Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Salary Gripe

CC Sabathia is a professional baseball player. He's a big, strong left-handed pitcher who can throw a baseball 100 miles per hour. More importantly, CC can throw that baseball accurately. So CC landed himself a huge contract that will guarantee him more than 20 million dollars per year over the next seven years.

A lot of people think that's ridiculous. Some even go so far as to say that it's unfair and believe that something should be done to limit those salaries. Then they look at Hollywood and hear about actors who make 20 million dollars per picture and say the same thing.

How can we, they lament, live in a world where a dumb jock makes millions while teachers get paid a pittance? They always bring up teachers. Well, I've met a few teachers in my life and I have to tell you that in spite of the fact that most of them were entrenched firmly in the middle of the middle class, a lot of them were overpaid. Growing up I had more teachers than I can count. You see, if so many of them hadn't been incompetent I might be able to count them, but most teachers are like most people. They do just enough to keep themselves employed and they live for the weekend. I had a couple of great teachers but I can count them on one hand. And because so many of my teachers were lousy, I actually have to count on my hands if I want to be remotely accurate.

I can see why people think actors and athletes make too much money, but the economics of entertainment dictates rates of pay and when you stop and look at how those salaries are determined you realize that they are fair. The reason CC Sabathia is going to make 23 million dollars a year for the next 7 years is because there are only one or two people in the world who can do what he does. Most people can't throw a ball 60 feet and 6 inches with any sort of accuracy let along break 90hMPH on a regular basis. CC is going to do that about 90 times every time he starts. More important he is going to be asked, not to throw the ball over the plate, but to work the edges of the plate. You see, that's the difference between a Major League Pitcher and the guy you knew in high school who spent four years playing minor league ball. You don't throw the ball through a window known as the strike zone, you throw the ball at various places on the window frame. It's not easy.

I don't even find it offensive that professional athletes are getting paid so well in spite of the economic problems we're seeing around the world. It's not like I would turn down a raise in pay or a better opportunity because other people are out of work so I'm not going to begrudge CC getting his. I do take issue with the economy of baseball but only because I think that Major League Baseball is doing its fans a disservice by making it impossible for smaller market teams to remain competitive when teams like the Yankees and the Red Sox can absorb so much payroll. But that's a different discussion for a different time.

I enjoy professional sports but I rarely spring for tickets. It's too expensive to attend games and I don't feel that I get enough entertainment out of the experience to justify the cost. So by not buying tickets I am making my point. When more people reach that squeal point teams will have to evaluate what they must do to increase ticket revenue. If they have to lower prices to sell tickets and improve volume at the gate, so be it. That's when teams will have to make adjustment in what they pay players. That's how the economy of professional sports works. It's all about ticket sales and it's fair. Sports are all about the relationship between the fans and the players. We're drawn to professional sports because those athletes do it better than we can. That's why arenas around the country sell out when LeBron James comes to town but nobody's at the Y watching the pickup basketball games.

Movies are no different. The reason certain actors and actresses make 20 million bucks to star in a movie is because they will generate that much money in ticket sales. Will Smith is a hot commodity in Hollywood right now because people buy tickets to see him. They don't care if the movie is any good. His name alone will draw an audience. After the first week the quality of the movie will dictate whether or not sales remain strong but big stars generate big money in the opening week. So production companies are willing to spend a lot of money to ensure that a big star will be attached to the picture in order to make sure that the venture makes a profit in that first week.

I'm not going to lie. I pay attention to the cast of a movie. If a movies can afford a big star they probably didn't spare any expense on the rest of the production. That doesn't always mean the movie will be good but it helps. Big stars also understand that their credibility is important so most aren't willing to risk squandering their marketability on a lousy movie just because there's a big paycheck attached to it. We've seen plenty of big stars fall from the heavens because they let themselves get cast in a couple of crappy pictures.

I'll agree with people who say that doctors are more important than actors but a doctor isn't going to draw $350 million on opening weekend. I really don't know what comparison people are trying to make here. Are they suggesting that doctors should charge more for their services, or would they rather have the government step in and dictate salaries?

There's not much in life that's fair, especially when the economy has finished circling the bowl and left streaks on the way down. Some people deserve to make more money for what they do and other people deserve less. That's the way it works. The one place salaries are fair is in the entertainment business. Those salaries are dictated by the free market and it's the one industry where a person can actually make what they are worth. It's also a place where people are actually held accountable for poor performance.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bail Out? Not so fast...

The American automotive industry isn’t in as much trouble as people think. While it’s true that the so-called “Big Three” are in serious trouble, people forget that many of the foreign makes are manufactured right here in the United States. Honda has been cranking out cars in Central Ohio since 1982 and other companies such as Toyota and Subaru build cars domestically as well.

The economy is taking a toll on all everybody but it’s the American companies that need the American consumer to float them a loan. Why is that?

Conservatives are quick to point the finger at the unions. They, the conservatives say, bled the industry dry. That’s not entirely accurate. Those executives who went to Washington to beg for money didn’t hitchhike and share a room at Motel 6; they flew in on private jets and stayed in luxurious penthouse suites. It’s likely they ate $50 steaks and drank single malt scotch by the bottle. There’s no question that UAW workers are overpaid for the simple task of working on an assembly line but somehow the corporate suits have always managed to find enough money for country club dues and six figure quarterly bonuses. Perhaps the American consumer got the shaft in the way of inferior vehicles, but everybody is getting their money.

The reason the bottom fell out of the market is because gas prices spiked and sent the economy into a tailspin. Now Americans are unemployed in record numbers and the handful of people who are in the market for a new car are still shell-shocked by the $4 per gallon prices at the pump this summer. So the demand is for smaller cars that get better mileage and that has never been something the “Big Three” was any good at.

In fact, Ford, GM and Daimler-Chrysler force-fed trucks on the American public. Trucks are simply more profitable to manufacture. Engineers don’t have to worry a much about emissions controls, fuel economy or crash safety when they build trucks so Detroit invested heavily into building bigger and flashier trucks while they farmed out the manufacture of compact and subcompact vehicles to the lowest bidder.

It was fine and dandy as long as gas prices were low. American consumers didn’t see the need to worry about getting 8 miles per gallon when gas was cheap. Then prices started to rise and when the national average went over $3, people started parking those trucks. Suddenly the demand was for hybrids and dealers couldn’t give away trucks.

Honda and Toyota offered trucks and SUVs, but they didn’t base their entire business around it. They could have stopped making high-quality compact cars and offered 30 variations on their full-sized truck, but they didn’t compromise their vision. Rather than looking for loopholes the Japanese-based companies exceeded regulatory standards and continued to offer the best vehicles they could build at a fair price.

Somehow the Japanese-based companies have also managed to avoid unions. In a stroke of brilliance, these companies actually treat their workers with respect and offer fair compensation. It took a while for the two cultures to adjust but after 26 years in Central Ohio both Honda of America and Honda employees seem to be quite happy with the arrangement. Central Ohio endured a tremendous labor shortage in the late 1990’s but s Honda managed to retain and recruit great employees.

The “Big Three” have always been at odds with their employees. Unions were formed in the early 1900s to help mistreated workers take a stand against powerful companies. As badly as unions are maligned, with conservatives comparing union labor to socialism, there’s really nothing more American than disadvantaged people standing together to effect change. That’s what unions do and to this day most unions are respectable and fair.

The problems occur when the corporation fosters an adversarial relationship with the union. For years the “Big Three” automakers worked together to undermine the United Automotive Workers union. The companies would tell the union that they couldn’t offer raises or increase medical coverage for workers only to hand their CEOs a multimillion dollar bonus when share prices increased. So the UAW fought back and eventually the corporations caved.

The same situation occurred when the steel industry hit rock bottom. Steel companies insisted that they were running out of money but the unions didn’t believe them. Finally, after years of fighting back and forth the steel companies open their books to the unions and showed them the truth. There was no money. The unions quickly agreed to roll back wages and benefits in order to keep the industry afloat but it was too little, too late. Foreign steel was too cheap, and wouldn’t you know? It was companies like Ford, General Motors, and Chysler that were all too happy to buy it. That’s greed.

The Japanese-based companies are greedy too, but not in the short-sighted manner that the “Big Three” have been. The Japanese companies operate with a global view in mind and anticipate market changes. Every elementary school student knows that oil is a non-renewable resource and that means that it is going to run out. So the Japanese-based companies didn’t balk when oil prices stayed so low in the US for so long. They understood that the market would correct itself and they were positioned to thrive in that market.

It was that sort of thinking that brought those factories to the US in the first place. It would be much cheaper to manufacture Civics and Accords in Mexico but back in 1982, when the American manufacturers were trying to find the cheapest source of labor Honda wondered who would buy their cars if Americans weren’t earning good wages. So they made a long term investment in the American consumer.

It wasn’t altruistic of them…this was not a charity case. It made good business sense in the long term. By investing more money up front, Honda would realize long term rewards. It was much more expensive to build the Marysville factory than it would have been to put that same facility in Mexico and Mexican workers would happily accept a fraction of the wages American workers required. But Honda was also able to avoid import tariffs and they brokered tax abatements to offset initial costs and in the 26 years since that plant opened Honda has become one of the most successful companies in the world.

When you contrast that with what the American automotive companies have done you have to wonder why anybody would want to give them money. What investments have they made in this country over the past 20 years?

When you look at all the facts, this country would be better off if the “Big Three” went away. In the sort term the impact of losing those companies would be severe but when you take a look at the big picture it’s hard to see what we’d be missing.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yes, We Can.

