Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Did you stop to read the writing at The Wall
Did that voice inside you say
I've seen this all before
From a man who cut his teeth on the issues of the 60s and 70s, Vietnam, and the Nixon administration, this is a person whose reflections on history I take to heart during our own incensed times.
My dad took me to Vietnam Memorial, "The Wall", in Washington DC. He stood before 56,000 names etched into granite and found the name of a friend and touched his hand on the wall and started to cry. And he told me about how that friend was right in front of him when a bullet struck him down. He fell backwards, forcing my dad down, as the jungle came alive with machine gun fire. That could have been my dad, and that would have ended me before I began.
And so he was transported back, 20 years, to a chaotic war for freedom. Happily, today, America's president and the prime minister of Vietnam meet peacefully. Vietnam is a country on the rise, cooperating with democratic countries who buy it's products and send tourists to it's shores. But not because of the death of my dad's friend. 56,000 people died to keep Communism out and to keep it from spreading. Communism stayed, and we left defeated, and today Vietnam is no threat to anyone and a willing member in the world community.
It turns out the voices of John Kerry, the winter soldiers, and the protesters, were right. Did my dad think of that? Was he sad because a good man lost his life for no good reason? Maybe he was hopeful that from those deaths that generation's children would learn a lesson about war.
What would he think about the days we live in now?
"After September 11, I made a commitment to the American people: this nation will not be attacked again. We will defend our freedom. We will take the fight to the enemy. Iraq is the latest battlefield in this war. Many of the terrorists who kill innocent men, women and children on thestreets of Baghdad are followers of the same murderous ideology that took the lives of our citizens in New York, in Washington and Pennsylvania. There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of thecoalition operations in Iraq, who is also senior commander at this base, General John Vines, putit well the other day. He said, 'We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, orwe deal with it when it comes to us.'"
This rhetoric would all be well and good, but Iraq was not the enemy and never was a threat to America. Now we are fighting terrorists there because we did not secure the boarders after our ill-conceived invasion and WMD hunt. Before the US Army showed up there were no terrorists, terrorist camps, or ties to Al Quida of any kind to be found. Now, terrorism is Iraq's major industry. I liken it to fighting crime by fire-bombing a low-crime neighborhood, and then goingto fight the rising crime-rate that is a result of our destruction and violence.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about the war in Iraq: that we went there to fight terrorists. Everyday, people mention Iraq in the same breath as terrorists. They say if we are better off fighting them abroad than at home. But we shouldn't be fighting in Iraq at all. We never should have gone there. The 9/11 Commission found that Iraq never had any terrorist ties, and our own troops have found that Iraq never had any WMDs and never was a threat. It would have been like invading China for Japan's bombing of Pearl Harbor. You can't win a war if you can't even identify the threats.
Rather than spouting off newspseak and rhetoric, I want to hear someone tell the facts: "We are in Iraq because we thought they had WMDs. We were wrong and now we have inflamed the hearts andminds of thousands of would-be-terrorsts, hatered we have helped justify with our reckless, intolerant behavior. Now we are trying desperately to fix what we've broken."
"Gay marriage infringes on the sanctity of marriage" said Steve Cowel. "The problem with this country is the breakdown of the family."
Once again, the link was made between new fears and the destruction of the family. This made me think of a few things.
1. Christians have had the last 2000 years to keep marriage sacred and have done a lousy job. In a recent poll, 4 out of 5 divorced Baptist women wished their ex-husbands had upheld the sanctity of marriage.
2. Most parents are completely over-worked in our consumer-oriented society. I've known husbands working overtime hours while their wives were sick in the hospital. Often, both parents have no choice but to work, spending less time with their children. The weekend is quickly becoming just an extension of the week.
3. Sending our kids to college is becoming more and more expensive. College costs increase at twice the inflation rate, the average tuition now being $27,677 for a 4-year degree at a private college.
4. 18 year olds are often invited to go into debt. When I was 18 I received credit card offers. 10 years later I am just now paying those cards off. I am not alone: many other young-adults that I know are also deeply in debt by the time they are 22 from either college loans or credit cards.
