nothing.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Gun Made Me Do It

Bob Costas has been echoing the same tired old talking point that gun control advocates have been spewing for years.  On the O'Reilly Factor, Bob Costas said (paraphrasing) that if more people possess guns that it is more likely that a dispute would escalate because someone has a gun.  What he actually said is here, on the second clip at about the 1:30 mark.  This assumes that the possession of the gun is more likely to cause one person to want to kill another in a dispute.  This is false.  It's true that a person with a gun is more likely to succeed in killing someone else, but the gun does not magically cause someone to be more aggressive.

The problem is not the presence of guns.  The problem is that people in the United States are more likely to want to kill someone than they would be in many other countries.  Many of the highly publicized murders we've seen were preventable without taking away guns.  Kansas City Chiefs Guy had a history of problems in his personal life.  Crazy Guy in Arizona had been reported acting loony at his community college.  Nobody did anything.  If we had been more proactive about identifying and dealing with these problems, they never would have escalated into violence.

More recently,  Michael Dunn killed Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida.  This was an escalation of a simple argument.  A motive for murder that is all too common.  This is the real problem.  People in the United States are willing to kill for stupid reasons.  Apparently, Jordan Davis and his pals were just playing their music too loud.  That's not a sufficient reason to kill.  We should be focusing our efforts on figuring out why people are willing to do things this senseless.

Instead, Costas and others simply fixate on the guns.  If two guys want to kill each other and we take away their guns, it doesn't suddenly make them not want to kill each other.  Disarming us isn't the answer.

Gun control advocates like to point to other industrialized nations which have strict gun control laws and lower crime.  But they always forget to mention Russia and Brazil.  Russia has extremely strict gun control laws, but twice the murder rate of the US.  Brazil is the most violent industrialized nation in the world, despite its gun laws.  Here in the US, gun ownership has been on the rise, despite the fact that violent crimes have been declining for years.  The presence or lack of guns or gun control laws isn't the problem or the solution.

The problem of violence is extremely complex and nuanced.  Simply demanding gun control every time a tragedy happens is a simple-minded solution.  Simple-minded solutions do not fix complex problems.  We need to make an effort to identify why we can't identify dangerous people in time and why ordinary people are so willing to kill for ridiculous reasons.  Until we accept that deeper analysis is necessary, this problem won't go away.

Monday, December 3, 2012

To Prevent the Country From Committing Fiscal Suicide, Congress Must Commit Political Suicide

Several of my bosses, past and present, have recently channeled Warren Buffett and told me they want the government to raise taxes on them.  This stunned me a bit.  Like many business owners they are all conservative.  Or at least conservative-ish.  Meaning they all fall somewhere between Dick Cheney and Ron Paul on the political spectrum.  These are generally anti-tax people.  They believe taxes should be kept as low as possible for the simple reason that they believe people should keep as much of their own property and income as possible.

So how do these guys finally arrive at a tax raise?  As conservative-ish people, they also believe in personal responsibility.  Therefore, these are not the type of people who are inclined to leave a mess behind.  Failure to handle the budget now just means they're dumping it on their kids, and their kids will have it even worse.  We've arrived at a point where it may actually make sense under the rules of conservatism (or at least conservative-ish-ness) to increase taxes.  Because somebody has to pay the debt, and true conservatives are not the type of people who pass on their problems to someone else.

The counterargument to raising taxes is that it removes cash from businesses that they could use to invest or hire more people.  This is not false, but not necessarily true either.  Most of the bosses and ex-bosses I talked to could hire more people, but they don't have enough work to give to new people.  Nobody hires people to do nothing.  Unless there's some wacky union contract involved.  They could invest in new business, but the market is uncertain.  They, like many people, are being cautious.  New investments are always risky, and when there are plenty of analysts foretelling of a double-dip recession, new investments are very risky.

Getting the debt under control would eliminate some of this uncertainty.  America's credit rating (recently downgraded) is one of the foundations of the global economy.  Until recently, treasury securities were considered the closest thing there is to a risk-free investment, and investors and analysts used it as a benchmark by which the attractiveness of other investments could be measured.  The downgrading of our credit increased the uncertainty, which is why investors are cautious.  That's partly responsible for the slow recovery.

Of course, Republicans always bring up cutting spending and possibly closing loopholes rather than raising rates.  And they're right.  But in order to cut spending in a way that actually brings the debt under control, significant cuts must be made in defense, Medicare, and Social Security.  In order to significantly raise revenue by closing loopholes, some of the more popular loopholes, like mortgage interest deductions, would have to go.

This is the problem.  Nobody wants to lose the things that they like.  Raising rates is more popular than removing the mortgage interest deduction, because raising the rates in the top tax bracket would only affect a few people and removing the mortgage interest deduction would affect many more people.  Cutting defense is more popular than cutting Medicare and Social Security, because most people currently or eventually will benefit from Medicare and Social Security.  Strictly speaking, everyone benefits from defense, but it's impact on our lives is not as tangible as entitlement programs are.  Because of this, defense cuts are more popular than entitlement cuts.

The problem with cutting popular programs is that politicians see value (Read: re-election) in defending them.  Anytime someone talks about Medicare or Social Security reform, politicians with no interest in reform and a great deal of interest in re-election dust off the same old tired talking points.  Gems like "Medicare is the most popular government program" or "Social Security is the most successful social program in the history of the world," are bandied about in order to prevent government from taking real action.  I think these statements are generally true (although talking points, by their nature, are always at least one part falsehood), but they are only true for the time being.  Once Medicare and Social Security become fiscal train wrecks (an eventuality we've seen coming for decades), they won't be considered popular or successful anymore.  We have to fix them now.

The solution is that everyone needs to give up something.  Something we like.  We can't expect someone else to take care of this for us.  We all have to be willing to give something.  If this means the rich pay more taxes, let's consider that.  If this means the payroll tax ceiling is raised or removed, let's consider that.  If this means benefits are reduced or retirement ages are increased (the latter is likely necessary, since we all live longer these days), let's consider that.  If this means cutting defense or removing mortgage interest deductions, let's consider that.  I know some rich guys who are willing to put up some money, the rest of us should think about ponying something up as well.

We should pass a bill that increases taxes and/or removes loopholes.  And the new revenue must be committed primarily to controlling debt. No earmarks or pet projects. These revenue increases must be married to spending cuts, including defense, Medicare, and Social Security cuts.  And there must be triggers in this bill that require that all of these things be done within one year of passing the bill, or else everything in the bill goes back to the way it was prior to the bill's passage.  This last part is critical.  Reagan raised some taxes in return for a promise to cut spending in the eighties.  The Democrats reneged.  This time, it can't be a bait-and-switch.

In order to accomplish this, everyone in congress will have to sign off on a bill that includes at least one thing that upsets their supporters.  This is the type of compromise we need.  Traditionally, politicians are only interested supporting bills that have negative effects on someone else's constituents.  This can't continue.  The members of congress may have to commit political suicide to pass a bill like this.  But it's better than the entire country committing fiscal suicide.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Egypt: Yet Another Revolutionary Screw-up

Grand High Douchebag Morsi of Egypt has declared himself Grand High Pharoah Douchebag of Egypt.  Apparently, negotiating a truce with Israel gains you the right to be God-King.  Because, nobody has ever done that before.  Except several ex-presidents. And Anwar Sadat, who they killed for it.  Now Egyptians are rioting in the streets.  Again.  While watching this, it occurred to me that too many revolutions go sideways like this.

Americans are fortunate that our revolution didn't go bad.  But ours was a little different from many others.  Our revolution was a colony demanding independence from an empire that treated us like second class citizens.  We were already independent in many ways, having our own governments at the city and colonial levels.  It was not difficult to translate that into a cohesive government once the British had been sent on their way.

Most other revolutions that happened in that time, like the French revolution, were popular revolutions where peasants who'd been forced to live in wretched poverty overthrew their elites.  They tore apart the fabric of their society in the process of revolting, resulting in chaos.  The French revolution went like this:  Kill the king.  Then go crazy with the guillotine.  Then go crazy with the Napolean.  Then, after a making a mess of everything, bring back the royal family.  Which is right where they were when it started.

Marxist revolutions frequently followed a similar pattern: Bloodbaths and dictators.  Stalin killed something like 20 million.  Mao killed anywhere from 30-90 million.  Pol Pot killed almost 2 million.  The list goes on.  The pattern is clear, though:  Overthrow the government.  Have some nut job take over. Kill everyone associated with the old government.  Then kill everyone opposed to the new government.  Then kill everyone who might be opposed to the new government.

This has me wondering if it's inevitable that these sorts of developments happen after popular revolutions.  They start out with good intentions, but end up getting hijacked by crazy people.  The Muslim Brotherhood hijacked the Egyptian revolution in the same way Maximilien Robespierre hijacked the French revolution.  And maybe they haven't started a full fledged Reign of Terror (yet), but there have been increasing attacks on Coptic Christians, amongst other atrocities.