I watched the election results from a small movie theater on the north side of Columbus. It's interesting that on the day I celebrated my the 20th anniversary of my first election this country was witness to history in the making. Barack Obama won by a wide margin. He secured a lot of votes in states where Democrats don't tend to fare well and where black men don't usually get the benefit of he doubt. Even if Obama had been white the victory would have been impressive. I had a feeling that Obama's support was stronger than most polls were anticipating and boldly told a coworker that I figured McCain would take the stage for his concession speech at 11:30. Obama won thanks in large part to serious economic problems. Historically people look to Democrats to stabilize the economy, which is baffling since Republicans claims to be the champions of commerce.

But Obama didn't win because people wanted a regime change. He didn't win because people believe he's better for the economy. Obama won because people believe in him. I've watched a number of presidential elections and I've studied many of the presidencies. Barack Obama is one of the most charismatic figures we've seen elected to the presidency. He's inspiring and commanding. He's got a tremendous presence. He exudes strength and compassion and rarely seems to pander. As the campaign went on I bought into him more and more. Not just his politics, but his personality.

I liked Bill Clinton and respect a lot of what he did as a president but I didn't feel strongly enough to vote for him over a third party candidate. Similarly I was unimpressed with Al Gore so I voted for Ralph Nader in order to make a point. In 2004 I was disgusted by John Kerry but I would have happily voted for a sea monkey over George W. Bush. I thought that was going to be the case in 2008 as well. That was before Barack Obama emerged as such an intriguing candidate. For the first time in my life I voted for somebody I really believed in and I was excited to watch the election unfold on a movie screen. Nearly 100 other people were in attendance and all of them erupted into cheers whenever a state went to Obama.

People have argued that Obama doesn't have a lot of substance. They say he talks a good game but that he doesn't seem to have much of a plan. I didn't vote for a plan, I voted for a leader and his vision. I know Obama doesn't have all the answers but I believe he has the intelligence, judgment and humility to find them. I trust that he will surround himself with the sort of people who will help him solve problems rather than sweep them under the rug and hope nobody sees them. After 8 years of watching, in horror, the Bush Administration squander every last penny our nation's diplomatic currency, I am suddenly confident that the US can once again become the best country in the world. Obama's election alone raised global perception of the US and that's going to come in handy over the next several years as the US extricates itself from ill-advised endeavors.

Michelle Obama took some flack for making a comment about her sense of pride in our nation. Well, I'm not afraid to say that I've often wondered what I was supposed to be proud of. I've always been disappointed in the disparity between rhetoric and deed. What this country says it stands for and what it actually has stood for have always seemed divergent. I won't say that Obama's election has restored my pride in this country but for the first time in my life I think that we have a chance to be a nation I can take pride in.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Strike One!

Most people don’t understand why the US Government should give failing financial institutions nearly a trillion dollars of taxpayers’ money. A number of those people happen to be members of the House of Representatives and the US Senate. That doesn’t mean that they’re incompetent, the economy is complicated. Just because your neighbor starts every sentences with the phrase It’s Economy 101, doesn’t mean that the basic principals taught in remedial courses at your local junior college have any impact on the market forces that move our nation’s economy. The people who came up with the idea of this massive bail out are economic scientists who have made economics their life’s work. It’s not something normally people are supposed to understand.

So politicians panicked. There’s an election coming up and 750 billion dollars is a lot of money. Voters could be upset. Polls indicate that public opinion of this bailout is low and what’s worse, George W. Bush said we needed to do it. That guy hasn’t been right about anything.

To the untrained eye it looks like a bunch of CEOs screwed up and want some free money to fix things. Millions of Americans are facing dire financial problems and nobody is there to help them. Regular folks have endured layoffs and foreclosures in addition to revolving debt and inflation. Times are tough and people are being forced to scrape by. So why should the fat cats who got us into this mess get a life line? It’s probably not fair or productive to expect the government to cover the debt of 200 million Americans but it certainly doesn’t seem fair to provide assistance to a handful of companies that simply failed to manage their businesses better. The American public doesn’t trust this proposal and given the circumstances of the past 8 years, you can’t blame them.

The Bush Administration has been consistent in one thing and one thing only: deceit. Congressional leaders have stood idly by and watched while our own version of Nero set fire to the empire. Even if this country wasn’t facing a financial crisis the mess Bush has made of our diplomatic relations, national security and our civil rights would take years to correct, but Bush and his cronies exploited their power to give big corporations a free pass to circumvent responsible business practices. It almost seems as though the plan was to let the crap hit the fan when the next president took office. It would appear that, just as they did with Iraq, Bush’s advisors “misunderestimated” the hole they were digging.

Maybe this bailout is necessary. Stabilizing the economy makes a lot of sense but where does Bush get off thinking his support of this issue is going to win us over? Most Americans are so fed up with Bush they can’t express how they feel for fear of being arrested. If you want to convince the American people that this bail out is necessary you need it presented by somebody they respect and trust more than Bush like OJ Simpson.

More importantly, you need to address the anger the American people are feeling. You don’t just ask for 750 billion and not offer up a sacrifice. Who screwed up and what are we going to do to them? Heads need to roll…first born need to be sacrificed…wives and daughters need to be sold into prostitution. We just need to know that the people who made this happen aren’t being rewarded for their incompetence. It would be a real shame if the CEOs who signed off on those bad financial practices end up eating caviar-stuffed lobster for Christmas dinner while the rest of us slurp pork and beans straight from the can.

That’s been the problem all along with Bush and his administration. Nobody gets held accountable. They haven’t even taken Bin Laden to task for 9-11 yet. Dick Cheney shot a guy in the face and didn’t even apologize. All the glaring problems, the huge mistakes, the lives lost and the money wasted but yet nobody has been punished. Now they want a trillion dollars and they don’t want us to ask where it’s going or why? No, that’s not going to stand. You’ve got to give us something.

Finally, and only because of impending Election Day accountability, elected officials listened. Most of the politicians who voted against Bush’s bail out vocally supported it, but when it came time to pass it they had to pass. They knew that their constituents wouldn’t allow it. It’s too bad the voters only matter when the election is a month away, but for once the system worked. Lincoln was right, you can fool all of the people come of the time but you at least have to try. The American people are stupid, but they’re not idiots. You have to pander to them if you want to screw them over.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


We’re not in a recession.

Forget about the fact that the US Government, in debt beyond anybody’s ability to fathom, is coming up with hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out banks and insurance companies that have fallen on hard economic times.

We’re not in a recession.

Pay no mind to the cost of fuel, the loss of jobs and the stasis of wages.

We’re not in a recession.

Foreclosures? Housing crisis? Lending Crunch?

We’re not in a recession.

Apparently they covered denial in the more advanced economics courses I didn’t take in college because all of these so-called experts and politicians absolutely refuse to use the “R” word. Well I have another “R” word for them: retarded.

I’m just a regular working stiff like everybody else. I don’t know that much about the economy but I do know a thing or two about bullshit and that’s what all of these experts seem to be feeding us. For some reason they seem to believe that admitting that the economy is in dire straits will make matters worse. So they refuse to attach the word recession to our current state of affairs.

To me it’s insulting. So it’s my fault I haven’t seen a significant raise in three years? It’s my fault that I haven’t been able to build my personal savings outside of my 401(k)? There’s nothing wrong with the system, it’s me that’s broken. That’s what they’re saying, right?

All the people I know who are out of work, the realtors who haven’t seen a commission check in eight months and the people lining up outside the temporary services office are all victims of their own stupidity then. We’re just experiencing a minor “adjustment” everything is fine. Go back to work, live long and prosper.

Get real. We are in a recession and you can hang that on George W. Bush. His economic policies have stimulated greed and economic stagnation and the massive debt he is running up will make it impossible for future presidents to provide Americans with significant tax relief.

When Bill Clinton took office in the early 1990s we were in the midst of a recession. George H W Bush took the heat for the failures of Reaganomics and Clinton focused on economic change when he ran for office. He fought to have his economic policies enacted and by the time his second term began things were much improved. The economy was fantastic from the mid through the late 90s.

Things cooled off quickly when George W. Bush took over. A Republican Congress forced a deregulation bill through that effectively created the loopholes necessary for things the Enron disaster. High level executives were simply able to fudge numbers and shift assets in a manner that eventually hurt the economy. Even before the 9-11 attacks in 2001 the economy had drastically cooled because Bush’s economic plan had stymied growth in favor of greed.

Unfortunately Bush has managed to avoid being held accountable for his economic policies. He was able to hide behind 9-11 and religious values throughout his presidential career and most people bought it. Now, at the end of his term we’re seeing economic pillars topple before our eyes and Bush doesn’t have to do a thing about it. Worse, as a lame duck president he is in a position to do even more damage and leave the next president holding the bag.

You don’t have to be an economist to realize just how bad things have become. These are tough times and it looks like things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Not calling it a recession isn’t going to change that.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Dirty Liberals

Republican spin doctors don't want to make Sarah Palin available for interviews until they feel that the press can be trusted to show her respect. They believe that the liberals in the media are only going to twist her words and make her look bad. Republicans have mastered the art of turning every criticism into liberal bias. Now they're playing that card to protect their shiny new VP nominee. Why? What are they hiding? Surely in Sarah's vast experience she's mastered the art of public speaking. Oh, right.

The reality is that Sarah Palin is there for two reasons. She's a neo-conservative fascist who can rally the short-bus wing of the Republican party to McCain's ticket and she's a woman which will make the militant feminists happy. Plus she's pretty attractive so she might score a few boner votes along the way. It's worth a shot. McCain doesn't want Palin talking to the mainstream audience because she's rude and a little naive. If she is put in the cross hairs of the international media she will put her foot in her mouth, which, if done literally, could be kind of hot but we're not talking about how limber she is.