5. There is no universal health-care system for people who get sick and need constant care. Missouri has just recently cut it's health-care spending, leaving thousands destitute. Medicine is a wonderful thing, but now it often allows people to live long enough to catch a disease like Alzheimer’s which eventually requires 24-hour care and can last for years before killing a person. Families face the grim prospect of having to pay for this care, losing their savings.
A better country would have answers for the problems it already has, rather than waxing philosophical about potential problems if two gays are allowed to have equal rights. I'm tired of hearing about family-values, patriotism, and our country's Christian roots. Perhaps those screaming about the Ten Commandments in schools, and embracing a society that erodes the family should memorize a few more Bible verses.
"Show me your faith by what you say, and I'll show you my faith by what I do."
"I desire mercy, and not sacrifice."
What are the answers to these problems? How come fundamentalists aren't up in arms about the American 45+ hour work week and workaholism? France has figured out that it's better for people to work less, implementing a 35 hour work week. Families have more time to spend with their kids, they are less work-obsessed, and consequentially more productive. France has figured out that what is best for one little child reaping the benefits of having his or her parents around more often is better for society as a whole in the long run.
France, the same country labeled as "secular", "atheistic", "socialistic", and "weak" by Americans, is at the fore-front of family values. We have a lot to learn. Our families fall apart, and religious and social leaders offer no solutions other than to cast stones at gays who attempt to procure equal rights. That is ridiculous. We obviously have no idea as a country about "family values", how can we tell those who want equal rights what is right?
Canada is now taking the next step in their social experiment in civil rights. The Roman Catholic church is concerned to be sure. But then again, civil-rights was never Catholicism's strong suit. Let's watch and see if Canadian families begin to fall apart. Or, maybe it's modern consumerism, workaholism, and selfishness that lead to the destruction of the family. These are habits America has cornered the market on.
Physician, heal thyself.
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
SBC delegates remember being shocked when learning Disney was not established to raise their children or necessarily uphold traditional family values."I just couldn't believe it. Mickey Mouse must be rolling in his grave!" One member commented, in reference to Disney's pro-gay policies.
The SBC delegates now feel that Disney has learned it's lesson. They now plan on turning the full brunt of their power onto other child-oriented corporate trouble makers--namely, Tyco for it's shady business practices, and Viacom for continuing Adam Sandler's career. "It turns out Mr. Sandler, while a hit with the kids, is not interested in traditional family values either."
Exorcising the boycott is a powerful free-trade tool. But another powerful force is forgiveness. If they can forgive and forget, I suppose I can end my boycott of french fries, french vanilla, and french toast. I've cost those Frenchies thousands of dollars. They'll be changing their ways.
The SBC delegates also passed a resolution urging parents to investigate school tolerance over homosexuality and came out in favor of stem cell research where the embryo is not destroyed. Scientists around the country were eagerly awaiting the SBC's official approval.
1. "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."
2. "I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse."
3. "I coulda been a contender!"
4. "Toto, I've got a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
5. "Here's looking at you, kid."
"Casablanca" led the list with six quotes.
Here's the full story: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20050622/ap_on_en_mo/film_movie_quotes
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Dozens signed up.
Monday, June 20, 2005
"You gotta find a good woman. Not too smart, not too dumb. Not too old, not too young. One that can cook and clean." -- Saddam Hussein's relationship advice to an American guard
Call me crazy, but I like the way he thinks.
The whole story can be found here:
World News Daily reports, "It appears Jennifer Wilbanks, the so-called runaway bride, is now making a run for the money, having signed a $500,000 deal with a media company pitching a movie to television networks."
My first question was, "Why would she do this?"
Then the obvious answer is, "Because there's money to be made, stupid!" This is a church-going woman who seems to be constantly involved in selfishness. She'd do better to memorize a few Bible verses on humility and stop stressing herself out with the pomp-and-circumstance of a Modern Bride lifestyle.
But now my question is, "Who would read this crap?"
Once again, to me the ethical issue is not with people trying to cash in, it's with people supporting that idea.
