Wednesday, November 21, 2007

I don't know that you've picked the right word...

Here’s an argument we should have had a while back. See, I was digging through my notes and found a certain suggestion that I had made.

Remember the run up to the Iraq conflict and we were told by our media that “everyone” agreed with it? Remember those first months after the U.S. took control of Iraq (June 2003), when things started to look different—less hopeful really—and support began to ebb? Remember back in 2004 that security and Iraq were still the most important issues facing the U.S. population and what we talked about most was “winning” and “losing” in Iraq? Remember how Bush, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Cheney used one single word to describe their vision for Iraq? Do you remember what that word was?

It was optimism. They talked about their optimism. When asked what would happen when we invaded a sovereign nation, they said that they were optimists and that we would be treated as liberators. When that failed and they were being called to task for it, they said ‘we’re optimists’, as if that would really make a difference when the result was so bad. But there rationale was sneaky. ‘We’re optimists’ doesn’t suggest to the listener that they are bad decision-makers (though that is implied) or that they had unrealistic expectations (also implied) or even that they misread their intelligence and the situation (implied as well); no, it suggests that they are positive and opponents (Democrats—not Iraqis) are negative. Negative—in any way—is therefore bad. How else does being optimistic work as a defense?

“George, did you get that progress report written?”

“Sorry, Boss, I didn’t. I was being an optimist.”


“I was so sure that I’d get it done. Look at what we had to work with.”


“Some people, namely James in Accounting, are pessimists. They don’t think that I can write that progress report. Clearly, though, I am winning the war on reports and some day soon, say, in the next three months, there will be a turning point and I will be well on my way to completing that report.”

“But George, you said that you could have it done for me yesterday. You asked for two weeks and I gave you two weeks.”

“But Boss, I’m winning. I don’t cut-and-run from reports. I’m an optimist. Are you suggesting that cut-and-run from this report? Are you a pessimist?”

“No, George, I was just suggesting that you promised me two weeks.”

“That was me being an optimist. I’ll see what I can do in the next three months.”

But here’s the wacky question. We know that Bush has lied. We know that he is a liar (one with a pentiant for lying). We know that he loves getting other people to kill people (didn’t go to Vietnam, signed a record number of executions in Texas, and seemed far too eager to bomb people after 9/11/01). We know that George shows ‘optimism’ toward pro-corporate economic policies, but pessimism toward teachers, lawyers, the medical system, scientists, small business owners, farmers, environmentalists, sportspersons, children, working families, those below the poverty line, those above the poverty line, non-evangelicals, non-Israeli or Saudi Middle Easterners, coal miners, any person that does physical labor, any person that uses his/her brain intellectually for their work, the intelligence community, military veterans, active soldiers, the National Guard, women, minorities, and civil libertarians. I’m sure I’ve left some out, but that is a sufficient list. If Bush is such an optimist, why doesn’t he trust that teachers can teach our children? Why doesn’t he trust that scientists are looking out for our best interests? Could it be that Bush isn’t an optimist at all?

What happens when a person lies about being an optimist? It is the worst kind of pessimism there is! There is no trust in the people, no trust in the government, no trust in one’s peers, only lip service. Only lip service to the military commanders, to Congress, to the people. George Bush is the worst kind of liar: the kind that not only lies for self-interest, but to steal from, defame, and denigrate others. There’s another word we have for that kind of person: scoundrel. Could it be that our reluctance to name King George that slightly negative label (liar) actually prevents us from using the more apt (and ultimately useful) label?

Monday, November 5, 2007

Is it even possible to have a commissioner worse than Bud Selig?

Don't look now! It's a sports blog!