So instead, the blame is falling on the media. They'll be mean to Sarah. Pretty little Sarah with her family values, high powered firearms and relentless hunger for raw moose. Those liberals can't be trusted.

Go ahead and label me a liberal. I think that providing tax breaks to the wealthy and big corporations actually causes the economy to slow down. These practices encourage greed. When the middle and lower class have their tax burden eased they spend the extra money and everybody is better for it. This has been proven time and time again. I also believe in protecting the environment, providing sensible support for the poor and disabled, and, while I believe in the second amendment, I think gun control is necessary. Don't like it? Tough cookies.

That being said, Sarah Palin is a fraud. Not only is her experience limited, she ran campaigns based on polarizing issues. She rallied social conservatives to her cause in Podunkia, Alaska by focusing on issues that mayors have no business focusing on. In fact most of those issues nobody should focus on. Tend to the plank in your eye and all that. She used her charisma (looks) and her outlandish conservative platform to sneak in to the Governor's office and has not even completed a full term at the level. To top it all off, it would appear that she has abused her power in that short period of time. Palin is also a liar several times over with her “Bridge to Nowhere” denials.

Obama's experience is not as limited, he's more educated and he didn't kick start his career path as a beauty pageant contestant. As far as McCain's vast experience goes I have reservations about his rather limited list of accomplishments in his lengthy political tenure. He fashions himself as a maverick but he’s really just a blowhard…a fuming old man who stomps his feet and sucks on his dentures for a while before he finally toes the party line. He’s a buffoon. His military experience and years as a POW are worthy of respect but they have no bearing on his ability to lead. In fact, McCain was a legacy case who attended the Naval Academy because his father and grandfather were notable Navy officers. If anything McCain was mediocre throughout his military career.

For me this election isn’t about being a liberal. It’s about who has the country’s best interest at heart. Barack Obama is focusing on drastic changes. He wants to cultivate our international relations to find peaceful ways to improve our national security. McCain is insulting and rude. Obama has dynamic economic plans that will help this country become a major player in the changing global market; McCain wants to invest in the status quo. He believes our economy is fundamentally sound and you almost believe him until the phone rings and some telemarketer from India tries to sell you a subscription to Soldier of Fortune.

Obama’s not perfect but he’s consistent, he’s strong and he’s willing to recognize the obstacles we face as this country tries to get back on track. McCain’s been in Bush’s back pocket since the 2004 election. That’s obvious. The way I see it, McCain is an aged political hack. A grouchy old ne’er do well who lacks class and charisma. Sarah Palin is a loud-mouthed beauty contestant who only brings looks and rhetoric to the table. She’s done nothing in her career other than pay lip service to lip service issues. Beauty on the Beast…yeah, they know what’s best for America.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Atheism defined

I’m an atheist. Normally I don’t go out of my way to espouse my beliefs because that’s one of the reasons I hate religion. If somebody asks, I tell them…but unlike most Christians I know I don’t get satisfaction from regaling people with what I’ve chosen to accept, which is reality. At least in my mind.

I could write a book about why I’m an atheist and I probably should. I really need to parlay my ability to write into a means of earning money but I tend to flit around on my blogs and various message boards when I have a few minutes to spare. Such is life.

The reason I’m bringing atheism up is that I was recently made aware of an event that took place in Columbus. It was a coming out party for atheists. At first blush, it doesn’t sound like a bad idea. Religion gets bludgeoned into us at an early age and even though Christians often lament the secularization of society, they still have more influence than they should. Religion, particularly when it is imposed upon people, is a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with individual spirituality but most religions, particularly Christianity feel a need to recruit members and vilify those who reject their dogma.

Again, I don’t want to get into these gory details. George Carlin said it best: he worshipped the sun because it’s there, but he prayed to Joe Pesci because Joe’s a good actor and seems like a guy who can get things done. Honestly it makes a hell of a lot more sense than basing a religion around a guy who may or may not have walked on water 2000 years ago. The water into wine thing would have been pretty cool but until Jesus pops into my office and converts the five gallon jug in the break room into a nice shiraz, I’m going to have to question the validity of that story.

No, my beef today is with the atheists who attended this party. I take issue with the concept because one of the reasons I’m an atheist is that I don’t like conforming to somebody else’s beliefs. One thing I’ve learned in speaking to other atheists is that we all have different opinions about what we believe and reasons for believing it and that’s OK. There are atheists who feel the need to organize around a common theme. I don’t know if they realize that they’re trying to build a religion.

During this coming out party the atheists made a mockery of baptisms by conducting a de-baptism service with the so-called blow dryer of reason. That sounds funny and from a purely satirical perspective it is but the joke is on you when you go so far as to conduct de-baptisms to symbolize breaking the bond with religion. I wonder if they discussed setting up a vomitorium of ex-communion. How else can former Catholics purge themselves of the body and blood of Christ they’ve been noshing on all these years?

I might be biased but it takes courage to put yourself out there as an atheist. It makes people nervous because most religious people harbor a lot of doubt that they simply don’t like to talk about. That’s why they need to form denominations of similar theological thought. That and money, but let’s stay on point. Atheism is supposed to be the absence of theology.

It would be unfair for me to speak on behalf of all atheists but those I know seem to share a common trait. We’ve taken a long hard look at what religion has to offer and passed. Personally I’ve studied a number of different spiritual concepts and when I was engaged in that study I considered myself an agnostic. When I felt pretty comfortable that all religion was a little hokey I decided I was an atheist. There was no need for any ceremonies. I didn’t need to have my lack of faith affirmed by other atheists. The only thing I had to accept was the fact that being willing to declare myself an atheist came with certain social consequences.

People are comfortable with agnostics because agnostics tend to believe, or at least want to believe, in something. Atheists simply choose not to believe. Atheists can be spiritual in a very broad sense but they would never claim to have faith. Faith, you see, is the inherent flaw in religion. Faith can cloud reason and impair judgment. Faith has led people to join cults and take their own lives as well as the lives of others. Faith can be very dangerous.

So I have to take issue with people who call themselves atheists but seek some form of validation for their beliefs. They want their faith affirmed and that’s not what it’s all about.

The so-called atheists who attended the coming out party bandied about topics such as conversion and they whined over the fact that so many atheists seem to turn back to religion once they start families.

I’ve talked to religious people who take issue with the manner in which most churches convert people. Shameless pandering, childhood brainwashing, scare tactics, predatory psychology, name the method and somebody has put it to good use. The reason most religions recruit followers is because they want to consolidate the two things that make the world go ‘round: money and power. Ironically that’s why Jesus raised a little hell within the Jewish religion a couple thousand years ago. It’s ironic because it took people like Paul all of a few years to turn Jesus’ legacy into the very thing he railed against.

In this country people reject Christianity. It’s the most pervasive religion and while it’s not nearly as oppressive as fundamentalist Islam, Christians do a mighty fine job of forcing their beliefs on others. They also do a pretty good job of making themselves out to be the victims. Most atheists want to distance themselves from this. So why stoop the religion’s level and convert the masses?

The answer to that question also answers why so many of these atheists go back to religion. They have faith. All they’re doing is changing the object of that faith. That’s not atheism, it’s juvenile rebellion. The self-described atheists who attended the coming out party in Columbus had a lot more in common with melancholy teen-aged girls who pretend to dabble in witchcraft. There’s not really anything wrong with that but it’s a real shame when the actions of a few confused malcontents cast a shadow on everybody else.

Being an atheist doesn’t make you special. You’re not necessarily better than those who have faith in something. Atheism is just one way of looking at things. It’s just a word that describes a very broad line of thought. There’s nothing to practice, no dogma to follow, no power or presence to have faith in. Atheism is nothing more than being at peace with the fact that you have absolutely no idea what’s beyond our mortal existence. I think all atheist hope that there’s something wonderful waiting for us after we die but we just don’t see any reason to convince ourselves to have faith in what we can’t prove.

We don’t need no stinking parties.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

American Idiots

Foreign oil is the latest evil facing our nation. George W. Bush is using the current fuel crisis to open the door for more drilling domestically and John McCain is heeding that call making domestic oil part of his battle cry.

Of course nobody's talking about the fact the US Oil reserves are paltry compared to those in the Middle East. The much debated oil reserve under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been optimistically estimated to be capable of producing 3 billion barrels of oil over a period of 22 years. The United States currently consumes more than 20 million barrels of oil per day with more than 9 million barrels going to gasoline. In short, we can't pump domestic oil fast enough to meet a fraction of current demand and if we could there isn't enough oil to last more than a few years. Economists around the world agree that if the US managed to develop oil producing technology that allowed US reserves to have an impact on global prices, OPEC would simply reduce production to maintain pricing integrity.

What's funny is that people think the strategic manipulation of supplies to maintain prices is unfair in some way even though this practice has been around since the beginning of commerce. In the US farmers are paid subsidies to not plant crops in order to keep prices level. If that market manipulation backfires in the wake of floods or droughts the consumer ends up paying the price, quite literally, at the register.

The problem we have in this country is not an addiction to foreign oil. We're addicted to fossil fuels. The problem with oil and its cousin coal go beyond the environmental concerns. While drilling and mining take a tremendous toll and the problems with emissions are well documented, the real concern is the fact that dependency on these resources puts the consumer under the thumb of corporate powers that have proven themselves to be rather heartless. The nature of these industries limits competition so prices are easily set in boardrooms rather than in the open market. When alternatives such as wind and solar power are discussed proponents of coal and oil are quick to produce a litany of problems but the one they are most concerned with is how it will affect their bottom line. How dare we consider using a renewable resource that would reduce energy prices?