I think of the legions of people who follow Oprah's every word. Rest assured that Wilbanks will be making many day-time television appearances as her book nears publication. I do not see it as any stretch for her to take a spin on Oprah's Couch.
Oprah: Now, please, tell me once again what caused you to runaway...
Wilbanks: I was so stressed....(sobbing)... please, it's all in my book...
Housewives are a perfect target fora misunderstood woman wanting to tell-all. Don't yell at me for stereotyping. See for yourself which audience gets targeted when it comes time to sell the book.
And people will buy it! I'd urge everyone to boycott this book but I know I'd be in the minority. The ramblings of crazy people seem to be very en-vogue. But, if you want to read about why psychologically disturbed people do things pick-up "In Cold Blood" by Truman Capote. Jennifer Wilbanks is no different from you or me, except that she can't handle life. And she escapes from it by claiming to be kidnapped by a Hispanic. The rest of us are far to humble and responsible--not to mention sane--to do such things. Why buy her book?
Thanks to One World News for the story.
Thursday, June 16, 2005
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Winner of "Best Military Blog 2004" from Weblog Awards. Here's the best of the best, complete with three (!) pictures of sexy ladies, Army recruiting tips, and plenty of (obviously) high powered verbiage. What caught my eye was a commentary on US treatment of prisoners.
Here's a snip from that post.
"BTW, fifteen of the inmates at Abu Ghraib were terrorists who killed my friend Maj. Scott Schram. While I abhor the actions of the admin clerk, her idiot MP boyfriend, and others there, you should realize that the worst that we do is put panties on their heads (or for two week, had dogs bark at the 20th hijacker or women interrogators use their "charms"). The worst they do is remove heads of prisoners. That's no zero-sum-gain and it's not 'tit-for-tat'. Far from it..."
There's so much blog fodder on that sight, you'll just have to check it out yourself.
I'd find it amusing if it didn't occur to me that while we are busy fighting fundamentalists in Iraq and "the 'Stan" (that's "Afghanistan" for the less macho), we are creating our own fundamentalists right here at home. Fundamentalism needs an enemy. As a fundamentalist you do not just quietly lead by example. No. You must shut down others who don't agree with you. It becomes a crusade. Those who get behind you become the sword of God.
But, don't you think those people we humiliate in prisons will sew the seeds of fundamentalism all the more when (and if) they get out? Don't you think a family who returns their smoldering home will learn to hate too? Don't you think it sort of gives credence to their anti-American point of view? They don't hate us because we're free. They hate us because we're fundamentalists too. Except we conscript the world through money, and entertainment, and secularism, and now force. We're over there, 150,000 strong, to build a little America right in Muhammid's back yard. Of course they'll attempt to stop us. Just as much as we'd try to stop them from building a new Islamic Golden Age in Texas.
There's no right and wrong here. There are two fundamentalist world views which will not budge. Of course an Islamic fundamentalist will attempt to force their point of view on people (Christians have done no less). But that does not get curbed when we retaliate in-kind. Maybe it is the only language they'll understand, but I wish we could be better. Sometimes you do have to fight and defend yourself, but you don't have to sell your higher values and become a fundamentalist yourself. If that's the only way to convince yourself what you're fighting for is right, then it's probably not worth fighting for.
To me, that's the problem. If everyone would just calm down and accept that they don't have all the answers, rather than violently advocating them, the world would be much better off. Two fundamentalists willing to kill each other over their beliefs does no one any good. I wish we lived in a more humble world where people are allowed to live their lives and the best ideas are the ones that catch on. Not because they were forced, but because they have irresistible merit. Not because we are threatened with hell for not doing so, but because it honors God's creation to do so.
We're so busy trying to fight the symptoms of the disease, we fail to see the same symptoms in ourselves. The problem is a violent outlook on life, a forceful equilibrium that only works when everyone agrees with our point of view. We eye with suspicion those countries that want a nuclear weapon, when we have created a world where such that device is the ultimate bargaining chip. Islamic fundamentalists use terrorism to stop Western secularism. Western fundamentalists use force and sanctions to make countries to fall in line. Both conscript minds to fight for concepts that do not ask to be defended by force.