Now Ramses the Umpteenth is declaring himself dictator of Egypt.  Seems like it happens every time.  I'm somewhat heartened to see that the reaction of the people was immediate.  Maybe the young kids who started this revolution will correct it's course and have real, modern democracy, not the quasi-theocracies the Middle East is known for.  But maybe we'll have another nutjob dictator birthed from a popular revolution that makes a mess of everything.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Where Unions Go Wrong

I was absolutely amazed the when the baker's union refused to make a deal with Hostess, even after it was abundantly clear that everyone would lose their jobs if nothing was done.  I've been laid off twice before, so I tend to take stuff like this personally.  The baker's union appeared to have an all or nothing, "give us what we want or we're taking you with us," attitude.  Even the teamster's union was asking them to think it over.  When another union thinks your union is going too far, it's time to rethink your position.

Alas, the baker's union stood strong, and screwed 18,500 people.  I know that despite the sensational headlines that Great American Brands Are Dead, Twinkies and Wonderbread will probably survive.  They'll be sold to some other company in the liquidation.  The downside of this is that some of the potential buyers are not American companies, like Grupo Bimbo (I hope that means something less racy in Spanish) of Mexico.  So the brands may saved, but the American jobs may not be.

The dispute was in part about pensions and wages, but there were also unusual rules in the union contracts that forced the company to be inefficient.  The most often mentioned in the media is that Twinkies and Wonderbread can't be transported in the same truck.  This means that if you have a half of a truckload of Twinkies and a half of a truckload of Wonderbread, there must be two trucks, and therefore two drivers, two teams loading the trucks, etc.  And the loaders who load Twinkies cannot also load Wonderbread.  Any idiot can see that this is wildly inefficient.  Only one truck and one group of loaders is necessary.

So why would anyone do this?  It's quite simple.  Twice the number of union workers = twice the number of union dues.  This is where the goals of union management diverge from the needs of union workers.  The union bosses want to increase dues collections, so they need to increase the rolls of the union.  In slightly more than half of the states, even a non-union worker can be forced to pay a fee if they choose not to join a union.  They can also be fired if they don't join.  So any additional jobs automatically increases union revenue, even if those jobs are unnecessary.

What a worker wants is to make a living and to have job security.  Forcing inefficiencies on a company hurts job security, as we've just seen with Hostess.  The right way to produce jobs is for a company to be as profitable as possible and expand, hiring new workers for the expansion.  Jobs at a profitable company are far more secure than jobs at an unprofitable one.  I feel stupid for stating the obvious like that, but apparently some people still don't get it.

Now unlike many of my more conservative buddies, I don't think unions are inherently evil.  It is possible for them to benefit workers without burdening employers unnecessarily.  The problem is that the system is broken by giving the unions special treatment.  There is a reason to have a union putting upward pressure on worker pay.  It's because labor is sort of illiquid.

Take, for example, the words of Matt Patterson from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, as seen on Special Report with Bret Baier:

What your labor is worth is what you receive, and if your employer feels that you are worth more you'll get more, and for a lot of people who are complaining about their working conditions, they're perfectly free to go out and get another job or start a company of their own, and that's how the free market works, and should work.

I should note that he's not necessarily wrong, but he's not quite right either.  Going out and getting another job requires that one is available, which is not always the case.  Starting a company requires seed capital, which not everyone has or can borrow.  But most importantly, what we're worth and what our employers thinks we're worth aren't always the same thing.  Our employers will eventually realize what we're worth, but only every six months to a year when he hands out raises.  This is what I mean by illiquid.  Even then, they may lowball us on the raise.  And getting a new job, even if available, isn't always the preferred move.

Prices on an exchange update almost immediately and reflect the true value of what's being traded because there is constant trading.  In other words, these things are liquid.  But if a laborer constantly trades (read: gets a new job) as suggested by Patterson, he'll become known as a "job-hopper" and be considered unreliable.  This actually reduces a laborer's value.  A union can renegotiate pay more frequently, bringing the worker's wage in line with his actual value more frequently.  This introduces a form of competition, which is not an anti-capitalist idea.

The problem is unions are considered indispensable by some (which is an anti-capitalist idea), so they are given special treatment.  Regulations that permit unions to compel dues and membership stack the deck in favor of unions.  The truth is that unions, like any organization, don't have a right to exist.  We should make them constantly justify their existence.  That's what the free market is really about.  The answer to this problem is Right-to-Work.

Right-to-Work doesn't destroy unions.  Many of the greatest advances in worker rights happened long before there were any compulsory dues or membership.  There was a time where every state was effectively a Right-to-Work state.  Unions did fine without compulsory laws.  Right-to-Work does keep unions honest.  If there were no compulsory union dues, the absurdly inefficient clauses in union contracts would be unnecessary.  The extra jobs produced by separating Twinkies from Wonderbread would not necessarily result in new union dues.  So the unions would have no reason to weigh down contracts with these kinds of clauses, because it would produce no value for them. 

Let unions operate in every state, let workers join any union they want, but also make every state a right to work state.  This will result in union negotiations where the unions negotiate for the benefit of their workers, not just to increase their union rolls.  Unions will have to constantly justify that they deserve to exist, and will start to realize that they, like the workers they represent, cannot survive without employers.  Maybe they'll start to see that forcing an employer to be inefficient is a self-destructive act.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oliver Stone's Revision of US History - Should I bother?

I'm toying with the idea of buying "The Untold History of the United States" by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick.  Not because I think I'll learn anything from it, but because I occasionally like to remind myself that there are crazier people in the world than me.  Granted, it seems premature to pass judgment on a book I've not read.  On the other hand, anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I'm a terrible skinflint.  If I'm going to blow $15-$20 on a book, I better know it's going to be worth it.

What I have to go on so far is the talking points coming from Stone and Kuznick, through interviews and snippets of the Showtime documentary which follows the book.  Presumably these are summations of his main points designed to induce me into buying.  Therefore, purchasing the book would expose me to more of the same.  I will assume that these interviews and clips are mere previews for what is contained in the book, because that's how books and other media are sold.  So what are some of these talking points?

I.  The United States Didn't Win World War II, the Soviet Union Did

Stone contests that the USSR lost more people at Stalingrad and Kiev than the US did in the entire war.  Which is true, although losing more people doesn't necessarily equate to accomplishing more.  The USSR pushed the Nazis out of Eastern Europe and ultimately took Berlin at great cost.  These were important accomplishments, but are only part of the story. 

First of all, the Soviets had no involvement in pushing the Germans out of North Africa or the Mediterranean.  But more importantly, they did next to nothing against the Japanese.  They declared war on Japan on August 8th, 1945.  Which also happens to be the day before the Nagasaki bombing.  They were barely involved in the Pacific theater.

In Europe, they played a major and important role, perhaps even the key one.  Holding the line at Stalingrad (actually, Russians prefer Volgograd these days because Stalin was a douche, but I guess I shouldn't nitpick too much) prevented Germans from having access to Russian oilfields.  German Tiger tanks were notorious gas guzzlers, even compared to other tanks.  And that's saying something.  If the Soviets hadn't held there, it's very possible that the Battle of the Bulge (where the Germans literally ran out of gas), would have ended differently.  And any idiot can see the value of taking Berlin.

But to ignore Japan is to ignore, let's say, 47% of the war.  In the Pacific, the USSR was Ivan come lately.  The Soviets invaded Manchuria after the US had pushed the Japanese all the way back across the Pacific.  Strangely, Stone tries to contend that the Japanese were ready to surrender before Hiroshima, but the thing that convinced them to surrender was the Russian invasion on the day of the second bombing.  So we didn't have to bomb them because they were ready to surrender but they weren't really ready to surrender until the Soviets attacked after we bombed them.  I'm getting a bit cross-eyed.

Stone tried to qualify his remarks in an interview with CBS, and stated that Russia won the war on land.  Nah.  North Africa is land.  France and Italy are land.  And strictly speaking, the Solomon Islands and the Phillipines and Iwo Jima and Okinawa count as land.  And stop acting like the naval contributions don't count.  Taking back the Pacific is a big deal, and the Soviets had nothing to do with it.

II.  American Exceptionalism is a False Idea

In the same interview where he qualified his claims that the Soviets won World War II by saying they won on land, Stone claimed that American Exceptionalism (viewing ourselves as an indispensable nation), makes us incapable of being a "global partner.".   Other statements he made were to claim that no other country considers themselves indispensable and dictates to others and China has no history of aggression.

Wow.  Where to begin.  I'm pretty sure Nikita Khrushchev saying "We will bury you!" and "Communism is the wave of the future!" was at least implying that he thought the Soviet Union was indispensable.  Also, controlling Eastern Europe for decades sounds kind of like dictating to others.  So the guys who he just got done praising for winning World War II are suddenly ignored after World War II.  Maybe he doesn't ignore them in the book.  But he's not exactly selling me on the book with this.  I could get a twelve pack of beer for the same amount, and I'm not sure that the book's worth as much yet.

