31 January 2008

Thoughts on the CNN Republican Debate

The debate last night, which lasted 90 minutes, focused on Senator McCain and Governor Romney. Congressman Paul and Governor Huckbee were fighting for air time, with Huckabee making the most out of his with style points and Paul attempting to focus more on issues.

Gov. Huckabee might. I think, appeal to more folks if his new-found federalist point of view were somewhat believable. The reason I don’t find it believable is the somewhat debatable view that he is a “compassionate conservative”, which equals big-government conservative. While his answers on what unfunded government mandates do to states was a good one, I don’t think that he would stick to his guns once in the White House.

Concerning Congressman Paul, I have to wonder if a libertarian candidate who wasn’t virulently isolationist wouldn’t garner a whole lot more votes. The fact is that some of Paul’s points are quite good, but the substance behind them remains fuzzy. Why is the gold standard so vitally important? It’s not an answer that can be given in a 60-second response in a debate, I realize (and therefore isn’t worth listening to, some would counter). Why should the Commander in Chief not be the CEO or CFO of the United States? These things are important, but the answers to them are uncomfortable to some and overly complicated to others. It would be a good thing for McCain and Romney to address these issues in a straightforward manner.

(Note: The preceding is not an endorsement of Congressman Paul. His foreign policy would be a joke if he weren’t so dangerously serious about it.)

The main showdown, though, was between McCain and Romney. Much will be written today about the “timetable” sparring, which in my opinion was just plain silly. It wasted time that could have been spent on something sustentative. The “timetable” didn’t leave the table, primarily because of McCain’s repeating the word, for the rest of the debate. These two should really give it a rest. It makes both of them look silly, McCain more so, and it’s needlessly tiresome.

I was left at the end of the debate wondering what the real difference between McCain and Romney would be. Is it more important to have a leader or a manager? Is it more important to have a person who can admit a grievous mistake (McCain on his immigration reform)? I’m not sure if I’ve heard Romney admit a big mistake, except perhaps some of his private business dealings. (Though Romney did speak rather favorably of the Big Dig last night, which makes one wonder.)

Maybe the two aren’t really all that different. One thing is for sure: if they keep bickering about “timetable”-like comments, we won’t find out.

29 January 2008

Comments on the State of the Union Speech '08

First, I must say that it is quite annoying to listen to a speech which is twice as long as it should be simply because folks are standing and cheering. The “sentence-sentence-cheer-sentence-stand and cheer” gets old and it leads me to think that, in all honesty, there isn’t a lot of substance in the speech. In fact, that’s probably closer to the truth than in past years.

The good parts of the speech centered on what Congress and the president have not accomplished, in particular, social security and immigration reform. Neither will be touched this year because of the election – God forbid something politically volatile gets accomplished in an election year – but at least President Bush said something about them.

A side note on immigration: anyone who thinks that Oklahoma’s tough stance on illegals will only “push them into the shadows” should think again. It is pushing them to other states. Hint, hint.

The bad was the stimulus package. I know I keep hitting this point, but there really is no reason why the federal government should shell out (or should I say shill?) billions to pump up an economy that is growing, albeit at a much slower rate than before. It amounts to buying quiet. Thomas Sowell has a good article on that subject today.

The ugly was President Bush’s dual veto pledge. It’s not that I disagree with him. Far from it. However, where was this tough rhetoric in, say, 2006? Where was this fiscal conservative attitude in the past seven years? As someone who voted for Bush, his performance on budget issues is one of the big reasons I’ll never trust a candidate who dons the mantle “compassionate conservative” again.

Ah, and one more ugly that must be mentioned: No Child Left Behind. Federal monitoring ends up in control of the entire public school system. It should be scrapped. And I find it counterintuitive that President Bush would simultaneously ask for a “strengthened” NCLB Act and Pell grant equivalents for kids to go to private K-12 schools so that they won’t be “trapped” in failing public schools. The reason for these contradictory stances is that because of the nature of the beast, there is no “one size fits all” solution to education, and the federal government would do best to realize that.

Come to think of it, there are probably lots of things that the federal government has no business interfering with. (Please excuse the preposition at the end of the previous sentence; it’s poetic license.)

27 January 2008

Comment on 'Internet Dark Age'

Origionally posted on the American Thinker website.