It's not just fuel consumption that causes problems. A considerable amount of petroleum is used in a variety of industrial applications with plastics being the most notable. Plastic consumption might be the easiest area realize meaningful reductions. Modified corn and potato starch can be used to replace most of the plastic containers we see and those products are not only biodegradable, they can be composted in your own back yard. Resusable grocery bags are becoming increasing popular and more and more people are carrying their own containers to purchase beverages such as coffee and soft drinks. Plastic packaging represents a significant area of petroleum consumption but you don't hear people talking about doing away with those 20 ounce bottles. Our presidential candidates aren't concerned about how much recyclable material is ending up in our landfills. Not caring about the environmental impact is one thing, but what about the oil? Reusing or recycling a container reduces the amount of oil used to create new containers.

You see, the problem is that Americans have nobody to blame but themselves for their dependency on oil. The rising prices we see at the pump aren't because of OPEC, India or China. The United States is the number one consumer of oil around the world. Global consumption is at 85 million barrels per day and the US consumes more than a quarter of that. Granted, we are a highly industrialized nation that represents a significant portion of the global economy but the fact remains that 5% of the world's population is using 25% of the world's oil. We can do better. And until we're willing to look ourselves in the mirror and accept that responsibility, sticking a drill in every square mile of this country is not going to help.

But Americans don't want to hear it. Parking the F-150 is not an option. People are better at finding reasons not to carpool or take public transportation than they are at overcoming the minor inconveniences associated with leaving the car at home. We don't want to recycle, or be troubled with the hassle of toting our own shopping bags around. So in November people will cast their vote for the candidate who does the best job of flattering them. Bomb the continental shelf for drilling...stick a coal mine in the middle of the Grand Canyon...just don't ask us to take responsibility.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Idiot's Guide to Elections.

A lot of people seemed pretty upset that Barack Obama and his wife knocked knuckles before he delivered his post primary speech. OK. To an almost 40 guy who grew up in Cleveland it didn't seem like a big deal and I suspect to the pundits its not either. It is, however, a very easy thing to focus on.

When I listen to or read the opinions of conservative pundits I get the distinct impression that they think their audience is stupid. So instead of intelligently discussing the differences between McCain and Obama they reduce the argument to hateful diatribes. Before McCain became the front runner people like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck were denouncing him as a RINO, which is a clever tag neo-conservatives hung on moderate Republicans in 200 and 2004 in order to push forceful social conservative legislation.

So now that McCain is the only option for them they have thrown their support behind him by attacking Obama. Which is fine. That's the way the game is played. The problem is that they are attacking him with ridiculous assertions. They're using his name as a link to terrorism and his connection to Jeremiah Wright makes him a racist. Of course John McCain hails from a state that doesn't recognize Martin Luther King Day and there's a possibility that he was brainwashed when he was held as a POW. I've seen the Manchurian Candidate.

Yes, it's silly. McCain's not a hypnotized sleeper waiting to destroy this country any more than Obama is a socialist. The fact is these men differ on some key issues but when you get down to it they are very similar. McCain and Obama share a desire to address Global Warming and conservation. Where they differ is in economics, taxes and the war in Iraq.

Obama believes that we need to put existing trade agreements on hold until we find out why the US seems to be getting the short end of the deal. NAFTA and GAFTA are great ideas on paper but when other countries are cheating on the pacts they stop working. Obama wants to make sure the US is getting a fair return on its investments. McCain doesn't support dismantling NAFTA. Instead he wants to train out of work laborers hit hard by free trade to find work in science and technology. The problem is that those jobs are being outsourced to places like India. McCain didn't mention what he would do to stop outsourcing.

In reference to taxes, Obama wants to eliminate tax breaks and subsidies for corporations, particularly the big oil companies. McCain feels that this would put a financial burden on the people who make jobs and that playing hardball with oil companies will only force gas prices to rise. It'sa great argument except for the fact that we've had a very business friendly administration for 8 years. Gas prices have more than doubled, wages have gone down and people are facing the hardest economic times since the mid 80s. Shifting the tax burden back to corporations and the exceedingly wealthy makes sense.

As far as Iraq goes, that's a disaster. Our military is overstressed. Nation Guard and Reserve troops have been on active status far too long and stop loss initiatives have delayed discharges for years. People aren't volunteering. The war on terror has a lot of vocal support but nobody seems interested in going beyond lip service. Everybody is willing to stick a magnetic ribbon on their car but nobody is signing up for a stint in the Army.

McCain wants to win. Obama wants to put the onus on Iraqi officials and bring our troops and our money back home. The question is which plan is better. Will Obama's plan allow fundamentalist Islam to thrive? Will McCain's commitment to seeing Iraq through weaken the US as Russia and China are building their Armies? This is what we should be arguing about.

But nobody wants to talk about the issues. Instead they want to make issues out of soundbites and knuckle knocks. Are Americans really that stupid? Or is the average voter too lazy to think?

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Hillary's Army

A number of women who support Hillary Clinton have expressed a lot of outrage over the way Hillary has been treated. Apparently they feel that she has been undermined by the Old Boy Network. Issues such as debate moderators referring to her as Mrs. Clinton rather than Senator Clinton and a scant smattering of jerks in the crowd who opted to express sexist comments have fueled this speculation that Hillary is being held back by a glass ceiling. Some of her supporters insist that they’ll vote for McCain to spite Obama even though Obama has conveyed nothing but the utmost respect for Hillary.

One supporter asked if not for sexism how else can one explain the hatred so many people express toward Hillary. That’s easy: She’s a Clinton. For eight years the Republican Party and all of their conservative pundits waged an all out war on the Clintons. Unfortunately for Hillary much of the dirt thrown at Bill ended up on her. She was often characterized as the brains behind the operation which is a point Hillary’s supporters never argued. Blame the venom on partisan politics not a gender bias.

Hillary’s run for the Senate was transparent. It was a poorly kept secret that Hillary had her eyes on the White House and that’s why, at least in the minds of most voters, Hillary never took Bill to task on his philandering. Her marriage was one of political convenience. Hillary could have disputed this notion but she simply refused to discuss the details of how she opted to hold Bill accountable for cheating on her. If she can’t take her husband to task for his very public affairs how can she be expected to confront world leaders?

Hillary and her supporters take a lot of pride in how many votes they secured but Hillary’s campaign seemed to pick up steam after the Mitt Romney stepped down and McCain became the Republican front runner. It’s naïve to think that the registered Republicans who voted in the Democratic primary were playing fair. A significant number of Hillary’s votes came from people who wanted to inflict harm on the Democrats by extending the battle.

The clandestine conspiracy Hillary’s supporters insist is designed to keep a woman out of the Oval Office is really just good sense on the part of party leaders who realize that there’s something fishy with this primary. Would Hillary be as popular with the rank and file Democrats if Republicans had been fighting to the bitter end?

Hillary wasn’t the victim of sexism. She was the victim of politics. Most of that was her own doing. She ran for a Senate seat in a tradition Democratic stronghold and beat a weak Republican rival. Hillary had no genuine connection to New York so her political career started off as a ploy. Then she led a very undistinguished life as a Senator. She didn’t make any waves or take any real stands. It was all about photo ops and sound bites.

It’s remarkable that Hillary was able to capture as much support as she did which is a great sign for women. If somebody as unlikeable and suspicious as Hillary can put her self in such high standing within her party you have to wonder what a truly inspirational woman could accomplish.

Shame on Hillary’s supporters who claim they won’t back Obama. That sort of rhetoric undermines everything Hillary accomplished. If her supporters are willing to spite her party that only proves that the sexists in this argument are the bitter old harpies who only supported Hillary because she was a woman.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008



So Congress finally decided to put the screws to the oil companies...don't hold your breath on anything coming from it.

For years Democrats pretended to wage war with the corporate executives who run the larger oil companies. The term BIG OIL is one that Big Oil companies hate because it demonizes them when all they are guilty of doing is running a successful business. By throwing them all under the same header, we hold them in the same esteem as BIG TOBACCO .

Big Oil companies maintain that they haven’t misled the consumer. If anything oil companies have brokered their buying power to keep prices at the pump low. Record profits are the product of record consumption.

To some degree that’s true. Nobody really seems overly upset that FAST FOOD has effectively conspired to fatten us up. Ronald McDonald is just as guilty as Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man when it comes to steering children down an unhealthy path but yet we still line up for BOGO Big Macs with little concern for right and wrong.

Then again, fast food franchises are struggling in the current economy. Americans have slowly been opting for healthier food and that’s put iconic chains under the gun to compete. Big oil companies don’t have any competition and they’ve been conspiring to control the market for decades. What’s more, oil companies have been receiving government subsidies. That’s right, in spite of being the only businesses to see consistent growth in what has been a chaotic economy over the past 7 years, nobody has seen fit to pull the free money our federal government has forking over.

Americans are finally feeling the sting of fuel costs and they don’t like it. But what are they going to do? Consumption is finally starting to slow down now that gasoline is at the $4.00 per gallon mark but our society is dependent on internal combustion. Most of the American workforce does not have access to reliable public transportation. Of all the major metropolitan areas in the US only a handful have the infrastructure to get people to work via rail or bus. Uncontained urban sprawl makes it impossible for late-blooming cities to accommodate transit needs.

Americans have to drive our country is built around the car. That’s been an important factor in our development as a country but now, with pollution and fuel consumption becoming problematic our dependence on individual transportation will hurt our ability to compete in the global economy. That’s thanks in large part to Big Oil.

By failing to invest government subsidies into research and development, oil companies have fallen short on the goal of producing an alternative fuel to oil. Now that prices are climbing we’re seeing half-baked ideas such as ethanol being foisted on the market. Ethanol’s been around for such a long time that we shouldn’t have so many problems with efficiency and distribution but the oil companies did just enough to appease certain benchmarks. Once an oil friendly administration assumed control those benchmarks were set aside.