As for the Chinese, they did a fair amount of dictating as well.  For example, they did some dictating to Tibet.  After they took it over circa 1950.  So unless Stone considers 1950 to be pre-history, China does have some aggression in its history.  But I guess that would make World War II pre-history too.  I'm getting more confused here.

But I need not restrict myself to what happened decades ago.  The Chinese spend plenty of time bullying nations in Southeast Asia, mostly in disputes over the South China Sea.  I'm pretty sure bullying counts as aggression.  The Chinese government also does all sorts of aggressive things against its own people, like running them over with tanks for protesting.  Or throwing them in jail for writing books.  Or putting their wives under house arrest when they win a Nobel Prize for said book. 

The Russians have done plenty of dictating to neighboring nations, sometimes using alternative means of persuasion, like poisoning candidates for president of Ukraine.  Also, I think the assorted Syrian shenanigans being perpetrated by Putin count as dictating to others.  With bombs and stuff.  I guess the only time things like this are worth considering are when America does them.

They miss the obvious.  America is the most powerful nation in the free world, and we are not partners with everyone.  There is no moral equivalency between us and the repressive government in a place like Russia, and certainly not the extraordinarily repressive government in China.  We may not be enemies, but we should compete with them.  We need to be a message to the world that freedom works better than repression, and we're the only ones capable of standing up to the world's biggest repressors.  That's what makes us indispensable.

We haven't always been perfect and admit that, something the Russian and Chinese governments, past and present, avoid doing. We designed a system that is based on ideas, not ethnicities, races, or nationalities. And it's also a self-improving system.  So we may underperform at moments in time (slavery, racism, sexism, the list goes on), but our system is designed to overcome these failings.  We gradually (sometimes too gradually) learn from our own mistakes and continually get better and more free, while the Russian and Chinese governments continue to silence dissent and suppress freedoms.  That's what makes us exceptional.

III.  American Imperialism

The co-author Peter Kuznick, claimed in an overly sympathetic interview with Tavis Smiley that this history is from the viewpoint of the victims.  Right, America victimizes the world.  Yawn.  He goes on to explain the birth of American imperialism.  America is the evil empire.  Double yawn.  America seeks global domination.  Please.  There were some times in early history where we had some expansionist adventures, but in the twentieth century that's not quite true.

We didn't willingly enter World War I or World War II.  We resisted getting involved in the first until an American cruise liner was attacked.  We were dragged into the second when Hawaii was attacked.  Prior to these attacks, we were inclined to keep to ourselves.  After the war, we were the only free country not in shambles, facing Soviet aggression.  We took on the role of the superpower of the free world, because no one else could.  If we are an empire, we are the first one ever that didn't become an empire willingly.  We did so to combat a larger, stronger empire bent on repression and global domination.  We were the only ones who could.  It's probably more accurate to call us a counter-empire.  We don't want to rule the world; we want to make sure no one does.

In the Smiley interview, he said he was proud of Showtime, because the documentary wasn't the sort of thing that would be shown on normal TV.  There's a reason why these things aren't shown on normal TV.  These three ideas are classic canards of extreme lefties.  They go out of their way to diminish American achievements, then claim that America is a regressive force in the world while ignoring actual regressives in the world.

Well, I've made up my mind.  The assorted lunacies I've heard so far have only served to reinforce my belief in America and Americanism.  The authors' addiction to obsolete ideologies has increased my allegience to the ideology that rendered them obsolete.  Reading the entire book can only make me more patriotic.  Also, I'm a sucker for good comedy.  If the whole book is this crazy, it should produce a few thousand laughs for me.  That's always worth $15-$20.

Stop Dying Democracy, You're Annoying Me

Now that the election's finally over, we can all breath a sigh of belief.  Nah, screw that.  Let's bellyache/gloat about the outcome.  Democrats can stand around and rub everything in the Republicans' faces.  Okay, it's a dick move, but Republicans would've done the same thing.  As for Republicans, they can participate in the time honored tradition of grousing about election shenanigans and dirty campaigning.  I'm okay with all of that, because some of it might be true.  Except one thing.  I'm a little sick of people claiming that Democracy is dead.  Get real.

This is something that's happening every time there's a contentious election.  Several months ago, when Scott Walker fought off a recall vote in Wisconsin, an inconsolable union activist claimed on TV that "Democracy died tonight.".  Democracy dying as the result of a vote (the most fundamental act of democracy there is) struck me as supremely ironic.  Also, technically it would be democracy committing suicide.

Some Republicans recently opined (Read: tweeted) that democracy committed suicide on Tuesday. So at least they understood that democracy-death by voting is suicide, not homicide. But nailing the manner of death isn't a big improvement.  Nothing died. There was no death.  Knock that off, it's aggravating as hell.  Besides, aren't the Republicans the ones whose destiny isn't reliant on who's in office?  Why does one election mean that we are doomed for all time?

Recent history should prove that democracy didn't receive a death blow on Tuesday. I know a lot of people tried to compare this election to 1980, but it's more like 2004.  A one-term president struggling with job approval runs for re-election.  The opposing party settles on a somewhat square, super rich, unexciting guy from Massachusetts, who also has a reputation for flip-flopping.  The party's support for him is actually somewhat lukewarm; they're more passionate about removing the president than voting for their guy.  Massachusetts guy loses.  Kerry 2004, Romney 2012.  Same story.

Back then, it was the Democrats who claimed that the country was lost.  From their perspective, I'm sure it was.  Republicans owned all three branches.  When Howard Dean was made DNC chairman and the torch was passed from Whoever-The-Guy-Who-He-Replaced-Was, John Stewart jokingly praised the peaceful transfer of no power.  Two years later the Democrats had the Congress, two years after that they had the White House.  I guess it wasn't quite the doomsday scenario they imagined. 

All they had to do was stop whining and get their act together.  Republicans need to do the same thing.  Now I'm not really a Republican or Democrat.  My ISideWith.com score told me I was a Libertarian, which is right-ish, but not exactly.  But I see value in having two strong parties.  I think political competition, when done right, can have a positive results that are comparable to the benefits of free market competition.  Granted, neither me nor anyone else has figured out what "when done right" means.  But we won't ever figure that out if there aren't at least two vibrant parties.

These constant diatribes about democracy fatalities are just petulance.  Republicans believe their ideas are better, but not enough people were convinced.  Instead of complaining, they need to regroup, rethink, rebrand, and restrategize.  The message they had was not quite enough; not enough people bought it.  So now they have to think about what they need to do differently. 

There is one way to kill democracy.  Just give up.  If you don't want democracy to die, get back to work.  When you lose, assume it's something you did wrong and fix the problem.  Not sure what the new Republican message will be.  Don't know yet if I'll like it.  But if they can put up a good fight in future elections, democracy won't ever die.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Agony of Early Voting, The Joy of Mail-In Voting

The first time I voted early here in Florida was in 2008.  It was a Saturday, and I drove downtown to the county clerk's office where the early votes were being taken.  I'd never done it before, but the job I had at the time frequently required me to start early and stay late.  I figured I wouldn't have time to vote on election day.  So I'd just roll in, fill out the ballot, and run on home. 

Then I got there and saw a line of people so long I would have thought it was for a Justin Bieber concert.  Except that the people in the line were all over 18, which is atypical of a Bieber concert.  Also, Justin Bieber was only 14 back then, and apparently was only annoying other Canadians.  A few quick inquiries told me that the wait would be hours.  But it was this or not vote.

I took a deep breath and got in line.  I always have bad luck when I wait in line at a government building (DMV, tax assessor, whatever), because I'm always in line with weirdos.  I know normal people have to go to these offices (presumably, everyone does), but they never go at the same time I do.  Every time I go, the line is full of creepy-looking, heavy-breathing, basement-dwelling guys. So not only am I waiting an hour or so to get a license or pay taxes, but a bunch of would-be child molesters are breathing down my neck the entire time. It's unpleasant.

However, this particular line was not a bunch of freaks. Several women who worked at the nearby hospital were in line behind me.  Immediately ahead of me was a guy who worked at a local internet company.  Ahead of him was a local state representative, who had come out to vote with the rest of us schmucks.  These were all normal people. I was somewhat amazed.

I noticed several of the candidates working the line, trying to drum up last minute votes. Most of these were candidates for offices that nobody pays attention to. But a few were running to be judges and aldermen. I found this strangely heartening. We may have to march into town halls or courtrooms and bow and scrape and say "your honor" or whatever once they're elected, but for now these would-be pols had to work the line and beg for votes from the hoi polloi.  This actually reinforced my belief in democracy.