- letter to the editor -

I don't agree completely with Mr. Lawrence's reasoning. It seems that his argument centers on human interaction and intelligence being the product of input. Thus the "garbage in, garbage out" analysis.

I would argue that rather than wax nostalgic over a time we cannot return to, it is more productive to consider how to handle the world that we have. Mr. Lawrence comments that children in school do not feel the need to learn nor are made to learn mundane things like times tables. This is a result of educational philosophy that if students are able to analyze and synthesize data, then the mundane things, like addition, multiplication, spelling, writing, will fall into place necessarily. Most students are apt to collapse when asked to perform these mundane tasks in isolation, or even as part of their "higher order thinking". They simply have not mastered basic thinking. They are, for the most part, houses built on mud.

And while this is a sad state, it is also very correctable. A fundamental shift in educational philosophy away from concentrating on higher-end Blooms taxonomy and allowing students to create their own realities. Instead, expecting students to master fundamental skills like times tables, sentence construction, reading comprehension - in short, basic truths - prepares them to deal with the avalanche of information, good and bad, that is out there. Mastering these basic realities, I believe, would also fortify students against the corruptive elements in our world today.

The generation in danger is not one that is exposed to the internet or video games or violent television. The generation in danger is one that has lost the capacity for critical thinking, one that has not been taught how to think. And that, obviously, is something we can all take positive steps to correct, if we choose.
--
A Side Thought - One of the ironic things about the above referenced story was that, waiting for me (and probably many others) at the end of the web page was an auto-generated Google ad for "Dark Ages Ringtones" which I thought was quite appropriate, given the subject matter.

26 January 2008

Continuing Thoughts on the Platform of the American People

I seem to keep coming back to the Platform of the American People, a position paper of sorts put out by Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions. (Previous blogs here and here.) Perhaps it’s because the print out has been sitting on my desk for the last three week. Perhaps it’s because of the incessant insistence by presidential candidates on both sides that politics needs to unite instead of divide. Either way, each time I look at the Platform and contrast it against the news of the day, something jumps out and demonstrates just how out of touch with the electorate the elected are.

Recent talk – and apparent agreement on – an economic stimulus package is one example. Most commentary that I’ve heard on the subject, in particular the “rebates” (read: hand-outs), is that if money doesn’t hit the streets and the cash registers quickly, then the point of the “stimulus” is missed. This “rebate” money, of course, is finite; it will dry up rather quickly. Therefore, it is a short-term, limited fix of a larger problem, if indeed the economy as a whole is really in trouble (which seems to be debatable among the more economically educated). Still, politicians think that the electorate both needs and wants a short-term economic fix (and I mean that word in a couple of ways).

The Platform, on the other hand, has on its first page that 92% of Americans of all political leanings say that “long-term solutions” are more important than “short-term fixes”. With this in mind, wouldn’t it be more important to understand and address the larger issues which will certainly cause economic stress in the future – Medicare and Social Security benefits – instead of attempting to quite literally buy some peace and quiet, economically speaking? According to the research done by Mr. Gingrich’s group, American’s would be willing to undergo some amount of economic constriction to ensure long-term economic prosperity. However, in a political climate where every year is an election year, short-term fixes (buying temporary calm) is far more expedient.

In addressing the long-term economic health of the nation, two specific points that the Platform makes has to do with companies and taxes or incentives. 70% believe that there ought to be “tax incentives for companies who keep their headquarters in the United States.” 68% believe that US corporate tax rates, which are “[some] of the highest …in the industrialized world” ought to be lowered. This seems that it would point elected leaders in Washington directly to a long-term solution that will, in the end, greatly benefit every American. This wouldn’t be a hand-out; it wouldn’t be corporate welfare. And obviously, according to the polling relied upon by American Solutions, no less than 68% of Americans would agree to these positions.

And yet, I sit and write while the Senate debates adding more short-term “stimulations” to the already bloated $150 billion package agreed upon by President Bush and the House. A bigger band-aid that will, at the end of the day, fall off in the shower, so to speak, revealing the still unhealed wound. The truly sad thing is that there is a message out there, a platform to be adopted, for any politician who might choose to. Mr. Gingrich succeeded in that, which was his stated goal last year. Hopefully some of the presidential candidates and both houses of the Congress will read and heed it.