The same thing happened to the Big Three automotive manufacturers. Once Bush assumed control of the White House projects such as electric cars and fuel cells took a back seat. Economy standards were set aside and Americans were buying trucks in record numbers. Now Honda and Toyota have become the automotive juggernauts, Chrysler is owned by foreign interests and Ford is dangerously close to going out of business.

Now that people are upset and questions are being asked, the American consumer is taking the blame. Big Oil is playing the role of victim in this scandal. The reality is that the American people are the victims. Our leaders failed to recognize market trends and corporate leaders gleefully held back the development of fuel efficient technology over the last 10 years. Now that people are warming up to the idea of bio diesel we realize that there aren’t any late model passenger vehicles with diesel available. Now that E-85 seems like a reasonable alternative we learn that all those flex fuel vehicles we’d been hearing about were distributed to states that required them by law, and of course there aren’t any E-85 pumps within a days drive of most consumers.

Americans might be guilty of being naïve but that doesn’t mean we weren’t led astray by people who knew better. Big Oil should be held accountable…

…but they won’t.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big Talk.

Barack Obama is the latest politician to draw the line in the sand and demand that his family be left out of the political fray. Apparently Michelle Obama left a remark out there that was turned into a sound bite that is making its rounds among conservatives.

The sound bite in question features Mrs. Obama stating that for the first time in her adult life she is proud of this country. Of course the Red State take on that comment is that Mrs. Obama has spent a solid 20 years not being proud of her country which is supposedly a bad thing. It doesn’t matter that most Americans aren’t particularly proud of their country, people in politics are supposed to beam with nationalistic pride.

The video is nothing more than a partisan bone for conservative pundits to wrestle over. It’s not going to scare away any Democrats who weren’t already frightened by the fact that Obama happens to be black. However, the fact that Mrs. Obama is now in the crosshairs of conservative critics rightfully bothers the Democratic frontrunner.

He recently issued the obligatory “hands off” ultimatum. Of course there’s nothing he can do about it. His wife is out there on the publicity tour talking to thousands of people. She’s an intelligent woman who might have political aspirations of her own someday. Michelle Obama is fair game and Barack knows it.

So why the posturing? Because that’s part of the game too. If Barack Obama doesn’t puff out his chest and defend his wife he looks weak and that could hurt him more than anything Jeremiah Wright has to say. A man who isn’t willing to go to bat for his family isn’t a man and can’t be trusted to run the country. Not even when our current president never had a real job and spent more time partying than he did parenting.

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton played that card with Chelsea, although it played better for Bill because Chelsea was a child when he was campaigning. Now Chelsea is a young woman who is out there stumping for her mother. Still, when people put her on the spot Hillary voiced her displeasure. George W. Bush drew the same line with his binge-drinking daughters. It’s become such a typical part of the process that one has to wonder if the attacks on family aren’t instigated internally.

It’s funny because there is absolutely nothing these candidates can do about it. If a columnist lambastes Michelle Obama what’s Barack going to do about it? The Constitution prevents Barack from taking legal action and the basic laws of society prohibit physical assault. Barack is powerless to defend his wife and given the fact that his wife is pretty much on her own, he shouldn’t have too.

Bill Clinton couldn’t do anything about the pundits, like Rush Limbaugh, who took shots at his daughter while he was in office and George W. Bush had more trouble keeping his daughters out if trouble and in their pants than he had with critics who wanted to hurt him by attacking them.

Political opponents loath to play that game because attacking a candidate’s family tends to backfire. George H.W. Bush tried to question Hillary Clinton’s influence over Bill and it cost him a lot of points among women. And that was Hillary, nobody likes her. So John McCain isn’t going to put Michelle Obama in his crosshairs. That’s a dangerous gamble.

It’s OK for people like Glen Beck and Ann Coulter to stir that pot; they live in the muck and have no credibility. Aside from a handful of marginally retarded fans, nobody cares what they have to say. They’ll get the mindless masses worked into a frenzy but it’s only going to reinforce votes that were already iron clad. That’s assuming there isn’t a sale on Skoal on election day.

It would have been refreshing for Obama to laugh the criticism off and dismiss it as petty but that’s something McCain would have jumped on. As silly as it is, not acting macho would have given mainstream Republicans plenty of ammunition to question Obama’s courage. People don’t have time for nuance and they don’t like to think about the big picture. Barack Obama has to take a stand and defend the honor of his wife even though she seems perfectly capable of fighting her own battles…even though there’s nothing he Obama can do about it.

Those are the rules of the game and the game is played for your enjoyment. It’s too bad that we spend so much time obsessing about these petty antics and important issues get pushed to the side.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Interest without Knowledge

The previous two Presidential elections were contentious to say the least. Opinions split down party lines but no matter how you feel about the outcome you have to admit there were serious problems.

In 2000 the Supreme Court split 5-4down party lines and quashed a thorough recount of the contentious ballots. There were stories about dangling chads, combative election workers and confused old Jews who voted for Pat Buchanan. In 2004 the problems surfaced in Ohio where a the Republican Secretary of State tried to reject thousands of voter registration forms and a company whose owner was a enthusiastic Bush supporter provided electronic ballots machines that seemed to malfunction in key Democratic strongholds.

Most people don’t want to consider the possibility that these elections were rigged but the fact remains that elections are rigged all the time. It’s not just in third world countries. Daly ruled Chicago with an iron fist and maintained control with a stuffed ballot box and it happens in smaller communities all the time. If we’re being honest with ourselves we’d admit that there’s probably some sort of fix at play in every election…it’s just that the 2000 and 2004 elections were so close and the final tally came down to two states that had been massaged to skew results.

Even if you don’t believe the fix was in you have to admit that there were some issues that lend themselves to conspiracy theories. That means that there’s something wrong with the way our system works. Between the last two big elections Americans have been evaluation everything from the registration process, to voter verification. We’ve even seen people question the existence of the Electoral College.

So it’s no surprise that this years Primaries are stirring up quite a bit of controversy. Again, on the Republican side the ticket was decided a long time ago. The only thing that stood out was the way McCain and Huckabee collaborated to destroy Mitt Romney’s bid. Once Romney was out voters sided with McCain and by the time Super Tuesday was over so was the Republican race.

The Democrats were still close. Hillary seemed to have a huge advantage but Obama has a strong following and it has carried over to what people refer to as Super Delegates. Super Delegates are just party alumni who are able to vote for the candidate of their choosing, regardless of the primary results. Even in states Hillary won, these delegates threw support behind Obama.

This has people crying foul. They feel like their cotes don’t count and they’re right. What they don’t realize is that their votes don’t have to count. The parties are private entities designed to consolidate similar ideas into a specific party platform. It’s a tool voters can use to choose candidates who support an agenda they agree with and a device for politicians to help each other win their posts.

The problem with primaries is readily illustrated in, once again, Ohio where the polls were open well after Super Tuesday. With McCain comfortably in the lead Republican pundits called their minions to arms and encouraged them to vote in the Democratic primary and vote for Hillary. At the time Obama seemed poised to run away with the party nomination but he hit a snag in Ohio.

A lot of people dismissed the idea that Republicans threw the Democratic primary but now that the votes have all been counted and the forms have been examined, reports published by the AP indicate that 8% of the people who voted Democrat in switched party affiliations at the polls. The board of elections tracks party affiliation during primaries so there’s no count on the number of unofficial Republicans who made the switch and of course there’s no way to know who these former Republicans cast their cotes for but seeing as how a number of these Republicans were people holding elected office as a party member it certainly seems fair to assume that the majority of these party hoppers were following the advice of the pundits.

It’s not a matter of whether this is right or wrong. One Republican said that he didn’t break any laws and he’s absolutely correct. In the big game of politics it’s within the rules but that’s why the Democrats are willing to let the so-called Super Delegates make tough decisions and go against the popular vote.

It’s great that Americans want their voices to be heard but foolish to expect private political parties to relinquish their power. If you don’t like the candidate your preferred party chooses, then show your dissent in November. The only reason we have a two party system is because we allow ourselves to be limited to it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

American Hero

Just when you thought the Roger Clemens saga was going away it hits you in the face with a steroid-laced 95 mph fastball in the form of one-time country music sensation Mindy McCready.

McCready had a hit single on the redneck charts back in 1996 and proceeded to self-destruct. Since then it’s been a made-for-TV story about drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and the subsequent stints in rehab and jail. Mindy is a train wreck and, as is the case with all train wrecks, people often wonder why…why do people who seem to have it made fall apart so completely?

Usually we don’t have a good answer. Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Tom Sizemore…they all defy explanation. Mindy McCready’s success was confined to a pretty small niche but surely people in that niche wondered why she would implode after she achieved success.

Now we have an answer: sexual abuse. Mindy McCready was involved in a sexual relationship with a 28 year-old man when she was only 15. That man? None other than Mr. Roger “I’m a good guy” Clemens. According to people close to the situation, Clemens hooked up with the teen karaoke singer back in the early 1990s. Clemens doesn’t dispute this but he insists that the relationship wasn’t sexual. McCready commented that she couldn’t refute the sexual allegations. She didn’t go into detail but that admission puts Clemens in a tight spot. He’s the one who has been clamoring about the quality of his character in the wake of the steroid scandal.

Clemens is involved in a courtroom suit/countersuit battle royale with Brian McNamee, the former trainer who implicated Clemens in the Mitchell Report. Clemens has been calling McNamee a liar ever since and he hopes to prove it in court. Now, he’s on public record denying a sexual relationship with a woman who has confirmed the story. That’s going to come back to haunt him in court. McCready will be called as a witness and Clemen’s will have his precious character called into question.