It didn't last long.  Once I got past the politicians, I noticed the freak show.  Every activist in town was passing out flyers and other assorted swag to the unsuspecting voters.  There are laws against campaigning near a polling place, but the law in Florida says no campaigning within one hundred feet.  This line was way longer than one hundred feet, and the activists were staying well away from the entrance.

One guy was there from the local Democratic party.  He handed me a slip of paper and said "Here's your Democratic slate.  When you go in there, you don't even have to think, just pick the candidates we've listed here.".  I took the thing to shut him up, but couldn't help but be a bit stunned that a party representative was encouraging me not to think.

An elderly lady came up next and glared at me with rheumy eyes and shoved a slip of paper at me with one quavering hand.  She said something to me in a wheezy voice, but I couldn't make it out.  Having always been taught to respect my elders (even the ones that look like they could be zombies), I just nodded politely and took the slip.  It was pro-life leaflet saying something about the abortion "holacust.".  Republicans, and particularly pro-lifers, spend a lot of time trying to shake the belief that they are ignorant, inbred, crazy people.  It's a belief I've always found unfair. She wasn't helping their cause.

I dealt with dozens of similar nutjobs that day. When I finally got to the front of the line (six hours later), I saw a little form that came with the ballot that gave me the option of having my ballot mailed to me next year.  "Hell, yes," I thought.  Anything to avoid this nightmare again.  Since that fateful day, my ballot has been delivered to my mailbox.  I also discovered that day why I always bumped into creeps and weirdos at the DMV and the tax assessor's office.  Normal people do this stuff over the phone or online or through the mail.  Now I get my ballot through the mail too, and the number of oddballs that I bump into has decreased dramatically.

Of course, I completely forgot to vote in 2009.  My ballot was just collecting dust on my coffee table for months.  One could argue that this reduces turnout. Still, after watching all of the bitching and moaning about early election nonsense in Florida for the 2012 election, I see the value of mailed ballots.  No more long waits is just the least of it.

Two years ago, I bought a house in a somewhat nicer area than I had been living in.  The market was at rock bottom, so I could afford it.  And unlike my previous neighborhood, politicians and party volunteers routinely knock on doors in election season.  Every now and then I'll actually talk to one, when I'm in a good mood.  I'm rarely in a good mood.  Now that the ballot is mailable, if some campaign douche comes by I can laugh in his face and tell him I already voted.  Of course, that's a blatant lie.  I wait until the last minute to deliver my ballot.  But it is effective at getting people to go away.

The other huge advantage is that I get to troll the putzes waiting in line.  I could just mail the ballot in and not hand deliver it.  But that takes away half of the fun.  Tonight, I'll go to the poll at the busiest time, when the dinosaurs are waiting in line to vote in an actual polling booth.  I'll see hundreds of people who came there straight from work.  They'll wait in line for hours while their kids are at home not getting supper because their parents had a democratic urge.  And I'll saunter by those long lines, occasionally looking askance at these geniuses doing it the old-fashioned way.  I'll relish the hate-filled looks of the masses trapped in that seemingly endless queue.  If someone asks me what I think I'm doing, I'll smile sweetly and say "My ballot's right here, suckas!"  Then I'll drop my ballot in the slot and bail the hell out.

Of course, the biggest advantage to mail-in ballots would be noise reduction.  I've noticed, as always, a frenetic last-ditch effort by both campaigns to snag last minute converts.  Pundits jump in front of every camera they can.  Television ads jam the airwaves.  Tweets clog cyberspace.  As the desperation increases, the ridiculousness increases.  Crazy predictions, outlandish analysis, and absurd claims bombard us at every turn. 

If we all mailed in our votes at least a week in advance, we could seriously reduce the crazy levels.  I'm generally supportive of encouraging people to shut up, and this would be an effective way to do that.  Not that I'm opposed to people speaking their minds.  I just prefer that they say something useful.  Most last minute pundit spew is mindless blather, and therefore shut-up-worthy.  I prefer to hear thoughtful analysis.  Or at least mindless blather with an underlying meaning, which is what I do on this blog.  Mail-in voting shuts up the chattering class early and prevents the circus that is early voting lines. 

I don't know if other states mail out ballots, but if they did we could reduce the noise level significantly.  We could tell the door-to-door campaigners to take a hike.  We could render last minute misadventures in punditry obsolete.  I would have to give up voter line trolling if everyone mailed it in.  But it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the betterment of America.  Besides, I can find other ways to be a dick.  Mail-in voting: for a better, quieter, less annoying election.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Yay! I'm In a Battleground State! My Vote Counts! Now What the Hell DoI Do?

For the first time since I've been old enough to vote, I live in a state that is up for grabs.  Florida, a battleground state.  More than that, I live in a battleground county in that state.  I can actually impact the outcome of the election.  But there are three candidates (two that are viable) that I might vote for.  And I'm not sure what to do with any of them.  One seems better for the economy, another seems better for social issues, and the one that seems most in line with what I want doesn't have a prayer. 

I took the test at www.isidewith.com to find out who I'm most in agreement with. I match Gary Johnson on 87% of issues, Mitt Romney on 77%, and Barack Obama on 60%.   I only match about 57% of other Florida voters. That last one's not surprising; I match slightly more than half of the people in Florida. It's a battleground state. It's how we roll.

What to do?  Here's where I am on each one.

#1 Barack Obama

The economic recovery under Obama has been tepid.  I spent six months out of work in 2009, when the Florida economy, largely a real estate and tourism economy, was getting hammered.  His attempts to stimulate the economy didn't and haven't had any noticeable effect.  The only effect I noticed from his signature achievement, Obamacare, was that my employer at the time (this was after my six month jobless stint) called together the office and notified us that the cost of our health benefits had increased.  If we wanted to keep our coverage, we'd have to pay more.  If we wanted to pay the same amount, we'd have to choose a lower coverage plan.  He gave us as many options as he could, but he confirmed what we all suspected: that this increased cost was due to the passage of Obamacare.

Obama's done reasonably well in certain foreign policy areas (like sending SEALs to shoot people in the face), but I'm uncertain about his commitment to stick by Israel and prevent Iran from getting a nuke.  He seems a little uninvolved in Syria, but maybe got too involved in Libya. Many other parts of the world are more unstable than when he entered office, but I'm not sure how much of that can be traced to something he did.  Overall, I give his foreign policy a "meh" rating. Some problems were solved, others were not.

On social issues, I tend to be fine with him.  Obama's positions on civil liberties seem in line with mine.  I'm fine with legalizing marijuana and gay marriage.  Obama supports one based on things he's said, and another he must be sympathetic to due to his youthful "choom gang" shenanigans.  Also, most of his supporters support marijuana legalization. It's worth noting that my beliefs on this are not due to some sense of social justice.  My tolerance for these things is born from vast indifference.  Also, I don't see how the government has any business dictating what we do privately.  So although I'm apathetic on individual issues, I have a certain Mind-Your-Own-Damned-Business-ishness in my character (#grouchy). So any time government tries to tell someone what to do, my natural response is to tell them to stuff it.  And I sure as hell don't want them wasting money trying to stop these things.

You want to smoke weed?  Fine.  Don't tell me about it.  And don't do it near me because that stuff reeks.  You want to be gay?  Whatever.  Don't tell me about it.  Actually, lesbians are welcome to tell me about it, but gay dudes aren't.  Oink.  But there's one place that Obama kind of screwed the pooch.  You want to be Catholic?  Fine.  Government has no business telling Catholics how to be Catholic.  Even when it's the 1% of Catholics who don't use birth control. But Obama did sort of try to.

One thing that won't affect my decision is Hurricane Sandy.  Even if Obama nails that, it's not good enough.  Psychologists who work in human resources have a concept that they call the "Recency effect".  It has to do with judging someone by their most recent performance and not their overall performance.  Even if Obama's performance with the hurricane is exemplary, I'm not falling into that trap.  All four years are relevant.

So, on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social policy, Obama gets a "Meh", "Meh", and "Yeah, Whatever, With a Dash of Sorta Not Because of the Catholic Thing.".  I'm not too excited about him, which may explain why he got the lowest rating.

#2 Mitt Romney

I have no doubt that he'll do a better job with the economy.  Of course, that bar's pretty low.  Despite all of the rhetoric about Bain Capital being a bunch of corporate raiders, I know that venture capital companies specialize in helping new companies grow and helping failing companies turn around.  Neither of these is easy, but Romney's success rate was about 80%.  Given that startups usually fail and turning around a failing company is, well, problematic, I think that's a pretty decent performance. 

But another big part of handling the economy is handling the debt.  I don't know if I want taxes raised (although plenty of the rich guys I work for would be fine with it), but cutting taxes seems too risky.  He assumes that cuts will cause economic growth and an increase will stifle it, but that's not necessarily consistent with history (Clinton years).  And I know that Obama's stimulus involved any number of tax cuts.  It didn't seem to accomplish much. 