25 January 2008

Thinking "Refund" Dollars

It looks like the federal government will give a tax "refund" - read: monetary gift - to all folks in May. It also looks like Democrats will win the battle of who will get the gift money: everybody, including people who do not pay income tax. Now, in the effort for full information, I didn't pay income tax last year. I honestly don't believe that I should get a "refund" check simply because of this. That being said, I'll not turn the gift money away, if for no other reason than I think I can do something better with the money than the federal government can.

And that's exactly what I've been thinking about overnight. What would be the best use of this gift o' the government? I don't want to get on a high horse or anything, but here are some quick ideas. Take them as you will.

- Pay off credit card debt. If someone is carrying any credit card debt, probably the best thing to do with "free" money is to pay off some of that debt. If the cards aren't run back up, this "free" money is a "get out of jail free" card. And I've got to think that something like $70 billion less in personal debt would be good for the national economy.

- Buy something made in the US. While it is expected that these "gifts" will be spent, it seems like common sense to spend the money in a way that benefits the country the most. If everyone spends his or her "refund" on something made overseas, then we might as well just mail checks overseas and avoid the middle man. Obviously, this will take a little work on the part of the consumer, but it's work for "free" money. It might take an hour or two. Seems like a fantastic return...$300 per hour.

We'll all have plenty of time to think about how to spend the dough before we get it. But while we're waiting, I've got one more question: Is it really the proper role of the government to manage the economy like this?

23 January 2008

Late to the Fight

I was surprised last night when I saw that Senator’s Obama and Clinton apparently had a nasty spat during the CNN debate on Monday night. I missed the whole thing because I tuned in late and only caught about the last ten minutes of the “stand up” session, followed by about 30 minutes of the “sit down” session.

The “stand up” portion that I watched only concerned how quickly the candidates would pull out of Iraq. There was no talk of winning; there was no talk of basing there (or even “over the horizon”. Indeed, the candidates howled at the idea of having bases in Iraq at all. They all said, as I remember it, that the US did not need to be there, that the US should not stay there, and that the time to come home is now – but as “safely” as possible.

It made me wonder if these same candidates would precipitously pull US troops out of Japan, Korea, Germany, the UK, and Turkey. I mean, troops in those places certainly are remnants of battles long past, wars long over. But still, our troops are there. Never mind our folks in Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. But of course, this kind of question would never make it into a Democrat debate. It’s all “run fast and mass health care!”

The “sit down” portion was all huggy-kissy – enough so that my wife and I were both thinking it was some kind of love-in. What’s more, the whole “sit down” portion that I watched was all about race and gender. The candidates would say how the politics should not be about race and gender, and then moan on about it for the next 2-3 minutes…all the while complimenting each other on their positions. It was quite intolerable. Needless to say, when something is intolerable, it must be gotten away from. At that point, I turned off the television.

What I did not hear in the debate was one difficult question for any of the candidates. There was the occasional “gotcha” question, like one for Sen. Obama about if he thinks Presient Bill Clinton was the first black president, as someone once said. There was the more occasional pop-off statement that gave me the stick eye; for instance, Senator Clinton said that the criminal justice system is broken because there are proportionally more black men in prison than white men – or something to that effect. (This doesn’t mean that the criminal justice system is broken…)

But no hard questions on family, no questions about “what’s next” in foreign policy after withdrawing from Iraq, and no mention at any time of terrorism, terrorists or Islamofascism.

I guess race and gender issues are really so important, their resolution so critical to the continuation of our nation that silly things like winning a war against fanatical pseudo-religious foes can wait.

So Long, Senator Thompson

Looks like I’ll have to find someone else to vote for on March 4th. I was hoping that Senator Thompson would still be around then, when Texas holds its primaries. But honestly, given his performance in the early states, the loss in South Carolina was pretty predictable. One thing about the compressed primary schedule is that it allows for a lot of “change” (I just wanted to use the buzzword) but does not, it seems, allow for late entry into the race. Perhaps Mayor Giuliani will buck that trend.

Instantly after the announcement, there seemed to be hints floated that Sen. Thompson would make a good VP nominee. I’m all for that. A Giuliani/Thompson ticket? That might be a winner. McCain/Thompson might help ease worries that Senator McCain is too liberal domestically. Romney/Thompson seems a bit repetitive, but might work as well.

Though perhaps I should not think of such things. It’s a long way to March 4th and I may not have many choices left by then.