You say Gitmo, I say Gulag. Let's call the whole thing off.
2. Dismisses information that does not support that world-view.
3. Takes extreme positions towards those who do not agree with that world-view.
"A president who sees the world in terms of right and wrong should not have been so ready to dismiss Amnesty's findings because the accounts came from 'people who hate America.'" - Journal Star, Peoria, Ill.
10. Consumer Reports
8. Men's Health
7. American Demographics
6. The New Yorker
4. Cook's Illustrated
3. The Economist
2. Real Simple
See the Top 50 here.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Why wasn't I notified?
Also, check out the merchandise!
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Personally, I hate them. I hate them because they are the latest thing. I hate them because my mom might be listening to them right now. I hate them because they are hip and I feel threatened. U2 is hip, but in a here-to-stay kind of way. In a non-threatening Bruce Springsteen kind of "gee, maybe we should have appreciated them more in their prime" sort of way. In a "we're getting the band back together, man" kind of way. But Coldplay? They're crypto-album cover, edge of the envelope, super-model-wife, Euro kind of hip. I never could swing in those circles.
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
I like it when people refer to our wonderful democracy as an "experiment". It is a daring experiment. The Founding Fathers assembled created a nation that gave the common person an incredible power--choice. This was the experiment. In history, choice was largely left up to a select few; governments and churches decided what was best for the populace. But in America, the people would make the decisions for themselves. To me, American history is one great sociological experiment.
Our economy works on that principle. You have the freedom to create a product, and people have the freedom to buy it. You have the right to charge what you want, and people have the right to pay it or not.
Wal-Mart stands at the pinnacle of almost 250 years of American economics. Like anything else, it has evolved. And in our system of choice, this animal is the fittest of them all. By offering extremely low prices, and a wide variety of products, it has become the world's largest corporation. But it only got there by Americans exercising their freedom of choice and choosing it.
To me, Wal-Mart represents a giant disconnect in this country. Similar to the disconnect that exists between people and politics. Wal-Mart, like any animal, does what it needs to survive. Like any politician, it will say and do whatever it needs to. And yet, people seem more than willing to disregard the heavy price paid, to get what they want.
Wal-Mart searches the globe for the lowest price of labor. In China, workers are paid $100 a month. But then Wal-Mart can also sell jeans for $20. Would you pay more for jeans if they came from factory workers paid a reasonable wage and with a union? History has already given us that answer.
Wal-Mart has no union, and pays its employees $9 an hour. Would you buy groceries from a store with higher prices?
Smaller business cannot compete with Wal-Mart's prices. When a Wal-Mart moves into a region, many businesses must move or close, and many people are left unemployed. Sometimes those unemployed people go to work at Wal-Mart, for less than they made at their old business.
There's a disconnect in this country, and that is what makes me nervous. We are a very ambivalent people. Most of America is against the war in Iraq, most feel our troops are bogged down, and most feel that the war has done nothing to enhance homeland security. Thus, at the time of the election, most people thought the President was doing a poor job. Yet, we re-elected him. We continue to do many things that are not in our best interest, from denying our rights, to re-electing failed leaders, to shopping at stores that lower living conditions just so we can save a few dollars.
The article in the Los Angeles Times said, "Surveys by the Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers Ã— the two unions most threatened by Wal-Mart Ã— show that many of their own members shop at the discounter."
Some say what is good for a business is good for everyone. Lower prices save workers money. Manufacturing jobs are jobs, regardless. The problem is that those jobs in China do not have unions. Plant owners can pay their workers $100 a month, and it's not illegal. Slave labor was free, but I suppose you have to pay workers something in the 21st century, don't you?
But I don't blame Wal-Mart. If, in some dramatic switch, they started employing only unionized workers, their prices would go up, and their business would decline. People would continue to shop the bottom line at some other store doing it cheaper.
I had Christian friends who mocked Bill Clinton for believing "it's the economy, stupid." They shunned such a selfish approach to life. But many of those same people look for the lowest prices possible, rewarding companies who cut every corner, and often do things illegally. Many of those same people own stock in companies busy destroy the environment.