Mitt Romney doesn't seem like a small government guy.  His approach to business is sort of a top-down approach.  Small government is a bottom-up approach.  Let the people build the economy and have government do just enough to keep it going.  If the economy is a football game, the government is the referee, not the coach, and certainly not the quarterback.

Not being a small government guy is a problem, because I think only a small government guy has the guts to reform Medicare and Social Security. Bringing spending under control is critical, and these are huge chunks of the budget. The problem is, supporters, like the AARP, would rather see mountains of debt passed to future generations than fix the problem. I'm not convinced Romney or Obama will address this.

On foreign policy, Romney spooks me a bit.  I've no problem preventing Iran from getting a nuke or protecting Israel, but some of Romney's positions seem a bit too aggressive.  Excessive intervention in the Middle East can cause more trouble than it solves.  We've seen this in both the 20th and 21st centuries.  On the other hand, some of that may just be posturing.  After all, when Obama was elected, he promised to do things like close Gitmo.  It didn't happen.  He's also increased troops in Afghanistan, and gotten a little crazy with the drones.  These are not things he ran on.  What this tells me is that a President can make all sorts of promises when he's running, but once he's actually in office reality may set in.  What he wants may not be practical, at least not yet.  Mitt's positions may be a little aggressive on the campaign trail, but once he actually takes office he may have no choice but to moderate them somewhat.

On social issues, Mitt's positions are fairly far to the right.  This is a change from when he was Governor of Massachusetts.  As a presidential candidate, he has no problem enforcing laws that impose the values of one group on others.  But maybe that's just pandering too.  He's changed his mind on various things, but a lot of that was playing to the base during primary season.  Now that the right has no choice, we may find him moderating these positions.

Of course, those last two point out something else that's bothered me.  He's been compared to a weather vane, and I don't think that's unfair.  I have to ask myself if he really means what he says.  I have no doubt that he's interested in turning the country around, but is he going to do it like he says?  Maybe he's just saying what he needs to say to get elected, but once there he'll do things his own way.  If he moderated on foreign policy and social issues, I'd be fine.  But if he baits and switches on the economy, I'm not sure I'll like the result.

So, on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social policy, Romney gets a "Yah, sorta", "Meh (but don't go crazy)", and "Don't presume to tell us what to do with our private lives.".  I tend to give more weight to the economic issues, which is probably why he got the second highest rating.  But my stance on Romney is qualified with a dash of "Is this guy for real, or is he jerking me around?" 

#3 Gary Johnson

It's not a surprise that I'm most in line with Gary Johnson.  The Libertarian view on government is that the people should decide the direction of the country, and the government should focus on providing a safe and stable environment for the people.  The Libertarian view on foreign policy is roughly in line with the "city on a hill" doctrine.  America can generally lead by example, and should avoid trying to force people to agree with us.  If America is great, other people will want to be like us.

Granted, these are a little over-simplified.  And that's my main hang-up with Libertarians.  They do seem to oversimplify a bit too much.  I'm fine with free markets, but some Libertarians appear to think that it is the magical elixir that cures all ills.  I should mention that I find the socialist view that the free market is just snake oil a far more offensive idea.  The best way to describe the free market is to paraphrase Mr. Churchill.  The free market is the worst form of economy, except for all of the others.  It works, but that doesn't mean we can't do better.  Some of my Libertarian friends have such great faith in the free market's perfection that it borders on idolotry.  Which is ironic, since most of them are atheists. I want the freest markets possible, but I don't want laissez-faire.

In foreign policy, I'm generally in line with the Libertarian policy of avoiding interventions.  But sometimes it sounds a little too much like neo-isolationism.  We can't go back to the days where the United States only concerned itself with its own affairs, or at least its own hemisphere.  When you're about 22% of the global economy and the only real military power in the free world, you can't not be involved.  Our role should be as stewards of freedom and the free market, not as pushers of them.  But non-involvement is not an option.

This is why I don't call myself a Libertarian.  I'm more or less in line with them, but still have a few misgivings.  Gary Johnson seems like a fairly typical Libertarian, and my 87% score puts me more or less in line with him.  That's the highest score.  My rating on domestic policy, foreign policy, and social issues are "Yeah, mostly", "Yeah, mostly", and "That's right, tell 'em where they can shove their rules!".  But there's a problem. He can't win, and I'm in a position that I can actually decide who does. Still, I'm toying with the idea of voting for him. 

Americans have frequently taken a vending machine approach to politics.  When a vending machine doesn't give you what you want, you shake it or give it a kick.  When Americans do this to the government, this results in "wildcard" candidates. These are candidates that emerge in times of trouble and are a departure from what came before them.  In my lifetime, we made an actor president, we made another actor who was also a weightlifter a governor, and we made another actor who was also a weightlifter and a former Navy SEAL a governor.  We also made a junior senator with minimal experience the first black president.  Any number of tea-party candidates were wildcard candidates. Some might say all of them.  The idea is straightforward; inject some new blood into the establishment.

If a new type of candidate can affect the process, imagine how much a new type of party could.  Gary Johnson might not have a prayer of winning, but a good showing could lay the groundwork for a new party.  Of course, wildcard parties, like wildcard candidates, can produce mixed results.  Sometimes when you shake a vending machine, it just falls over and crushes you.  Doing that with the political process might have the same effect.  Public Service Announcement: Don't shake a real vending machine.

So I could vote for Gary Johnson.  I doubt it will affect this election, but it might build momentum for future elections.  If it does, I won't be wasting a vote.  But if my ISideWith results are any indication, I think I'm inclined to vote Romney somewhat more than Obama, despite my misgivings on Romney's authenticity.  Do too many votes for Johnson in Florida give Obama a win?  If Obama produces another four years of "meh" performance, is it worth it if I plant the seeds of a new party?  Is the new party really worth it, or will Libertarians just merge with the Republicans and moderate some of the Republican beliefs?

Of course, all of this is qualified by my "Ah, to hell with it" mentality (#grouchy).  How much is really going to change, regardless of who gets elected?  Answer, probably not that much.  I know that real change happens when the people make it happen, not the politicians.  We'll have debts until the people demand change.  We'll have unnecessary foreign interventions until the people demand change.  We'll have excessive regulation until the people demand change.  Maybe voting for the non-viable candidate is a small way of demanding change, but I doubt it'll do that much.

I could always just write in a random person.  I wonder if I could just put some random name in there, then find that name somewhere in the election results.  If I could find a record that had millions of votes for Obama and Romney, thousands, hundreds or dozens for the others, but only one vote for "Joe Blow Schmo" or whatever, at least I could point at that one vote and say "That was me.  I did that.".

A lot of people wonder how there can be undecided voters.  They assume that this is the result of laziness, stupidity, or some peculiar sense of vanity.  I've never been stupid, I am occasionally lazy (it's Florida; margaritas and chicks in bikinis have that effect on me), and I admit to being vain at times.  But that's not why I'm undecided.  I see two good to fair candidates that I'm not in love with, but I could probably live with, and one guy who seems best but doesn't have a chance.  An accident of geography has made my vote valuable.  Do I take a chance that Romney's telling the truth about his changes?  Do I treat Obama as a safety vote, since the economy has been mediocre, but could have been worse?  Or do I play the wildcard, even though it won't affect this election, and might not affect future ones?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Shut Up About Your Mother

As election season thankfully draws to a close, I suddenly feel the urge to rant about one of my pet peeves of campaigning politicians.  Everyone from national candidates to some jackass running for city council of Southwest Podunk seems to feel the need to say various nice things about the women in their lives.  I couldn't possibly care less.  Don't get me wrong, though.  My distaste for hearing anecdotes about wives and mothers and what-not shouldn't be misinterpreted as misogyny.  I just think it's a colossal waste of time.

For starters, let's think about politicians lavishing praise on their wives.  Both presidential candidates spent far too much time telling us how great their wives are.  This was received with uproarious applause at both conventions.  Why?  It's not terribly unusual for guy like his wife.  A guy who doesn't like his wife is usually a douchebag.  Of course, this isn't always true.  A guy could be married to a woman who likes cats.  Or tofu.  Or Justin Bieber.  But for the most part, any guy who is willing to move in with a woman, share the sheets, give up all decisions on interior decorating, make an effort to put the toilet seat down, and put an unnecessarily expensive ring on her finger, is probably at least reasonably fond of her.

One of the only things more obvious than a guy who loves his wife is a guy who loves his mother.  So why are we inundated with endless little stories about how wonderful a politician's mother was?  Men who don't like their wives may be douchebags, but men who don't like their mothers are usually sociopaths.  Well, unless their mothers beat them.  Still, if a man's mother beat him, that's probably what made him a sociopath.  Of course we like our mothers.  They fed us, clothed us, changed our diapers, and wiped our asses.  And if she breast-fed us, she's also the first girl we got to second base with.