21 January 2008

Character, Not Color

On this day, we are reminded of the impact of a single person, Martin Luther King Jr., and his effect on the civil rights movement in America. While some would argue that he was a great black leader, I would differ. I would say rather that he was a great leader, a visionary leader, who sought to transcend race. This is evidenced in a single sentence from his “I Have a Dream” speech:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
The point here is to transcend the idea of race as a factor in interpersonal relations. It is not that race matters less than character but rather that race does not matter; character does. This is a dangerous idea.

If skin color doesn’t matter, then people are required to search deeper, to get to know one another, in order to judge each other (and, incidentally, we all judge one another). It takes time, effort, and communication. What’s more, it takes thought, and that is what judging by race is supposed to relieve. Pre-judging means less thinking. It is a form of laziness that we all – regardless of color or creed – fall into from time to time. King’s famous and formidable idea reminds us all to take the more difficult path and get to know one another. Only then, when we know each other’s character, can we really judge.

20 January 2008

Paying for My Carbon Footprint

Friday night, after a gathering to celebrate the end of the first semester of the school year, I stumbled onto a website (through an advertisement, which I don’t normally follow, but in this case I just had to look further) called TerraPass. It’s a company that sells “carbon offsets.” An interesting idea to say the least. What lured me in was the “buy carbon offsets for your wedding” information on the ad. I thought, “Wow. I’ve got to see what this is all about.”

Disclaimers: #1 – I’m going to use the TerraPass website to try to prove a point; I do not endorse what they do or how they do it. #2 – I do not believe in “global warming” as framed by pseudo-scientists and eco-quacks like Al Gore. I do believe in climate change insofar as the obvious, objective fact that climates do in fact change over time. I do not believe in “climate change” as a morphed term for “global warming” so that the latter can be more “inclusive” of temperature variation.

It appears that TerraPass sells offsets to businesses and the general public based on calculations it makes. The prospective customer inputs data about his or her life and activities and the website calculator spits out how much “offset” the customer should buy. I decided to get a hypothetical amount for my wedding. The site asks how many flights (long-medium-short flight legs) will be taken for the event. I used 0-12-6. I also input that 12 cars would be driven to the event with a one-way distance of 40 miles. Finally, I input that 7 hotel rooms would be required. (Thanks to my in-laws, our carbon footprint for the event was reduced…they had a packed house!) This resulted in 34,102 pounds of CO2 according to TerraPass. For the low, low price of $213.25, I could offset the entire footprint of the wedding. Cleansed through money.

But as I’ve stated before, I’d much rather lean toward conservation, properly defined, in place of living as I choose as long as I can pay for the offsets. Paying seems a horribly hypocritical position. It says, in an undeniable way, that anything can be righted as long as it can be paid for.

Using the same website, I can calculate that driving a 2007 Ford Mustang 12,000 miles a year would result in 9,997 pounds of CO2. I could offset this through a $59.40 per year TerraPass offset. But wouldn’t it make sense to buy, say, a 2007 Honda Fit, drive 10,000 miles a year, and only pump out 5,674 pounds of CO2? Sure, the Fit doesn’t provide the same driving experience, but it sure burns less gas. But why change when I can spend some money and “save the planet” (ala Gore)?

While TerraPass and companies like it might fund some good projects and make a small dent in energy consumption (through selling “green” products), the whole “offset” thing really strikes me as a big dog and pony show with graduated admission prices. The more I burn, the more I must pay. The more I can pay, the less guilt I may have over my consumption. The less guilt I have over my energy consumption, the less I feel the need to change my usage patterns. Wash, rinse, repeat.

15 January 2008

Two Thoughts on a Tuesday Primary Night

Two quick things, both about the Republican side of the house.

First, Gov. Romney looks to have won the Michigan primary tonight, and I have to admit that it seems like he did a bit of pandering to win. During the most recent debate on Fox News, Gov. Romney made much of his plan to give federal aid to remake the auto industry in Michigan. While it has come out since that Gov. Romney would attempt this "remake" through R&D projects and such, it smells to me of a federal bailout. I'm no expert (far from it) on Michigan politics, but I don't know if it is the federal government's role to cure the woes of Michigan's economy. Big earmark there? Perhaps. Good enough for near 40% of the vote in the state (at the time of writing).