Growing up, I liked sports. I followed everything (except maybe NASCAR, since it is neither a sport nor something that should have to be in all-caps). I gave baseball a special place in my heart and new all of the important statistics, could tell you which Tigers were in the Hall of Fame and which others should be. I could plead the case till the cows came home about how Cecil Fielder was robbed for MVP two years in a row for directly opposite reasons (Ricky Henderson and Cal Ripken, Jr. were the winners, by the way). I still love baseball. Even after the strike, the playoff system, and the steroid scandal, I prefer baseball to everything else. I just can’t stand Bud Selig.

If you can imagine the worst possible candidate for any job, Bud Selig as MLB commissioner would have to trump it. He is clearly biased toward one side (owners), has no respect for the traditions, shows virtually no advertising savvy, has no vision, and is inarticulate. In other words, for a job that’s all about communicating to the public, negotiation, and future planning, the man lacks even rudimentary skills. He has done more to set the sport back than anyone could have imagined, and yet baseball isn’t ruined (yet). That alone is proof that God exists (and that God’s a Cubs fan…).

But I didn’t only love baseball. I loved football and basketball equally. My NFL team was (and still is) the Broncos and I always root for Michigan in any sport, including volleyball and tennis. I was also the weirdo that rooted for both sides of the Pistons-Bulls rivalry. In fact, I even rooted for the Bulls to Three-peat (the first time). I loved Isaiah Thomas and Michael Jordan.

And this is where things get weird. We all remember ‘The Jordan Rules’ and the book that argued that Jordan received special treatment. Most of us didn’t care because we loved to watch it. We were captivated by Jordan and his aerial artistry. He was a master and one of the greatest athletes to ever live. He was so natural and graceful and every boy growing up really did want to “be like Mike.” Then they got their wish.

I don’t know what it was. Whether ‘The Jordan Rules’ were extended to everybody or whether the officials decided all at the same time, all over the basketball world, to stop calling basic rules about dribbling, palming, and traveling. The very fundamental aspects of the sport became inconsistently applied. Everyone got to be like Mike. Now, Playground basketball brought the entertaining flash that the NBA needed to compete and elevate itself into the Big Three of sports. Playground basketball was essential to creating a game that had Michael Jordan as its mighty hero. But somewhere between the playgrounds of NYC and Madison Square Garden, the flash became more important than the sport.

Twenty years ago, only the tall players dunked, but now everyone does. Not a big deal, in itself—evolution, greater athletes, etc.—but now everyone can also reverse dunk from underneath the basket; difficult enough while palming the basketball, nearly impossible while dribbling. The next one you see (probably taking place in the time I type this), watch the guy: he drives along the left baseline, grips the ball, steps two or three times, hops, plants beneath the basket, jumps, twists, and dunks it from the opposite side.

So, I stopped watching the NBA, and the NCAA strangling of the Michigan basketball program didn’t help me care about college basketball, either.

But in the same time, the entire game changed. It wasn’t just the rules, though. When I was young, Shawn Kemp was only the second high-schooler to turn pro after Moses Malone. I rooted for the kid and became a Supersonics fan. Then they opened the floodgates. Some criticized the Spurs for taking a college grad (Tim Duncan) just a few years later. Executives were stumbling over each other to draft the next 18 year-old phenom, while everyone secretly wished that there were the same requirement the NFL has that requires each athlete be 3 years removed from high school. The college game suffered and became the path for the purists with no future, not the next NBA greats. Now we have a ridiculous one-year rule that makes college basketball a joke. One of the greatest memories I have was getting the chance to watch the Fab Five play live and my heart was broken when Chris Webber went pro after his sophomore year. Irrelevant for me was the question of whether or not he was ready; the question was how good could that dynasty have been? The last great basketball recruiting class that went down in infamy after two finals losses and the phantom timeout. Four years would have landed them in the pantheon of basketball gods.