There's one other little politician's story that's even dumber.  A few have mentioned how great their grandmothers were.  Of course, your grandmother was great.  The only difference between one grandmother and another is the little pet name we have for her.  But it doesn't matter if she's a Gamma, a Nana, a Mam-ma, or a Mi-Ma, she's the one who gives us free stuff.  How the hell could we not like that gal?  Any guy who doesn't like receiving gifts lacks even the faintest glimmer of self-interest.  Usually, the only people who don't have self-interest are dead people.  There aren't any corpses running for office.  Harry Reid wasn't running this time.

What the hell are these pols trying to tell me?  If you tell me that you like your wife, your mother, and your grandmother, all you're telling me is that you're not a douchebag, not a sociopath, and have at least a minimal amount of self-interest.  This doesn't qualify someone to be president or mayor or dogcatcher.  This means they have the minimum qualifications for being human.  So knock it off with your charming little stories, candidates.  I'm not impressed.  If you want me to vote for you, tell me something you don't have in common with most of the world's men.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Clorox - a Uniter, Not a Divider

Brandindex.com recently released a story on the brands preferred by Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. You can read it here. But if you're too lazy for that, just look at this chart.  If you're too blind to read the chart, follow the damn link.
 
First I was struck by the utterly unsurprising stuff.  For example, Republicans like Fox News.  In a related story, the sky is blue and the sun rises in the east.  Republicans like the History channel too. The party that's considered more traditional would naturally be more inclined to pay attention to history. Also, the History Channel consists primarily of footage of American soldiers shooting Nazis and Commies and Terrorists and Talibans. Which is something Republicans are naturally inclined to enjoy.

In other non-surprising developments, Republicans like Chick-Fil-a.  They rallied around it during the protests a while back when the Chick-Fil-A boss voiced an opinion opposed to gay marriage.  Republicans claim it's to support the first amendment.  Democrats say it's homophobia.  I'm not getting into that, because I already blogged about that on July 26th and I don't like repeating myself. 

Democrats like Google.  Not surprising.  Google has some left-wing cred, primarily because many of it's management types contributed to Obama's reelection campaign.  Democrats also like PBS.  They claim it's because they like Big Bird and Kermit the Frog and offering educational tools that are available to all, including low income kids.  Republicans will say it's government quasi-communism and public broadcasting should go away.  I say do what you will with Big Bird and Kermit, but don't touch Oscar the Grouch because he's awesome.

Then I noticed a few things that surprised me.  The Democrats like Levi's, but not so much with the Republicans.  I thought the Republicans owned the rough and tumble cowboy image.  Apparently, they like cowboys, but refuse to dress like them.  Republicans also appear to like the Discovery Channel more than Democrats.  It's a little confusing, since Democrats have frequently made attempts to paint Republicans as anti-science.  Having said that, I know that the best show on the Discovery Channel is Mythbusters, which consists primarily of two guys blowing stuff up.  So maybe Republicans are just tuning in for the explosions.  I know I do.

Republicans don't appear to like Amazon the way Democrats and Independents do.  They liked Amazon's former CEO (not that it was enough to get her elected), but apparently not Amazon.  I don't get it.  I use Amazon for one reason.  I don't like to DRIVE THROUGH TONS OF TRAFFIC AND DODGE NINE MILLION STUPID, DUMBASS KIDS IN THE MALL WHEN I GO CHRISTMAS SHOPPING!  Given that Republicans have a reputation (deserved or otherwise) of being older and crankier than Democrats, I would think they'd be with me on this.

But then I noticed the unifying brands.  Craftsman and Cheerios are pretty classic American brands, so it's not a surprise that all three groups would rate them highly.  But all three groups also rated Clorox highly.  Clorox?  Sure it's useful and it's been around forever, but it's not something we'd consider exciting.  It's a fairly simple chemical we use to perform relatively mundane tasks.  How does this rate so highly?  It took me awhile, but I finally figured it out.  Clorox, in all it's simplicity, helps us perform one of the most valuable tasks there is.  And that is...removing fecal matter from men's underwear.

These offensive little stains, commonly known as skidmarks, are recognized as the primary drawback of men wearing tightey-whiteys.  Granted, women have their own form of tightey-whiteys, but they are not as well known for their tendency to collect fecal matter.  Although they have been linked to an increasing number of camel-toe incidents.  Skidmarks in men's underwear can cause all sorts of mayhem.  Most notably, their presence can be sort of a deal-breaker in the bedroom.  So, in part, we owe continued procreation, a necessary part of the survival of humanity, to Clorox. 

That's the revelation.  Clorox is one of the foundations of our society, and indeed all humanity.  We couldn't exist without it.  Two of our most necessary biological functions are procreation and defecation.  And without Clorox, the latter would prevent the former.  Unless men could find women who like shit stains.  They exist, but I think they're all German.  Sexual relations with them typically involves a safeword, so it's not for everyone.

My eyes have been opened.  Clorox is the secret to human existence, and a solution to many of our society's ills.  I think Clorox can produce a better America.  For example, members of all three parties have shown an increasing distaste for bullshit.  Just go watch a political attack ad.  Or a political convention.  Or a Justin Bieber video.  It's everywhere.  So I propose new and improved, bullshit-strength Clorox.  Old Clorox paved the way for human expansion, and a new form of Clorox can help us achieve our destiny, by making us less stupid and asinine.  Bullshit-strength Clorox.  For a better future.

Monday, October 22, 2012

How to Avoid a Twitter Fail

Last week, Eva Longoria retweeted a dirty tweet.  I'm not going to put it here.  Go Google it if you haven't heard of this.  After you crawl out from under the rock you're living under.  Sadly, she used the Weiner-esque excuse of "My Twitter account is being hacked."  Not a smart move.  Nobody believed her, and now she's fallen victim to her own Twitter Fail. She should have known that the "hacked" excuse wouldn't fly.

I'm not an expert in lying, but in a past life I worked in advertising and marketing.  There's significant overlap between advertising and lying. Don't believe me? Go watch an infomercial at two in the morning. If you see a guy trying to tell you how to get rich in real estate or anything with Kevin Trudeau (just Google him too, I don't feel like putting in a link), then you'll see what I mean.

One of the rules we were mindful of in advertising is the Law of Diminishing Returns.  Here's how it works in advertising.  If I place an ad in a particular newspaper, or send junk mail to a particular neighborhood, I'll get responses from a chunk of the readers of that paper (well, I would have in the day that people read newspapers) or the residents of that neighborhood.  If I repeat this, I'll get some people that I didn't already have, but not as many as the first time.

As with advertising, the law of diminishing returns applies to lying.  A lie is less effective the second time it's used than the first time.  Therefore, if the first guy to tell a particular lie became a laughing stock and was forced to resign in disgrace, one cannot expect better results using the same lie.  However, there are ways to dance around a Twitter Fail that are far more effective.

Method 1: Blame it on a dead guy.

Many Twitty-types use an iPhone to tweet, despite the fact that they barely know how to use an iPhone.  These devices are relatively new technology, so people using them wrongly is still quite common.  Improper use of an iPhone can result in all sorts of mayhem.  Just go see Damnyouautocorrect.  And I am providing a link to that.  Because it's awesome.  Well, most of the time.  So all you have to do is pretend that the invisible hand of Steve Jobs reached from beyond the grave and bestowed his wrath upon you.  Suddenly your Twitter Fail became an iPhone fail.  We've all done that at least once.

Method 2: Blame it on outsourcing

It's well known that various rich and famous people don't manage their own Twitter accounts or blogs or whatever.  They just hire some tech-savvy kid to handle it for them.  If you're rich and famous, just blame the fail on the 14 year old kid you outsourced to.  Then fire him.  Granted, this increases the unemployment rate.  But if you're using proper outsourcing, this only increases unemployment in India.  That doesn't have quite so much political baggage as increasing American unemployment.  Unless it's considered racist.  You never can tell.  Almost anything could be considered racist these days.

Method 3: Oops!

Granted, "oops" is a higher risk solution.  Rick Perry tried it once, with somewhat disappointing results.  But a well placed "oops" can solve all of your problems.  I once had a co-worker give this excuse: "I meant to go to sec.gov, not sex.com!"  He actually avoided getting fired.  It wasn't implausible.  The "C" and the "X" are right next to each other on the keyboard.  And we've all mindlessly typed in ".com" when we meant to type ".gov", ".edu". or ".org" at least once.  We all mis-click a mouse or fat-finger something on a keyboard every now and then. 

It's worth noting that this is a little different from the iPhone Fail solution.  In that scenario, you blame new technology and your own Noob status.  In this case, the excuse is a mis-click or a typo.  The mouse and QWERTY keyboard aren't that new.  If your actual problem is that you haven't figured out these ancient technologies, please kill yourself.  Now.