Second, I'm not sure when Gov. Huckabee started channeling Senator Paul. Gov. Huckabee's speech (he came in third in Michigan) sounded more like a libertarian than anything I've heard come out of his mouth yet. Small government and private industry...keep the government out of raising the family...protect the borders and keep the country safe and let people live their lives. Wow. If anyone has known all along that Gov. Huckabee harbored such strong libertarian sentiments, please email me the article or web address. Seriously. I'm quite interested if these attitudes have a history or if they are a new phenomenon for Gov. Huckabee.

14 January 2008

Always Looking Back

Sunday, I watched part of a rerun of Meet the Press where the host questioned Senator Clinton at some length on her vote authorizing the invasion of Iraq. The Senator, in return, spent much time contrasting her position on the war with that of her competitors on the Democrat side. After about five minutes of this 2002-03 history lesson, I turned the channel. No plan here, no vision, no detail; all hindsight gotchas and verbal Twister.

This morning, I read an editorial in the New York Times titled “Unfinished Debate on Iraq”. Much of the same here soup, along with the added ingredient “Republican candidates are slavishly wedded to Mr. Bush’s policy of war without end”. It also moves past 2003 to talk about what may happen if the “surge” doesn’t continue to produce. But when it comes to the war, we should have never been there. When it comes to Democrats, the only question pursued is “how did you vote?” Silly.

And what’s more, the editorial seems to think that Iraq will be “a central challenge — perhaps the central challenge” of the next president. It is looked at, in my opinion, in isolation, just as the votes of Democrats on the war (or professed would-be votes of those not in Congress) are looked at in isolation. Just as withdrawing from Iraq is examined in geographical and tactical isolation.

How about, instead of projecting ourselves back to 2002-03, we consider paths forward in 2009? I’m hoping to hear something in detail, under withering questioning, about that soon – hopefully when (and if) Senator Obama is interviewed by Chris Matthews or Bill O’Reilly.

12 January 2008

Another Look at “The Platform of the American People”

As I wrote briefly about before, Newt Gingrich’s American Solutions group put out a paper called “The Platform of the American People”. I’d like to go a bit further into a few of the items because I believe that the document, as a whole, is a fantastic idea.

For instance, according to the Platform 92% of those polled believe that long-term solutions should be pursued rather than short-term fixes. That huge percentage is a refutation of the impulses of politicians, especially in election years. One may wonder if a thing like Senator Clinton’s newly unveiled “$70 billion economic stimulus package” is a quick fix or a long-term strategy. Will things like this buy votes, or will voters investigate the candidates’ plans for government and chastise candidates who simply have spending plans – which equate to quick fixes.

Another plank of the platform has to do with English usage. A majority believes, according to the Platform, that English should be the language of government (87%) and that ballots and other documents should be printed in English (74%). The problem I have with the second statement is that it lacks an important word – only. When I read English only positions, it seems that the only valid (and only in a PC way) position taken against it is that English only is discriminatory. My response is that it is – and there’s nothing wrong with it. America is a land of liberty, not complete equality, and that includes language. So adding the word “only” to the platform would, I believe, strengthen it.

The last plank I’ll talk about this morning is the position that “public schools should teach more American History” (56%). That percentage of support simply shocks me. Just 56%? Perhaps there’s two ways to take that number. One would be that unlike the 56%, others think that world history (or any subsection thereof) should be taught more. Another is that some of those not in the 56% realize that history textbooks have slanted views of history and historical figures – they attempt to equalize the contributions to American history of all races and both sexes – and therefore don’t want more of that pushed at their children. (Here’s an interesting read paralleling the textbook subject.) This gets into the education reformation topic which, unfortunately, the Platform does now address.

I’ll cover more of this as time goes by. It is worth reading yourself if for no other reason than to see if you agree or disagree with the positions therein. It is certainly more thought provoking than watching pundits as the election staggers toward South Carolina. Not that I’m not watching, but one can only listen to political commentators for so long. Perhaps they, too, should bat this Platform around. Now that would be interesting as well.

[Note: This is my 200th post on this blog, which if nothing else is a bit of a milestone. Thanks for reading.]

11 January 2008

FNC Debate – 10 January

I watched the entire FNC debate last night, as apparently 3.6 million others did. Senator Fred Thompson impressed me the most. He went after Gov. Huckabee on substantive issues, whereas Mr. Huckabee tends in my opinion to tout fluffy statements which have little substance. Sen. Thompson had substance to just about everything he said, and it was refreshing that – to my recollection – he did not join in the obligatory “dog-pile Senator Paul” moment(s) last night.