Of course Clemen’s could face even more trouble. The news of the affair will most certainly have an impact on his marriage. Clemens was married with two children when he first met McCready and if Roger’s wife has reason to believe that he betrayed her she will have a golden opportunity to put the screws to him. She could unravel every lie that he’s told and produce testimony, perhaps even evidence, that Roger has been using steroids for years.

Lost in all of this is a very serious issue: statutory rape. Clemens was a multi-millionaire professional athlete. At 28 he was the best pitcher in major league baseball. Mindy McCready was a 15 year-old girl trying to find a break in the music industry. Now it’s possible that McCready was little more than a groupie who was enamored with the superstar pitcher and Clemens, like so many other famous men, probably took advantage of more than his fair share of groupies but 15? Come on, Roger, that’s going too far. Cheating on your wife is one thing, but cheating on your wife with a teenaged girl—well, that’s something right out of Roman Polanski’s playbook…and he’s still in exile.

Not too long ago Roger and Brian sat before a Congressional Committee so elected officials could parlay the steroid scandal into some good pre-election battle face time. Roger wined and dined a number of lawmakers and it paid off during the hearing when Republicans took turns bashing Brian McNamee. Of course McNamee’s response to being called a liar by Representative DanTom Burton was to point out that he had implicated three players and two had already admitted to the committee that they did indeed use performance enhancing substances. Roger’s long time BFF, Andy Pettitte, substantiated McNamee’s story by informing the committee in a closed hearing that Roger Clemens told him he used HGH. Still, Clemens was likened to Jesus.

Clemens didn’t handle himself well. He lost his composure several times and seemed to be covering his tracks, still his Republican buddies applauded him for being a baseball hero and suffering through the humiliation of being implicated in the steroid scandal. How do they feel about Rocket now? Roger’s mantra has been that he is a man of great character, but now this character is a borderline pedophile. People go to jail for having sex with 15 year-olds. Just ask Genarlow Wilson who, at the age of 17, found himself locked up for allowing a 15 year-old to perform oral sex on him. Roger wasn’t 17.

Roger likely won’t go to jail for his relationship with McCready but the fact that she has corroborated the story pretty much proves that Roger Clemens is a dirt bag. He could face perjury charges for lying to Congress and he’s going to see a significant portion of his wealth signed away to his wife after she divorces him. He’s going to get what’s coming to him.

Before the McCready story broke there are plenty of people lined up on his side. These apologists had a litany of excuses for their hero. What do they have to say now?

Clemens is a liar, a cheater and a statutory rapist…sounds like he’s primed for a run at the Senate. He might as well... Roger’s got a better shot at getting into Congress than he does the Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Schilling in the Name

John Freshwater wants to be a martyr. As a middle school science teacher at a public school in Mount Vernon, Ohio Freshwater has gone out of his way to draw attention to himself and his faith. The center of the controversy seems to revolve around his decision to keep a bible on his desk. It seems innocent enough and Freshwater claims that the bible is for his own personal use. Fair enough.

Still officials put the screws to Freshwater and he enlisted the support of local religious activist Dave Daubenmire who was at the center of a controversy back in 1999 when he was sued by the ACLU for leading the football team he coached in prayer sessions before and after practices and games. His school district ended up footing the bill for an out of court settlement, but Daubenmire parlayed the ink into a cottage industry. Now he has a ministry and a website dedicated to his glory. You can even make a donation. Surprise, surprise, surprise.

It’s interesting that seems more committed to promoting Coach Dave than it does Jesus Christ but in the wacky world of evangelicalism that’s really the name of the game. Vanity and greed. It’s not about morality it’s all about a salary. (Apologies to Kris Parker.)

As you start to delve deeper into the Freshwater saga, which you can by visiting The Columbus Dispatch, you realize that this guy was itching for a fight. He wanted to cross the line so he could be the center of a controversy (i.e. attention).

Why? Maybe he wants to start his own ministry. Perhaps Daubenmire is selling how-to guides online and Freshwater bought one. There’s also the possibility that Daubenmire put him up to it in order to drum up some publicity. That seems to be the big issue on Coach Dave’s website. Nothing brings in those donations like a big fight against Liberals and their godless agenda.

Of course the ACLU will take some flack even though the ACLU has a track record of winning cases on both sides of the issue. It’s ironic because Freshwater volunteered to monitor meetings of his school’s chapter of the Federation of Christian Athletes, an organization the ACLU has championed. What the ACLU fights against is the participation of school officials in these student led meetings. Freshwater crossed that line and not only participated but cast out demons and conducting healing sessions.

It’s amazing how Christians eat this stuff up. They believe they’re persecuted and that our society promotes atheism. The reality is that our society still promotes Christianity. It’s only recently that people have started to push back and challenge some of the conventions that allowed Christians to assume a position of power over everybody else. So now when somebody points out that the city park is a public area and shouldn’t be used to display a religious nativity scene Christians see it as an infringement when the reality is that they were the ones infringing on everybody else.

That’s what Freshwater is doing. The school has been very careful to respect Freshwater’s beliefs, the issue is that he’s using his position as a teacher to proselytize. That’s fine in a Christian school, but Freshwater chose to teach in a public school system. He’s got to follow certain rules as do all teachers.

On local blogs Christians are whining that if Freshwater had a copy of the Quran on his desk that this wouldn’t have been an issue but the issue wasn’t the fact that he had a bible on his desk. The issue was why it was there. Through his actions Freshwater made it clear that he was using that bible to influence the beliefs of his students. More succinctly he wanted to be suspended over this. The more press the better. He’ll milk it for all it’s worth and retire from his public teaching position to start his own ministry under Dave Daubenmire’s wing…the typical Christian pyramid scheme. Then Freshwater will recruit some other teacher and the cycle will start all over again.

Unfortunately most Christians, particularly those of Freshwater and Daubenmire’s ilk, simply refuse to respect the beliefs of others. When Daubenmire was leading his football team in prayer he didn’t stop to think about how kids who weren’t religious might feel. It’s ironic because Christians claim to honor the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. How would Freshwater feel about his child’s science teacher displaying a copy of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible? What would Daubenmire do if his son’s football coach led the team in a Buddhist chant before each game?

Christians don’t have a real answer for that question. They’ve either convinced themselves that these things happen everyday and nobody says a word or they’ll turn it around and cite dubious stories about Christians being fed to the lions.

When Christians behave like Freshwater and Daubenmire that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

But Obama was right!

"Here's how it is: in a lot of these communities in big industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, people have been beaten down so long, and they feel so betrayed by government, and when they hear a pitch that is premised on not being cynical about government, then a part of them just doesn't buy it. And when it's delivered by -- it's true that when it's delivered by a 46-year-old black man named Barack Obama (laugher), then that adds another layer of skepticism (laughter).
But -- so the questions you're most likely to get about me, 'Well, what is this guy going to do for me? What's the concrete thing?' What they wanna hear is -- so, we'll give you talking points about what we're proposing -- close tax loopholes, roll back, you know, the tax cuts for the top 1 percent. Obama's gonna give tax breaks to middle-class folks and we're gonna provide health care for every American. So we'll go down a series of talking points.
But the truth is, is that, our challenge is to get people persuaded that we can make progress when there's not evidence of that in their daily lives. You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.
Um, now these are in some communities, you know. I think what you'll find is, is that people of every background -- there are gonna be a mix of people, you can go in the toughest neighborhoods, you know working-class lunch-pail folks, you'll find Obama enthusiasts. And you can go into places where you think I'd be very strong and people will just be skeptical. The important thing is that you show up and you're doing what you're doing." --Barack Obama

When I first heard about Barack Obama’s comments regarding embittered Middle Americans I was shocked. Not so much that he said it but that somebody was finally paying attention. The fact of the matter is that many of the people living in Western Pennsylvania are gun toting bible thumpers who enjoy feeling sorry for themselves. Ask any reasonable person who lives or has spent a significant amount of time in the area and they’ll confirm it. The handful of people who took offense to Obama’s statement prove his theory.

What’s funny is that most of outrage seems to be coming from people who have never heard of Latrobe, Oil City, or Washington ( PA not DC) and the only thing most politicians know about Johnstown is that there may or may not have been a big flood there. Obama’s comments appropriately describe towns in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana as well and if you’re going to talk about bitter, narrow-minded people you can throw that same lasso around West Virginia and Kentucky.

Taking Obama’s full quote into context it’s quite obvious that he feels sympathetic toward these people. I live around them and I don’t. Obama wants to help them rediscover the American dream. I’d just as soon close all the exit ramps on I-70 between Washington DC and St. Louis. Now that’s elitist.

As somebody who grew up in one of the areas Obama was talking about, I found nothing he said offensive. What I did find offensive was Hillary Clinton trotting out her Larry The Cable Guy impression in order to connect with the people she thought would be upset by Obama’s comments. Talk about out of touch. When did Scranton turn in to Birmingham? Does that country-fried drawl and stories about shooting guns with grandpappy after church really work? And then she bellied up to the bar for a shot and a beer. Nice. Next week she'll be belching the alphabet and farting on demand. Hey kid, pull my finger!

Perhaps it does work. George W. Bush managed to convince the NASCAR set that he was just a farmer from Texas and not some spoiled rich kid born with a silver spoon in his mouth that was so big the man still can’t form a sentence. Somehow, Bush managed to spin a keg party at an Alabama Armory into military service that was more honorable than John McCain’s half a decade of torture.

Of course, Bush always sounds like a hick and he’s made it quite clear that he is genuinely stupid. Perhaps not so much as the people who voted for him, but he’s definitely running on fumes. Hillary, on the other hand, seems to have multiple personalities. She becomes Butterfly McQueen quoting Reverend James Cleveland when she’s pandering to black voters and channels Loretta Lynn in front of white blue collar types.