Where does your money go? What do you really believe in? Would you shop at a more expensive store that paid its employees and manufacturers more? Many might say "yes", but history as shown we really believe something different. This week 100 million Americans will shop at Wal-Mart. That's about twice as many as will find their way into church. And we claim to be some kind of Christian country? American's freedom is a clear window into what they really believe. And what we really believe in is savings. Many people like to blame the corporations. But the blame lies with the consumer. Companies and politicians only survive based on the conditions we allow them to survive in. They mold themselves into what we want. Don't blame Wal-Mart because people want to save a few bucks.
Concentrate on socially responsible companies. Try the Domini 500 index for ideas.
If a company is on that list, it has been deemed socially responsible by Domini. Yes, Home Depot is on that list. No, Wal-Mart isn't.
Monday, June 06, 2005
How many employees does it take to sell a grill?
Saturday, June 2, I was in your store. I recently bought a home, and I needed a few items. Namely, an electric drill, a stud locator, and a gas grill. I found the stud locator without any problems. I located a woman who appeared to be an employee, to help me find the drill. When asked about it she got on the horn for another clerk. Meanwhile, I located the "Black and Decker" end-cap display while a somber looking, 40 year old employee scuttled past me from the key machine. My girlfriend got his attention by asking, "Can you help us?" The look on his face implied that we were inconveniencing him. Maybe he was on his way for a break? Regardless, I told him I was looking for the cheapest rotary tool in the store and he started rifling through the inventory. "Let's look over here" he said, and vanished into the tool section. I found a $25 drill on the display, and my girlfriend came back with the same one.
He said, "Wow, that's nice."
"Yeah, that's a nice drill" she s agreed.
"No, I meant me." He said.
(I swear, I did not make any of this story up. And, it gets better.)
We shrugged this off and decided to go look for the grills. We headed back to the garden section and spotted two people wearing aprons, one drinking a Pepsi, both leaning comfortably against the display rack. "Do you have grills inside the store?" we asked.
They waved us down a few isles and we found a grill we liked. However, it wasn't on the shelf. So, we went back to the two employees. One was a teenager and he told us that certain grills are all pre-assembled, and were not in boxes and we'd have to buy the one on the floor. I admitted that I wasn't sure if this would fit in my car. Another employee, an older bald man, found this interesting and stopped.
I was about to give up when my girlfriend came up with the idea that maybe I could pull my car up and a clerk could bring the grill out and see if it fit before we bought it. After-all, this was about to be a $200+ purchase, it didn't seem unreasonable.
"Sure, we can do that" the old man chirped.
I dashed out to pull my car around. It was probably 90 degrees outside, and I sat waiting for an employee to emerge with the grill. After a few minutes I got bored and got out, looked at the grills outside the store, and decided if the one I wanted didn't fit I would get a smaller grill. Yes, I wanted one that bad! This purchase could not possibly fail. But the only person who came out was my girlfriend. "They wont take the grill out of the store" she explained.
"Oh," I said. "Well, just have someone come out and measure my car and the grill."
It seemed simple enough to me. Back in she went. Ten minutes passed as I sat in front of the store. Fifteen minutes in the heat. I looked in the window and I saw my girlfriend talking to ANOTHER clerk when it dawned on me: your store did not want to sell me the grill. Why was my girlfriend doing all of the work to sell your store on the idea of customer service and selling me the grill? Why was she running in and out and trying to convince any clerk she should find to sell me the grill. Why were we being treated like an inconvenience when all we wanted to do was spend money in your store?
I parked the car, and walked in. My girlfriend was talking to yet another employee. This one must have been a manager because he was on walkie-talkie. My patience had run out. I walked up and said, "Thanks for all your help, I don't want that grill. " I grabbed the drill and stud finder, paid for it, and the alarm went off on my way out. The cashier had forgotten to de-alarm my drill. She did so without even noticing me, busily talking to someone else. I walked out, the alarm went off again, I just went out to my car. No one seemed to notice or care.