Senator Paul is the easy target; going after Gov. Huckabee takes a bit more conviction.

Though at one point, Sen. Paul made some good sense to me. His response to the question of electability was quite sound when he stuck to domestic platform stances. His electability, I think, does not stem from his libertarianism. It stems from his isolationist foreign policy. But that much is probably obvious.

Senator McCain did well last night, though I think his smile seemed contrived, pasted, almost forced. Perhaps I’ve listened to too many speeches, because some of his lines seemed very tired to me. And I’m not talking about his message points. It’s his “off the cuff” remarks – and all of the candidates have them.

Governor Romney and Mayor Giuliani didn’t impress or disappoint. They appeared, to me, to just be there.

Mr. Giuliani is tough on terror, convincing on domestics (especially for those not wedded to single-issue politics), and has a good personality, it seems. One wonders, though, if he has been out of the news flow too long. He may have trouble picking up steam again. Other candidates are fueled by the 24-hour news cycle which they’ve been a part of for the last two weeks. He hasn’t.

In the end, I was glad to see Sen. Thompson show up and make an impression. Perhaps it was a good one. Only time will tell.

09 January 2008

Iranian Boats and Dress Rehearsals

This week, Iranian fast boats took a run at three US naval vessels in the Straits of Hormuz. The act came just before President Bush left for a tour of the Middle East. US officials have called the incident provocative and have even said that the Iranians showed “hostile intent” – or at least came close to it. Reports also show that the Iranians dropped boxes in the water and made radio calls to the US vessels. One radio call I heard on a TV report had the Iranians (presumably) saying something akin to “you will blow up.”

I’m no expert here, but I would guess that the Iranians were conducting a dress rehearsal; they wanted to see how close they could get to the US ships and what reaction various acts would receive. Don’t be surprised if something akin to this dress rehearsal results in shots fired.

"Change" is in the Air

For all the talk about change – the need for change, being a change agent – during the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primaries, it appears that there isn’t a clear picture of what change means to the candidates. Both the Democrat and the Republican results were not what was expected, necessarily, and that seems especially true in New Hampshire.

Senator Obama rolled into the state on his “change” train, ready to sweep out with another victory, and one by double digits. He lost. I still haven’t figured out what he means with his overuse of the “change” term, and it seems that perhaps some voters are starting to want answers to what change means for the Senator as well. Not that Senator Clinton has said a great deal about what change means to her, but whatever the folks heard, they gave her about 39% of the vote because of it.

Perhaps on the Democrat side, change really means that voters don’t necessarily buy into what they’re told is “inevitable,” especially when that “inevitability” is created by either a campaign or the media.

On the Republican side, Governor Mitt Romney hopped on the change bandwagon with his “Washington is broken” position. I would hazard a guess that most people believe that position, given Congressional and presidential disapproval numbers. Gov. Romney even has some specifics on how he would change Washington. His arguments can be convincing, though some may be put off by him donning his CEO hat.

His message of change, however, didn’t create a full rebound, as he lost in New Hampshire, where Republicans and independents leaned to Senator McCain, who, incidentally, talks quite a bit about change without (to my knowledge) touting the “change” term overly.

It is natural, I suppose, for candidates to push the change message in this campaign. None, it seems, wants to be closely associated with President Bush – except for the tax cuts on the Republican side. Bush is currently an unpopular president, so one would think that the change message would resonate. And perhaps it does, but it has to be followed up with substantial plans, and the sooner the better. Anyone can promise change. Having a vision and a plan to go along with the word takes real effort.

06 January 2008

C-SPAN: The Place to Watch

When I started flipping around the channels yesterday afternoon, I didn’t expect that I would land on C-SPAN and stay there for about two hours and return for another hour later in the night.

What started me watching was a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, being televised live, with Senator McCain, which can be found on the C-SPAN video/audio section. Senator McCain gave which might have been his stump speech, and then took questions from the crowd. Since the audience was full of folks who came there for the purpose of questioning a politician, one might expect the questions to be tough and to the point. In that, the questioners did not disappoint. Senator McCain was direct with his answers and clearly was willing to openly disagree. No serious pandering to be had here.

The only point where I thought he might bow to popular belief not based on principle concerned global warming, when he said that he believed that there was such a thing and that humans probably had something to do with it. He then, however, made the point that doing something (and that something must be economically viable) to preserve the environment is just a good thing, regardless of global warming.