The real Hillary Clinton grew up in a wealthy community before graduating from Yale by way of Wellesley and when she’s glad-handing for the big money you can bet that her diction and grammar are perfect. So why the buck and shuffle for the unwashed masses? Does she really think that the average American is that stupid? Maybe that was a tactic she learned at the world headquarters of poor white trash, Wal-Mart. Perhaps Sam Walton’s ability to parlay provincialism into billions of dollars convinced Hillary to patronize potential voters with ersatz folksy charm.

Who needs to talk about the issues and present solutions to problems when we can zero in on a sound bite that was taken out of context? Imagine what a wonderful presidential race this would be if everybody in it was more interested in talking about their ideas rather than waiting for the opposition to slip up. What’s frustrating is that Obama didn’t slip up. He made a valid point that should be discussed in detail.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hypocrisy Games

I’m not going to single any one person out because a lot of people are hopping on this boycott-the-opening-ceremony bandwagon. I realize that China’s record on human rights leaves quite a bit to be desired and I suppose that something should be done but skipping out on the opening ceremony is not going to change things. It’s actually a little trite. So China’s not quite evil enough to warrant a full boycott of the games, eh?

Personally I think Olympic boycotts are pretty gutless. Why should the athletes have to suffer for society’s inability to solve these problems? For the most part these are kids who, for better or worse, dedicate their lives to being the best in a particular sport. For most, since gymnasts and long distance runners seldom have professional opportunities, the Olympics is their one moment to shine. The vast majority of Olympians get one shot at the podium because the games only come around once every four years.

The International Olympic Committee had the chance to make a statement by rejecting China’s bid to host the Olympics which would have been fair because the games would have gone on but for world leaders to even consider marring the games by dragging political issues into a celebration of athletic competition and sportsmanship is a dereliction of duty. Don't hide behind the Olympics to pick a fight with China.

China’s been in the Human Rights cross hairs for decades but that hasn’t stopped countries around the world from openly and aggressively trading with China. Right here in the USA we depend on China to provide us with cheap goods and services so we can have more disposable income to spend at Applebee’s. China’s economy is growing at a remarkable rate even though that growth has been on the backs of an oppressed workforce. Where’s the outrage the other three years out of the Olympiad?

The Olympics always give me hope. Race, religion, culture and creed are put aside in the name of sport and for a few weeks every four years the rivalry between various nations becomes good natured. Why ruin that?

There are those who argue that ignoring China’s abuses to celebrate the games is betraying they who can’t defend themselves. By allowing China to preen on the global stage we are condoning brutal oppression. I say that the opposite is true. By taking a stand against China on the Olympic stage we make a mockery of those very issues. Boycotting the Opening ceremony says that we want to put on a good show of compassion but after everything is said and done we welcome a return to business as usual. That’s because we’ll be watching the Olympics on electronic devices manufactured in China.

Worse than not caring about an issue is pretending you do. Boycotting the Olympics is just a big public display that does nothing and boycotting the opening ceremonies is a little more than a wink in China’s direction. If you want to send a message, hit China where it hurts. Don't use the Olympics as a soap box.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Let it Bleed

I’m glad gas prices are going up. I hope they reach $10 a gallon before Bush leaves office and we have a President who isn’t bought and paid for by Big Oil.

I know what that means: A bloodletting. The economy will collapse and millions of people will be out of work. It will make the Great Depression look like a stock market correction. Good. We have it coming.

We have it coming because people commute to white collar jobs in a one ton pickup trucks. Kids are dropped off for school in Hummers. Nobody takes the bus and few people actually carpool. To be fair, most cities don’t provide adequate public transportation. Urban sprawl forces millions of people living in urban areas to commute 10 or more miles to a job in a suburban development where busses don’t run. Things like that simply didn’t matter, gas was cheap and so were used cars. Nobody had to worry about the logistics of the daily commute.

Well now they do. Since Bush has taken office the cost of a gallon of gas has nearly tripled. His apologists will tell you that’s because of a number of economic factors but somehow domestic oil companies have enjoyed record profits. Net Profits.

Nevertheless, we still have it coming. It was only a matter of time before another, stupider version of Warren G. Harding was planted in the White House by corporate interests. Oil Companies are going to screw us as hard as they can for as long as they can, but it takes two to tango. We’re the ones who grabbed our ankles and let them do it.

There was a gas crunch in the 70s. Not only was oil expensive, it was also hard to find. OPEC cut our supply and we were crippled. That’s when Honda and Toyota proliferated the US market with compact cars. Fuel efficient vehicles gained a foothold in the US and, as Americans got creative with their commuting habits, oil prices came back down.

And they stayed down. They stayed down so long that Americans were able to stop buying those puny “rice burners” and start buying big cars again. By the end of the 1980s truck sales started to rise and by 2000 the SUV became the most common vehicle on the highway. Fuel efficiency was a joke. People were buying horsepower and getting 12 miles per gallon was fine and dandy because the average American felt safe driving a massive hunk of steel down the road. It didn’t matter if crash test surveys demonstrated that larger vehicles were less safe in a crash, Fanny F-150 liked riding high and stretching out.

Of course, the volatility of the oil market never went away. OPEC tried to manipulate supplies when Clinton and George H. W. Bush were in office but they were able to leverage diplomacy to keep supplies up and costs down. The result is that Americans didn’t pay attention to the writing on the wall. We kept on trucking oblivious to what was on the horizon.

Oil is a finite resource. There were only so many prehistoric bogs that got converted into crude and we’ve been burning it up at an exponential rate. Even if it’s cheap, the supply is limited so it makes sense to conserve it and aggressively look for renewable sources of combustible fuel. That’s why coal is a lousy answer. No matter how many mountains they level or rivers they foul Big Coal companies won’t find enough coal underground to last. Fossil fuels take hundreds of millions of years to create but only second to burn. We need to find something else. This latest oil crisis is proof of that.

Gas is well on it way to four bucks a gallon and people are still cruising around in hulking trucks and midsize sedans with big engines. They aren’t cruising as much, but they aren’t looking for alternatives either. It would seem that our squeal point is somewhere closer to the five dollar mark but before it gets there we’ll have a new Administration in Washington and prices will fall. The question is whether Americans will take the lesson they’ve learned to heart and strive to find a better way or if they’ll go right back to the SUV.

I don't think we'll learn and that's why I hope those prices keep rising.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sex, Sex...was all I heard.

The headlines were misleading. When I read that New York’s governor had been linked to a prostitution ring I thought he was some sort of pimp. I read the story thinking I would be treated to some intricate scandal where Eliot Spitzer was a key player in a multi-state prostitution scam. When I read the article I was disappointed to discover that Mr. Spitzer was only client #9. To me, that’s hardly being linked to a prostitution ring. I’m not connected to Amoco just because I bought gas this weekend. Granted I did get the sneaking suspicion I was being screwed as the price rolled past $50, but that’s different.

Nevertheless, Eliot Spitzer was caught doing wrong. He broke the law and he broke public trust. People are calling him a hypocrite because he apparently campaigned on an ethics platform but from what I could ascertain his ethical focus was within the realm of business practices. He was going to clean up Wall Street. I don’t know that he ever voiced a problem with the notion of nookie-for-hire. There’s a big difference between a conservative who foams at the mouth when speaking of family values getting caught in a nubile boy’s pants and a moderate intent on establishing economic integrity hiring a call girl to boogie on down to Washington to show him a good time.

It’s odd that we hold politician to such lofty standards in their personal lives but we don’t give much thought to the corruption that occurs in their professional world. Spitzer is going to be forced to step aside amidst this scandal when it’s got no bearing on his performance in office. Sure, somebody will argue that if his wife can’t trust him neither can we but that’s nonsense. We know that personal relationships are a separate issue, and while Spitzer broke the law, it’s a law most reasonable people feel is unnecessary.

Consenting adults almost always barter for sex. Whether it’s dinner, a movie and a nice bottle of Petite Petite (that was being saved for something special) or a cash exchange, sex is almost always a transaction. There are exceptions, especially several years into a long term relationship, but those are rare.

That’s not to excuse what Spitzer did. He knows how the game is played and he took his chances when he arranged for his favorite call girl to hook up with him in D.C. It’s a sign of reckless behavior and poor judgment. To that end, one can make a case that he is not qualified to lead. It’s just unfortunate that we don’t hold the actual performance of our elected officials to the same standards. Do we have to wait for a Democrat to book a high-end hooker or a Republican to have a guy on guy romp in an airport toilet before we question their integrity?

Look at McCain. He’s been linked to a slinky lobbyist with a reputation for flirting with geezers to get a little leverage. Rather than taking a long hard look at how this relationship might have affected public policy people are more infatuated with whether or not McCain got frisky with a hired hoochie. Is that really important? That’s why companies hire attractive women to do that sort of work in the first place. I’m not saying that all female lobbyists are eye candy but submit two resumes, one for a policy wonk who obtained a masters degree in political science from Georgetown while interning for three senators and another for a community college grad who happened to win a few beauty pageants and see who gets called first. Sex gets a point across as well as it sells. And you can bet that McCain borrowed a blue pill from somebody before he went to dinner with that cute little girl from down the hall.

People cheat on their spouses all the time. Could you lose your job if you cheated on your spouse? Not unless you work for her/him. Sometimes we in the general public will say things like, “if I pulled something like that I’d be fired” when we know it’s not true. People in the real world get fired when their performance suffers. So you can get arrested and still have a job as long as you can post bail and be back at work before you violate company policy. And you can definitely cheat on your spouse and hold down your job. That might change if you cheat with the 19 year-old intern in accounting but as long as you keep your nasty bits out of the company’s business you’ll be back at work on Monday.