It's all about believability.  Everyone with an iPhone can relate to the iPhone fail.  Everyone with fingers can related to a mis-click or a typo.  And we all know that famous people outsource their tweets all the time.  But we're not buying the Twitter hack thing.  We've heard that lie before.  It's best to tell a lie that we can relate to.  Unless you decide to own up and apologize.  Nah, that's a crazy idea.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Infidelity - the Secret to Punditry

The other day, I was reading a little piece on Mediaite.com about how Mark Sanford, former South Carolina, was apparently being a racist. He said that President Obama would be "throwing spears" at the debate, presumably to make up for his poor performance in the first debate. Normally, I'm a bit suspicious of accusations of racism based on code words, but I know that "spear thrower" is a somewhat denigrating phrase used to describe black people.  On the other hand, Mark Sanford's mistress was Argentinian, so he can't be that racist.

Then it hit me.  What the hell is a man who fooled around on his wife doing as a pundit?  Presumably, pundits are people who's word means something.  The're not just experts, people have to have reason to believe them, to take their word for things.  How is it that people think I'll take the word of a man who can't be trusted by his wife?

But then I remembered that there's nothing new about this.  Newt Gingrich works as a pundit for Fox News, and he's renowned for marital excess, even while impeaching other guys for marital excess.  Elliot Spitzer was a high-class John for high-class hookers.  He still managed to secure a show on CNN, which is now cancelled, and a show on Current TV, which is not cancelled, but nobody watches it because it's on Current TV.

This is a terrible injustice.  We are a) trusting the political word of untrustworthy men and b) treating women unfairly.  Woman politicians can't get away with this.  First of all, I went looking.  Woman politicians don't cheat that often.  What's more, they can get into huge trouble just for being accused of cheating.  Both Sarah Palin (ok, not exactly a politician) and Governor Nikki Haley were accused of infidelity.  The accusations were just that, accusations.  No proof was ever presented.  But they had to do all sorts of damage control.  Cheating isn't a resume builder for woman politicians, only men.

Why is this?  Well, the demographic that drives advertising dollars (and therefore news media) is men between 25 to 54.  And no matter how modernized we men are, we still have a little residual oinkity-oinkishness.  I'm one of those medern guys, I know what I'm talking about.  We can forgive men who cheat.  Apparently, powerful men fooling around enhances their power.  Thank you, Kennedy brothers.  This apparently makes them strong alpha male types, not man-sluts as they should be.  Certain exceptions apply.  Oinkiness only allows for heterosexual affairs.  Also, the affairs must be sexual, not cybersexual.  Gay infidelity (Larry Craig, Jim McGreevey) or bizarro Twitter affairs (Anthony Weiner), don't affirm alpha male status, so no jobs for those guys.

But there's a way to reconcile oinkishness with opportunities for female philandering.  All a woman politician needs to do is have a lesbian affair.  As long as they're both hot.  Like I said, oink.  Our oinkiness won't allow for non-hot women pundits anyway.  Lesbian philandering will give female politicans increased opportunities in female punditry.  Well, right after they retire in disgrace.

Lesbians can break down the barriers for other women.  And nothing would produce better ratings than a Republican lesbian arguing with Elliot Spitzer or a Democratic lesbian arguing with Mark Sanford.  Or perhaps a Republican lesbian debating a Democratic lesbian.  I'm sure that scene has been seen before on TV, but it was probably in a porn movie.  If it was on Fox or MSNBC, advertising dollars would go through the roof.  The economy would rebound overnight.

I realize, it might be simpler to demand that cheating politicians stay out of the public eye.  But then we would miss out on the economic benefits of seeing hot, arguing lesbians on basic cable.  So instead, lesbians must break ground for other women.  Only girl-girl love can close the infidelity gap.  Several female politicians must come out as lesbians, cheat on their husbands, then enter into a illustrious punditry career.  Once a few hot lesbian chicks do it, the oinking crowd will get used to the idea.  At that point, anyone will be able to fool around and still get a pundit job.  Then we will finally have infidelity justice for all. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Save Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid Your Damn Self

I find myself increasingly campaign-weary these days.  I'm awash in talking points and attack ads and blahblah.  One of the constant headaches is the constant harping on Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid.  Everybody agrees that these need fixing.  We've seen this coming for decades.  But they're just being used as tools of demogoguery.  Both sides are telling us how the other side wants to kill our grandparents.

Please.  Nobody wants to kill our grandparents.  Some of us want the programs to still be in place when we become grandparents.  But the current crop of grandparents frequently tries to stop that.  These programs are often referred to as the third rail of politics.  Not quite.  Old people are the third rail of politics.  This is because they're a large, growing, and reliable voting bloc.  They vote more than young people because their incomes are more likely to be affected by policy and they have more time on their hands.

I'm sick of slamming my head against that wall.  No matter who wins, no matter what we try to do to save entitlements, retirees will get in the way.  More ridiculous commercials with politicians pushing grandmothers over cliffs will be produced.  We've all been on the receiving end of a guilt trip from our grandmothers and grandfathers in our lives.  If a politician even imagines altering Social Security or Medicare, he gets a guilt trip from every retired person in the country.

Digging retirees out of their entrenched positions by charging the machine guns of the AARP seems like an exercise in futility.  Instead, I think regular people should take a different approach.  This means saving money and living right.  Maybe we can't change the programs, but we can take some of the heat off of them by taking better care of ourselves. 

A saw a story on the wires the other day.  We're getting fatter.  We'll be hugely fat in another few decades.  This needs to stop.  My own people are mostly responsible for this; obesity is concentrated in the South.  It's because we eat fried things and dead pigs.  For some reason, obesity is high amongst lower income people, particularly lower income minorities.  I find it strange that America is one of the few places in the world where one can be both poor and morbidly obese, but that's not the point I'm getting at today.  Lower income people will use Medicaid, and if they don't take care of themselves, the cost will be staggering.  Lower income people are also more likely to drink and smoke, which doesn't help.  The easiest way to save on medical expenses is to avoid getting sick.  We should all live better, and poorer people will do themselves a huge favor by not blowing their money on unhealthy habits.

I've blogged previously on my love of Southern food, but I don't make it a staple of my diet.  Fried chicken and barbecue are occasional indulgences for me, not nightly meals.  I cook my own meals rather than eating out.  I try to exercise four times a week for one hour, usually jogging.  It was rough at first, but I've made a habit out of it and have started to enjoy it.  Here's a hint.  Use an MP3 player and play loud and offensive heavy metal music while you jog.  The rage the music produces distracts from the pain and monotony of running.  Proper diet and exercise is my best medical insurance.

The other thing I'm doing is saving money.  I've worked in the financial field before, and I've always been surprised at how few people save for retirement.  Another wire story I read recently told me that 401ks had failed the country.  Not exactly.  They work fine, but most people don't take advantage of them.  So I'm starting.  If I put aside $500 a month until I retire, I'll have over a million dollars when I retire.  Assuming about 10% growth, which isn't that hard to do.

Granted, saving money is hard these days.  Many people claim they don't have money to spare.  But I find that there's more money to go around because I'm not blowing it on take-out, dining out, drinking and smoking, amongst other things. My fiscal diet and physical diet are intertwined.  I make a point of saving the money and it happens.

I'd love to see the government take a diet of sorts, but I'm not holding my breath.  I'll assume that Social Security, Medicare, and Medicare are inevitable train wrecks.  Let the politicians hammer away.  If the rest of us focus entirely on taking care of ourselves, mind, body, and bank account, we won't need these programs.  Maybe I'll use Medicare eventually, if it's still around, but maybe I won't need it until I'm 80 or so because I'll be in good health.  Maybe I'll collect Social Security, if it's still around, but maybe I won't need it because I'll have millions in savings.  If the government can save me, more power to them.  I think we'll all be better off if we make it unnecessary for government to save us.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Quranic Crybabies in a Grown-Up World

In totally unsurprising news, goofball Civil-War-moustached preacher from Gainesville, Florida has been tied to something offensive to muslims.  Again.  Apparently, some real estate guy in California made a movie that portrays Mohammed (a muslim no-no) as a crazy, child-raping, philandering, torturing, conquering whack-job (a big muslim no-no), and Gainesville preacher man was somehow in on it.  Also unsurprisingly, various muslims in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia are pitching fits.

First, it's okay to be angry.  Plenty of movie makers have made Christians look like idiots over the years.  I get the outrage.  I've also seen the YouTube trailers, unlike most of the protesters.  The movie insults Islam with its content.  It also insults one of America's greatest religions (Hollywood) with its atrocious production values.  These actors don't have the skill to be in a low budget porn movie.  WWF wrestling is Oscar material by comparison.  And I briefly felt the urge to set fire to the movie studio that produced this, because it seemed like it might actually be a public service.