On the way to the car my girlfriend explained what had happened inside. The teenaged employee had pushed the grill to the front and vanished. The old man had vanished. An alarmed cashier saw the grill sitting near the exit and asked my girlfriend what had happened. "I don't know" she admitted, "Both clerks just left me." But she was assured by the cashier that she was mistaken. "Oh, our employees don't just leave our customers" she insisted. Still, there was my girlfriend, standing by the grill like a fool while I waited outside like an idiot. The teenager returned to inform her that the grill couldn't leave the store, then he vanished for good. My girlfriend asked the cashier if she could use her tape measure to measure my car sitting right outside. "I am not going to just give my tape measure to just anyone" the cashier informed her. In a store full of hardware, your cashier was worried about losing her $10 tape measure to two upper-middle class would-be thieves?
Finally, a manager wandered by. My girlfriend assuaged him for help. He said, "Hold on" and resumed his conversation on the walkie-talkie. The cashier asked my girlfriend, exasperated by now, if he was helping her. "No, he isn't!" That is when I came in.
So, I guess my question to you, Mr. Manger, is how many employees does it take to sell me a grill? How many does it take to equal some customer service? I eagerly await your answer. For wasting my time, treating my sale and future sales with contempt, and ruining a few hours out of my Saturday night--not to mention the contempt my girlfriend was treated with--I would like that question answered.
And let's not even use the word "sell" for that implies some kind of creative psychology to get me to do something I didn't want to do. No. I came into your store with an open checkbook, ready to spend over $200, and assuredly more for future home improvement purposes--this was just the tip of the iceberg--and none of the employees involved could take two minutes to find out for me--one way or another--which grill would fit in my car. What do you give them tape measures for anyway?
Rest assured, thousands of dollars of my money will now go to some other store. This probably seems very incidental to you since you run a 150,000 square foot store and losing one person's business is no major concern to any of your employees. And, sadly, I expect that kind of contempt from major chains who have nothing to prove. I know you probably bank on sales volume via competitive pricing, so really all your employees have to do is not anger any would be customers. But they seemed incapable of even that, the most basic of service requirements.
The fact that this is the first letter of this kind that I have ever written to a store hopefully reflects the level of my dissatisfaction. But, it's really not even written to avenge myself. I know it will fall on deaf ears and I'll buy the items from another store and happily move on with my life. But, it was the slighting of my girlfriend by a team of your staff that I find totally irritating. From a teenaged clerk, I would allow such gaffes, but not from adults whose career is to work in your store, none of whom seem to care one way or another about customer service. So, I write this letter for her sake. She didn't want a grill, a stud finder, or a drill, she just wanted to enjoy her Saturday night. Obviously, her business has been lost too...and as many other people as I can tell this story to...to right what was done wrong to her.
-New Lowe's Shopper Just Out Of Spite
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Suddenly, this scenario made much more sense.
Now amused, I watched the Republican swiping his card furiously. Obviously oblivious that it had expired yesterday since this was the cusp of a new month. Try as he may, he would not get in that way. Meanwhile, my car was sitting precariously out in the middle of the front driveway. Something would need to give soon or I would be blocking traffic while a line of cars formed on the street behind me.
"Push the button and take a ticket" I mummered.
Almost on cue he pressed the button. Nothing happened. Then he started hitting the button, violently ramming his fists against the orange plunger that should dispense a ticket. His arms went up in utter despair. The machine was not cooperating, and no ticket emerged.
Score one for the button.
I could tell the situation was escalating. How long had he been sitting here trying to open that gate before I pulled up? This man had all the decisiveness and stubbornness of a certain head of state we know well. But now I was there, waiting in line behind him while he attempted to assail the metal box and get inside the garage. He knew he had to act imminently for diplomacy had failed. He was about to unleash good old fashioned shock and awe onto that unsuspecting gate machine when I got out of my car, walked up, swiped my working card down the scanner, and opened the gate.
The Republican drove off into the depths of the concrete parking ramp, life resumed.
Once again, a Democrat saves society.