The booster scandal aside, the idea that the entire sport of basketball could be put in jeopardy over a couple of high-schoolers going pro and a couple of officials preferring wicked dunks to calling the game accurately should frighten and worry basketball fans. The fact that commissioner David Stern has been in charge of all of this may be just as frightening. Has he done this on purpose? Has he mortgaged the future of the sport on a couple bucks for owners? And what happens when fans of amateur sports become as disgusted with the product (diluted and just as embarrassingly spotty officiating) as many NBA fans? Is it possible that a well-meaning and decent man like David Stern is a worse commissioner than the criminally incompetent Selig?

Well, once the Super Bowl is over, I’ll only have to wait a week or so before pitchers and catchers report. I guess I don’t need basketball, anyway.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Goodbye, sweet Karen!

Karen Hughes announced yesterday that she was resigning from the Bush Administration again, this time from the post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. Yes, this was the same Karen Hughes that was hired the first time to help the world see how compassionate George W. Bush’s conservatism truly was. Then, of course, when it was clear that compassionate is the last thing anyone thought of, her job was to spin it. This same woman was then brought back a couple of years later to be one of our top diplomats.

I’ll let that sink in for another second.

Yes, she might be qualified if her job was as diplomat to Appalachia or California, but her main charge was, in fact, to the Muslim World.

I’ll give you one more second.

Yes, Karen Hughes was the disaster we all think she was (and at the time, thought she would be). She was given an impossible task and failed to deliver. No big whoop, right? Right, until you look at what she actually did when she was there. Look at this article by Fred Kaplan at and this one by Steve Benen for The Carpetbagger Report. Benen suggests the problem with Ms. Hughes was not who she was or what she was (theoretically) trying to do, but it was what she actually did:

This isn't necessarily about mocking the goals Hughes sought to achieve, but rather the style in which she tried to achieve them. She talked down to her audience, offered the kind of schlock that no one in the Arab world wants, and lectured them about the inadequacies of their culture.

Lo and behold, this didn't improve matters.

Now, if there are any actual diplomats around who could take over as undersecretary of state, that'd be really helpful.

Has it occurred to anyone else that the biggest issue in the Bush administration is not that they are too stupid or optimistic or selfish, but that they actually don’t want to make the world a better place? They actually seem content to destroy the government, destroy international relations, and use half-hearted failures as justifications for their initial desires to destroy others. That and Bush really likes killing people. I think it’s his favorite pastime. Who needs baseball when you have executions to attend and wars to start/maintain perpetually?

But there’s Karen Hughes. Again, putting the compassionate face on the Commander-in-Thief. She’s got that big ol’ bucket of paint, trying to turn his cowboy hat from black to white and nobody’s buying it here—and no one was ever going to buy it there. And what’s worse, perhaps they both new that all along.

Thomas Friedman is wrong.

He is never monumentally wrong, but he is always wrong. And it’s based on this one thing: he misunderstands the forces around him. He understands what they’re about, what their goals are, and who they effect—so he almost gets there. And then…he screws it up. Staring at the finish line, like the hare, he lets his own ego and self-protective nature take over and destroy his credibility. Thomas Friedman is a man deserving of your pity, not your intellectual support. But I digress, for this is only the preamble.

Two years ago, Friedman shook the world with a book that was part “well, duh!” and part corporate wet dream. The book, The Earth is Flat produced a new set of buzzwords: flat-earth and flatearthers. The principle is simple; due to globalization, the playing fields around the world are driving to a baseline, bringing Western economies down and raising the economies of the so-called Third World. Simultaneously, this effect is being made by what Friedman believes is Western laziness and Global South and Eastern ingenuity. So here is where the zinging conclusion is: the Chinese are right and the American worker is wrong. We should embrace inhumane working conditions and labor laws with a new culture of over-working and over-stressing in an attempt to increase our seemingly disappearing worth ethic or else China will win. Oh, Thomas, I feel for you.

What Friedman and his disciples, the ‘flatearthers’ are encouraging is a truly Western approach to industry and innovation: hard work is always bested by harder work. It is the idea that the solution to every failure is that someone didn’t try hard enough. Sprinkle in a bit of corporate Darwinism (that only the strong survive) and you have cocktail that only Wall Street could love.