But I got past that.  That's what adults do.  I have no problem slamming the filmmakers for their idiocy, but that's all I'm doing.  Initially, that's all the aforementioned fit-pitching muslims did too.  Loud, but peaceful protests were launched.  Then some schmucks in Egypt decided to scale the U.S. embassy walls and tear down the flag.  This is when protestors (normally just annoying pests) become agitators trying to intimidate us into silence.

This sort of reaction is all too common.  The slightest insult to Islam results in riots and violence.  It also results in dimwits flaunting their ignorance as to how the real world works.  A 19 year-old in Egypt demanded that the movie be banned immediately.  Sorry kid, the free world doesn't do censorship.  Graffiti in Egypt read "If your freedom of speech has no limits, may you accept our freedom of action."  If "freedom of action" means you're just going to protest, knock yourself out.  Because it's free speech.  But if freedom of action is a threat of violence, you might want to remember that our freedom of action includes Predator drones.

Slightly more disturbing is the reaction of some officials.  The American Embassy's statement was “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”  Abuse the universal right to freedom of speech?  Wrong, fellas.  The amendment exists precisely to protect this type of speech.  That's why crosses dipped in urine and images of the Virgin Mary covered in feces are protected speech.  It's offensive, but ideas that people find offensive are allowed, because sometimes they produce positive results. 

For example, there was a time where the idea of a woman or a black person voting was offensive to many.  Should we have shut down Women's Suffrage or the Civil Rights Movement because some people were offended?  Being provocative is use of free speech, not abuse.  The only abuse of free speech is not exercising it.  Having said that, I'm not unsympathetic to the embassy's position.  They were trying to distance themselves from the film in order to avoid retaliation.  Not that it worked, but I get why they tried.  They were trying to avoid getting killed.  I generally try to avoid death as well.  But we should not sacrific the Constitution on the altar of diplomacy.

The most violent incident occurred when some extremists in Libya, a country we helped liberate, used the confusion to attack our consulate in Benghazi. They killed the ambassador, a man who played a significant role in the liberation of Libya. There's gratitude for you.  But several pundits decided to pin the blame on us.  There are too many to list (use Google, you'll find them easily), but the most egregious is liberal pundit Sally Kohn, who tweeted "It's simple: US Ambassador is dead. Would still be alive but for reckless anti-Islam film. Doesn't excuse violence. Did provoke it."  We brought it on ourselves. 

This is an excuse common amongst husbands who beat their wives.  Of course, plenty of muslim extremists are okay with wife-beating.  There's a little more to this, though.  Reports now say that the attack on the ambassador was planned long before this.  So Sally Kohn is wrong, we didn't bring it on ourselves.  This was just nutjobs doing nutjob stuff.  The riots were in response to the movie, but not the attack. 

But the key point here is that we should not be forced to avoid speaking our minds because we're afraid some crazy guy is going to light a fire.  Protests are okay, but vandalism and assault are not.  No one who believes in free speech should allow themselves to be intmidated into silence.  If we remain silent because we're afraid someone will get violent, we've sold out the Constitution.  If anything, we should keep being offensive so that the loonies of the world will learn to handle it like the decent people of the world.

Douchey preacher is a douchey.  Most people agree on that.  But in the free world, douchiness is not illegal.  Countering offensive speech with other speech is how adults handle it.  We don't set fires when some random guy does something stupid.  We don't have riots when the a preacher burns Qurans on purpose, and we certainly don't do it when soldiers burn Qurans by accident.  These things happen in the free world.  You can't throw a temper tantrum every time it does.  Grow up.

9/11 - Move On, Never Forget, and Don't Nitpick About It

Today was the eleventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  TV, newspapers, and the Internet were full of stories about the attacks and memorial services all over the country.  Twitter was flooded with #NeverForget tweets.  We shouldn't forget, and I don't think any of us will.  But I've started to notice some ugliness in some places, and some silliness in other places.

I'll start with the ugliness.  I've been seeing an increasing amount of "Move On" and "Get Over It" stories.  Naturally, most of this is in the form of anonymous internet postings.  This is fringe stuff, but I keep seeing more of it.  It's usually the mewlings of extreme leftists or the febrile meanderings of conspiracy theorists.

The extreme leftist types don't see the way the country united after 9/11 as a positive thing.  Instead, they see our memorials as an excuse for jingoism and neoimperialism.  Pardon my French, fellas, but horseshit.  The country with the most liberal immigration policy in the world cannot be considered jingistic.  And I'll believe America is an empire on the day I get my first tribute payment.

The conspiracy theorists believe that we planned 9/11 to excuse invasions of other countries and domestic spying.  There certainly has been some overreach in those areas.  But we're out of Iraq, and attempts to spy on citizens are frequently called out in the press and in the courts.  The "evidence" of the conspiracy theorists usually revolves around showing video of the towers collapsing, and claiming that the collapse could only be caused by a planned demolition.  These spurious claims have been easily and laughably debunked by experts.  So horseshit to you guys too.

The fact that the country united after 9/11 isn't a bad thing.  It shows that we can still work towards a common purpose, something that doesn't happen often enough these days.  To see this as something nefarious seems like anti-American nut rhetoric.  I hesitate to accuse anyone of anti-Americanism because I know there is a potential for abuse.  Like accusations of racism and socialism these days, it's frequently thrown out by someone who has nothing more intelligent to say.  But I can think of no other reason for it.  How else can one explain seeing a negative in the greatest strength of America: our ability to come together in a crisis.  This unity is why we should never forget 9/11.

Now for the silliness.  This morning I saw a story about how CNN was too busy covering the Kardashians to have a moment of silence at 8:46 AM, when the first plane hit.  Enter manufactured outrage.  Granted, everything Kardashian is inherently silly.  But I don't think we should obsess too much about how other people remember the time of the first impact.  I didn't remember either.  There's a reason for that, but in order for that to make sense, it's important to know what I was doing on 9/11.

I was working in a call center in Atlanta at the time for a financial services firm.  The center was open 24 hours, and I worked the night shift.  So I didn't even wake up until mid-afternoon.  It was a fairly typical day for me.  On my way to work, I turned on the radio and put in a CD.  While the CD was going in I heard a brief mention of an attack on the Pentagon, but it was so out of context I assumed it must be some talk radio pundits speculating on some obscure "what if" scenario.  The likelihood of an attack on the Pentagon seemed ludicrous.  Also, I was driving through Atlanta traffic, so I wasn't really paying attention.

When I got to work, I knew something was wrong.  People weren't moving like they normally did.  They huddled in small groups, whispering amongst themselves.  There was a vibe there of general wrongness.  Then I saw the overhead TV monitors, always tuned to CNBC to watch the market.  But today they showed the towers in flames.  I was stunned.  It was beyond imagination.

I spent the next few hours trying to find out what happened to a few friends I knew in New York.  They didn't work in the towers, but they worked in that part of town.  Fortunately, they were all fine.  For the rest of the shift, all we could do was sit and watch the reports.  I don't know if we could have brought ourselves to work, but there wasn't anything to do anyway.  The markets were closed.  Our Virginia office, a stone's throw from the Pentagon, was completely shut down.  All we could do is watch the reports in horror and wonder how and why this could happen.

Over the next few days, our horror and outrage would turn to hope at seeing solidarity as members of Congress huddled on the steps of the capital to sing "God Bless America".  Our rage would gradually turn into determination when we heard the President's address a few days later.  We all felt unified and a strength of purpose.  It's important that we remember that feeling of unity, especially now that we face different crises.  That unity can be dangerous if we lose ourselves in it (we got a little carried away in subsequent years), but it's a force for good when done responsibly.  And unity is something we lack these days.

I never knew that the first plane hit at 8:46 AM, though.  I was asleep at the time.  That's why it's not such a big deal for me.  And when I woke up this morning, I didn't even realize it was 9/11.  When I saw the news, I noticed that the memorials were there, but less so than in previous years.  That's why CNN would show a Kardashian at 8:46.  Not because they've forgotten, but because we're moving on.  Not in the nasty, heartless way spewed by extremists.  We're moving on in an entirely natural, and entirely healthy way.  I'm not worried that we'll ever forget.  That's a lesson I learned from my parents.  They can both tell me exactly where they were when they heard JFK was assassinated over fifty years ago.  Fifty years from now I'll remember where I was when I heard about the 9/11 attacks, assuming I'm still alive.

I'm moving on too, which is why I had to be reminded that it was 9/11 today.  The helplessness I felt when it happened is long gone.  The lesson I'll remember, that we all should, is that no matter how bad things get, America can unite and bounce back.  When we hear naysayers and nutjobs bashing 9/11, we should remind them of the tragedy and the fact that we unified and overcame it.  And when someone else forgets a moment of silence, just let it go.  They haven't forgotten the attack.  They've just gotten over the pain and loss, and don't feel the need spend so much time on ceremony.  It's not a sign of inconsideration; it's just a sign of healing.