All in all, I was fairly impressed with Senator McCain.

Later in the evening, I switched back and watched a good portion of a Q&A with Senator Clinton. I have to admit that I do not have a favorable opinion of Senator Clinton, mostly because I believe that she is an ardent Socialist who believes in her own will to power. She did nothing to change that opinion; indeed, she reinforced it. And though it may sound like picking on petty semantics, her continual use of the first person is disturbing. (Unfortunately, the video links on the C-SPAN site don’t seem to work for me.)

To the best of my recollection, the strangest response from Senator Clinton concerned environmental impacts on individual health. She said something like (and this is not s direct quote) she would create a comprehensive environmental map to track pollutants and causes of illness in people so that the sources of illness may be found and dealt with. She did so using the first person singular, and it sounded very much like former VP Gore saying that he created the internet. No offense to Senator Clinton’s intellect, but there is no way that she could accomplish this; her answer pandered to a single voter and did so in a self-grandiose way.

The only point that Senator Clinton did fairly well on was a question regarding Pakistan. She clearly stated that terrorists must not be allowed to gain control of Pakistan’s nuclear arms.

That being said, my opinion of Senator Clinton stands, and even more strongly. She is a will to power, will sell herself to the electorate with government programs under the Christmas tree, and then attempt to push a Socialist agenda through Congress (“I want to take those profits” – again with the first person). No thanks.

Finally, I caught a “house party” – which is a really unfortunate name for a Q&A in someone’s living room – with Governor Romney. He too gave what might be his stump speech, though I concede that I didn’t really listen to it, and then took a few questions from the large group of voters. I was particularly interested in Gov. Romney’s answer concerning how he would reorganize and revitalize the State Department. It seemed an odd question to get in the living room of a New Hampshire voter at first glance, but Gov. Romney handled it well…exceedingly well. He gave details about what he thinks should be done (bring in outside help in reorganization, create “theaters of operations” for the diplomatic corps) and reasons why.

And that’s what was impressive about his responses. He has apparently given a good deal of thought to some pretty off-the-beaten-track issues – the State Department not being an obvious part of the Iraq-health care-global warming triumvirate. His ability to slip into the details of specific issues is quite reassuring.

Given my lack of an impression with Gov. Romney, I came away feeling more comfortable with the idea of him being our next president.

I missed the debates on Saturday. Indeed, I forgot that they were even taking place. But I think I got a much better understanding of these three candidates by watching them outside of the mainstream media. Time well spent, indeed.

04 January 2008

Transposing Orwell

Some quick thoughts on the Penguin edition of George Orwell’s essays, including “Why I Write” and “The Lion and the Unicorn”. I’m amazed at some of his statements and how true they seem to be today, given that they were published in 1947 and 1941 respectively. Despite his belief at the time of writing that socialism would cure the woes of Britain, a number of statements can be taken from the text and transposed onto the current scene. I don’t have the perspective to say if Orwell’s descriptions have come to be apt again or if things have not changed in the last 65-odd years. I suspect the former.

So here for your consideration are some bits of brain food.

˽ “They [the British ruling class before Churchill] could not struggle against Nazism or Fascism, because they could not understand them.”

˽ “After years of aggression and massacres, they had grasped only one fact, that Hitler and Mussolini were hostile to Communism. Therefore, it was argued, they must be friendly to the British dividend-drawer.” (Emphasis in the original.)

˽ “Since the [eighteen] fifties every war in which England has engaged has started off with a series of disasters, after which the situation has been saved by people comparatively low in the social scale.”

˽ “It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense ‘left’.”

˽ “The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power.”

˽ “It is important not to misunderstand [the English ruling class’s] motives, or one cannot predict their actions. What is to be expected of them is not treachery, or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing. They are not wicked, or not altogether wicked; they are merely unteachable. Only when their money and power are gone will the younger among them begin to grasp what century they are living in.”

One of his opening statements on English civilization seems especially relevant: “And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time.” (Emphasis in the original.) It reminds me that, after all, the culture and society that we belong to is ours. It is our responsibility to shape it in ways that we choose. Abdicating that responsibility to others will result, without doubt, in a culture, a society in which we feel foreign.

Raw Numbers and the Bigger Picture

Originally posted on the American Thinker website.