There was a time when people didn’t care about a politician’s personal life. History is filled with philanderers and pederasts. James Buchanan was gay; Jefferson had illegitimate children; JFK may or may not have joined his brother and Marilyn Monroe for a threesome; LBJ ate live armadillos for breakfast; Nixon flipped lit cigarettes at his wife for fun; Ronald Reagan enjoyed urinating on Asian boys; and George H. W. Bush disciplined at least one of his children by dropping him on the head. The list goes on.

Suddenly we live an in age where sex sells and everything else is boring. John McCain might very well want to launch a dozen nuclear missiles into Vietnam if he’s elected but we’re more focused on whether or not he got freaky with a lobbyist. Mark Foley was run out of DC on a rail, proving that a live boy can still end a career even if a dead girl can’t, but the cronies who kept him on committees that are supposed to review laws that punish child abusers are unscathed. Tom DeLay basically had to dare the country to punish him before he was ousted and Ted Stevens has been playing it fast and loose for years with no accountability. Larry Craig was a crooked politician who managed to deftly avoid any legal trouble over suspicious donations and pork projects that benefited his contributors but it was a lovelorn act of desperation that put him on the hot seat.

It’s funny, we don’t seem to make a big stink over our elected officials missing votes or failing to show up for hearings but if we find out the reason they were absent is because they were having sex with somebody they weren’t married to the fur starts flying. The public might be to blame, but the headline on Spitzer’s affair proves that the media is playing a big role in fanning those flames.

We do the same thing with professional athletes. When LeBron James got ticketed for speeding it made national news. Some people were even enraged with LeBron’s glib answer to the question. He didn’t even express remorse. Colin Cowherd, a nationally syndicated idiot who takes up airspace on ESPN even characterized LeBron’s brush with a radar gun as one of the problems with the mentality of the professional athlete. Really? Speeding’s the scourge of out nation’s youth. Thanks Colin, now go back to apologizing for how awful West Coast football is.

Regular people don’t get charged with assault everyday but when some working class stiff gets a little rowdy at a bar and fists fly it’s not grounds for that guy to lose his day job but if Tracy McGrady get’s involved in a fracas outside of a night club the general public laments the fact that he’s back in the starting lineup the very next day. “If I got arrested for assault they wouldn’t let me out of jail so I could be at work the next day.” Yes, they would, all you have to do is post bond.

And ultimately the publicity of these altercations has a very negative impact on the athlete’s career. We don’t acknowledge it because he’s still shooting baskets but players like LeBron James have a lot of contracts on the side. In fact, Lebron James makes more money as a spokesman than he does as a basketball player. Let’s say LeBron got pulled over for speeding but found himself arrested for possession of narcotics, carrying a concealed weapon and driving while intoxicated. Let’s say he was in the car with four naked underage girls while all of this took place. He’s got the money to hire a savvy enough legal team to make charges disappear but his public image would have taken a huge hit and LeBron would suddenly be less marketable. Endorsements would dry up. Sprite, Bubble Yum and even Nike would exercise clauses in their contracts to drop LeBron from their payrolls. Just ask Kobe Bryant about that. His brush with the law might still be costing him millions.

Why do you think Vince Carter and Allen Iverson have seen their endorsement opportunities disappear? Part of it might be age but most of it is because the public is tired of watching them act up. So you see athletes, celebrities and even politicians actually do pay a price for getting on the wrong side of the law. Larry Craig wasn’t the only man busted for soliciting sex in the men’s room. When Joe Schmoe ties one on at B-Dub’s after work and gets ticketed for trying to score a blow job from a cop at 3:00am it doesn’t make headlines. He can call in sick the next day, plead guilty, pay a fine, go back to his life (and his wife) and nobody will be the wiser. But the people processing arrests don’t call reporters when Joe Schmoe’s name pops up.

Again, that’s the way this game is played. The stakes are higher for famous people and politicians fit into that category. The sting that nabbed Spitzer also identified other patrons but none of them were on the public’s radar. Spitzer is paying a much higher price for his illicit frolic because he’s in a higher position. It’s not fair but then again life rarely is. The irony is that the public is really cheating itself by placing emphasis on issues that have little to do with a politician’s performance. Could you imagine Thomas Jefferson being forced out of politics because of extramarital affairs?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Saint Patrick’s Day is coming which means this country will engage in one of the biggest displays of hypocrisy known to man. With the pseudo-holiday falling on a Monday that means a lot of people will spend a whole weekend lying about their heritage. Some people will admit to being along for the ride but most will actually claim to have enough Irish in them to justify taking Monday off so they can start drinking early, or recover from drinking all weekend long. Irish flags will be waving and city officials will gleefully allow public waterways to be temporarily polluted with allegedly nontoxic green dye.

No protesters will line the streets to denounce this display of ethnic solidarity. Nobody will be told to go back to Ireland. You see, we’re all for ethnic pride as long as you pass the melanin test. If you’re sufficiently pale you can wave the flag of your homeland all you want but for those among you who happen to be a little on the brown side, forget it. Take pride in your African roots and you’ll be mocked for it. Wave the Mexican flag and people will call you a traitor. But get plastered by 9:00 and put on a “Kiss me I’m Irish” button and the whole country celebrates with you.

I’m told that I have a little Irish ancestry so I probably could get away with celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. My last name, Croyle, seems Irish even though it originates from France. The problem is I just don’t care. I don’t take a lot of pride in my ethnicity because it simply doesn’t define me. It's not like I earned it. I’m half Polish but aside from eating pierogi and kielbasa from time to time we never did anything to celebrate our heritage. We were non-practicing Polacks and as for the dash of Irish my dad’s side of the family contributed, it was pretty much diluted by the English, Welsh, German, Dutch and French ancestry that got thrown into that big pot of Croyle gruel over the years. We didn’t make a big deal out of what we were. It always seemed that the “who” was more important. Ethnic agnosticism.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t begrudge these cultural celebrations. To me it’s sad that St. Patrick’s Day has reduced being Irish to early morning drinking binges, boring parades and prolific use of the color green but when you get right down to the basic concept of understanding where you came from and keeping that history alive I think it’s great and a few people actually take the time to reflect on that during the chaotic Spring Break spectacle we’ve made out of March 17th.

Other ethnic groups celebrate their culture and heritage. We might not have a specific day for celebrating Italian lineage but there are plenty of Italian festivals around the country. Name a nationality and you’ll probably be able to find a celebration for it sometime this year. Greeks throw a big “Wrestle me I’m Greek” party every year and I know there are Hungarian, Serbian, and Yugoslavian shindigs in most of the bigger cities. Nobody seems to mind. We even embrace various Asian cultures as they engage in their celebrations throughout the year. Chinese New Year is usually a pretty big deal in various locations around the world.

Cinco de Mayo is the most notable Hispanic holiday. It’s actually Mexican Independence Day but for most Americans it’s another day to get loaded. Corona with lime, por favor. Of course in places with organized Mexican-American communities the holiday has become more of a reflection of ethnic pride and that has started to rub Americans the wrong way. It was fine when it was limited to border towns with high Latino concentrations but now that northern cities are starting to see hundreds of brown-skinned people waving Mexican flags a line had been drawn. If you want to celebrate being Mexican, you can go back to Mexico.

And it’s not just Mexicans. White people snicker at the mention of Kwanza as if it’s just some made up holiday black people came up with to feel special. Of course Kwanza doesn’t stir up hostility like festivals that promote African culture. Again, if you love Africa so much you should move back there... even though 95% of the black people living in this country were born here. In fact most African Americans come from families that have been in the US longer than most white people. Half of my ancestry hopped off a boat around 1915. The other half probably owned the ancestors of some of those people celebrating their African heritage. So these African Americans might have more of a right to celebrate where they came from than their white counterparts. Still, anything that might be labeled “Black Pride” is viewed as an example of reverse racism.

That’s a common argument tossed out by the polemicists. Why is it OK to chant “Black Power” or “Black Pride” but not OK to stand up for "White Pride"? The truth is that it would be if White Pride and White Power weren’t directly tied into hating everything that isn’t white. Aside from a very small handful of black people who make money off of racial inequality, the underlying theme of “Black Power” or “Black Pride” is to promote the positive aspects of African American culture. The underlying theme of “White Power” is hate. Black Power is saying we’re equal to you. White Power is saying no, you’re not.

That’s why celebrations of ethnicity are fair game but broad celebrations of race are, well, racist. Ethnicity is about heritage, culture and history. It’s about taking pride in where your ancestors came from and what they did. People of a particular ethnic group share similar experiences and they like to take some time to reflect on that. More importantly, they invite they rest of us along for the ride. Ethnicity is what makes this country great: People of different backgrounds finding common ground…not just respecting one another, but celebrating our differences as much as we do our similarities.

Most black people in North America don’t have a specific ethnic heritage they can trace. Slavery essentially made black an ethnic group. Our white ancestors stripped Africans, who came from different backgrounds, of their history and forced them to create a new culture from scratch. It was a covert culture hidden in field songs and locked behind the doors of black churches. So that’s why “Black Pride” isn’t racist. But that won’t change how most white people react to darker people celebrating their heritage. How dare they? Those nappy-headed Bushmen should hop on the next boat to Liberia. And any Mexican who raises a flag other than the Stars and Stripes should be sent back over the fence. If being an American isn’t good enough, get out.

But what about those red-headed Irish jerks with their stupid green beer and House of Pain mix tapes? Shouldn’t they go back to Ireland? It’s something to think about. St. Patrick’s Day is coming and we should have a plan.