But truth is closer than it appears. Friedman never sites Latin America, where the world’s true innovations are taking place. The continent of South America, once proudly holding its own was ravished by American and European financial vultures in the form of the IMF and World Bank since the 70’s and has been a place of U.S.-backed military dictatorships. Then they started rejecting us. They rejected our economic “solutions” (which amounted to blood-letting with leeches—and is archaic as it is barbaric) in favor of sound economic principles and a renewed sense of democracy.

This is the real reason Friedman ignores South America: they recognize that democracy is an effective and healthy system only when freedom and liberty are balanced and when the needs of the republic are the same as the needs of the people. Right now, we should be taking notes from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Venezuela, not belittling them while chasing after an unhealthy and unsustainable economic system like China’s. Their growing consumption of resources will shortly outstrip ours, while simultaneously choosing dirty energy over sound alternatives in their growing structure in pursuit of mindless and irresponsible growth.

But where do you think China got this idea? Perhaps the same Wall Street that is encouraging us to out-China China while the Chinese are reading Adam Smith as adapted by the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, creating a monster that perpetually eats its own tail. And what would it mean for the psyche of the United States to hand over the reigns of the title “Greatest Superpower” to them? Is this the true reason we have long ago dismissed the idea of developing a successful and affirming society as found in France, Britain, Germany, or the Netherlands, whose productivity AND vacation time both far exceed our own, while offering a generous healthcare system to go with their sensible attitudes toward consumption and procreation? And why we are ignoring the developments to our south that provide a greater accounting of both our founders’ dreams and our founders’ vision through true democratic means and power-sharing? What are we really afraid of? Being wrong for a century or longer? That we aren’t the smartest guys in the room, but the imbeciles that refuse to get our eyes or ears checked?

That’s it! That’s why we like spending nearly 60% of our annual national budget on war and paying off credit cards from China and Saudi Arabia: we have Iatrophobia, a fear of doctors. That’s why we don’t make healthcare a priority and we have tied ourselves to an archaic system that denounces liberty in favor of concentrated corporate greed. We don’t like doctors. We don’t like to here what’s wrong with us. Rush Limbaugh called liberals the “hate-Americans-first crowd” because the idea of self-examination is scary. Bush’s veto of the SCHIP, Newt Gingrich’s victory over “Hillarycare”, pundit cries of encroaching socialism are all responding to our mass Iatrophobia.

So how do we treat this? According to the website,, the traditional treatments are Hypnoanalysis, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and Energy Psychology. I don’t see any of these happening on such a mass scale. However, they do list some useful tips here:

I’ve chosen some of their choicest tips below:

1. In order to combat fear you should take a positive approach and be mentally ready and in control at all times.

6. Don’t be shy or nervous about asking questions. You have a right to know, so ask questions about your exams, especially since some doctors may not tell you unless you ask for the results. Plus, you are paying them a lot of money, so make sure to get the answers to your questions.

7. Do not switch doctors often, you want to stay with a doctor that you can be comfortable with and knows your history.

8. Be honest with yourself that you may need a shot or follow-up visit in order to feel better. This could avoid creating unwanted anxiety.

10. Don’t forget that your doctor is there to help you, not hurt you. Yes, he/she may have to tell you something may be wrong, but he/she is also knows ways to fix problems, make you feel better or at least make you more comfortable. Remember, they are well trained and took at least 8 years of schooling to learn everything they could to help their patients.

12. Always keep your yearly appointments with your doctor. This will ensure consistency and if something is wrong, you might be able to catch it early enough to treat it.

(bold is mine)

Key insights we can take away from these suggestions is that communication and remaining calm are essential. The system is there to help us. And it is imperative that we be honest with ourselves and keep our appointments. If we all pitch in, maybe we can break ourselves of this cunning and debilitating ailment.