Based on the last week of coverage, culminating in hours of talk about the Iowa caucuses last night, one might think that much was decided in the contest. Much was also made of the record turnout. But I feel that making too much of this contest is harmful to the process of electing the next president. With that in mind, here's some raw numbers and a little math in public.

CNN reports that 227,000 people caucused on the Democrat side and 120,000 people caucused on the Republican side. There are roughly 3 million people in the state of Iowa and 301 million in the US. Those numbers probably aren't exactly accurate, but they work for the purposes here.

The question is just how much stock to put in the electoral decisions of 347,000 people. The media would have us believe that the decisions of this small group are of paramount importance, that much hangs in the balance.

But that group - 347,000 - is only 1.157% of the population of Iowa and 0.1153% of the population of the US.

Undue influence on the political process by such a small segment of the population, it seems, fueled by media desire for an actual, tangible story not created by the candidates or their operatives in this seemingly endless presidential race. Humbug.

03 January 2008

Newt Gingrich’s “Platform of the American People”

I have to admit that if Newt Gingrich did not have to carry his history around with him, I would be very happy for him to run for president…and win. But that seems to be too much to ask of him, and the country, so Mr. Gingrich has instead turned to what he does best as a career – come up with good, practical ideas. I was convinced of his practical genius again yesterday when I read his proposal, “The Platform of the American People.” (.pdf file)

The platform is a worthy read for anyone, Democrat, Republican or other, who feels that the federal government simply is not working. With Congressional disapproval ratings between 60 and 70 per cent and President Bush’s disapproval ratings between 57 and 65 per cent, surely the electorate is ready for a distinct change in standard operating procedure in Washington. Mr. Gingrich offers a vision, a plan, of how to go about that change.

The platform, based on polls (link here), would allow Democrat and Republican legislatures to start the 2009 legislative session on common ground. American Solutions polling indicates high levels of consensus in the electorate on issues concerning religion, use of English, immigration and assimilation, innovation, energy and the environment, taxes and social security, and defending America. These are certainly not small issues, and the only specific which polled lower than 60 per cent concerns privatization of Social Security (59%).

What’s more refreshing, his plan is not just sound-byte, looks-good-on-TV statements. The specifics could, for the most part, be reflected in simple, straight-forward legislation. The platform, if followed through with, could help restore American’s faith in government. And while no plan is perfect, Mr. Gingrich’s plan at least appears to be based on sound data and consideration, does not demonize one side or another, and would tangibly demonstrate unity and bipartisanship.

01 January 2008

Random Thoughts at the End of 2007

Just when Iraq was dark (as so of our own creating) and all was deemed already lost, a change in strategy changed the landscape, the attitude and quite possibly the outcome. It makes one wonder why the cries of the naysayers were given so much weight earlier in the year, especially as the scene was already changing. (Oh yeah, that’s the mass media.)

I watched what I thought a pretty unapologetic movie, The Kingdom, on Sunday. I thought it was a decent watch, until the end, that is. I cursed out loud as the movie’s writers and producers made a sickening pitch at moral equivalence between an FBI agent and a Saudi bomb-maker. “We’ll kill them all” statements, with no differentiation between killing criminals and killing the religious “other” is intellectual laziness at the very least.

No Child Left Behind is one of those things that sounds good but works poorly. It raises the bottom by sacrificing the top and the middle. It, along with the Department of Education, should be abandoned; control of schools should be returned to local governments, and state governments should spend more time and effort monitoring where money goes within schools than dictating curriculum. Better yet, all schools should be privatized. I’d be more than willing as a teacher to compete for students. Perhaps parents would have a greater interest in education if they really had to choose who to pay to teach their children.

The Dallas Morning News’ choice for “Texan of the Year” – the illegal immigrant – is wrong on one fundamental level. As pointed out in the comments section of the DMN article, by giving the nod to a group in Texas illegally, the paper implicitly recognizes them as Texans, and thus, citizens. Surely that isn’t what the DMN wanted to do…right?

I managed to read more than a book a month, on average, this past year. I hope that I can keep it up in 2008, though I have to admit that I’ll be “loading” my reading during the summer months.

The uncomfortable truth about a world that lacks clear definitions of right and wrong, where anything goes (as long as it is “culture based”) is that either standards of behavior must be lowered to the lowest possible level or cultures with significant differences must be separated.