Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Patriotism













On the way to work Monday morning I saw a delivery van parked in front of the subway entrance. Plain white van dropping off some groceries to one of the many bodegas in the area. Completely unremarkable except that painted on the back doors was the following:

America: Love it or get the F**K out.

Below that was painted:

Complaints about the sign? Call 1-800-eat-shit

At least credit where credit’s due – he painted the sign on the van, which is permanent and more than can be said for the limp people whose idea of national support is to affix a removable magnetic flag or ribbon to the side of their 15 m.p.g. SUV, thereby not risking their cool paint job on their gas-guzzling car. And also, there were no misspellings, which is more than can be said for similar graffiti on bathroom walls.

Although the author of the sign obviously confuses patriotism with intolerant and hateful nationalism, I find it ultimately difficult to get too upset with him. We live in a country where political and media discourse encourages such thought. To wit, the State of the Union Address.

Once again I purposely skipped it. After 2003 I avoid them like shopping malls. During that address the President was babbling on about the war on terrorism and was snarkily commenting on how successful it was:

‘…All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way -- they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies. (Applause.)…’

I threw up when he said that. I recognize the unfortunate necessity of military action in a messed up world, but when my government is forced to ‘eliminate problems’ it is not something that should be bragged about in the ‘Red Meat’ section of a political speech. It’s also insulting when the President talks like he’s coming up with slogans for the back of Econoline Vans. Addressing me as if I have the emotional and intellectual development of a nine year old goes way beyond pandering.

So I don’t get too upset with the large number of idiots and dimwits which ‘pollute our collective subconscious’, to quote Bill Hicks. Like most monkeys, they are excellent mimics.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Better Mousetrap





Truly unique business concepts are pretty rare – most new businesses are either ‘me, too’ (yet another pasta restaurant) or are rather pathetic (setting up a new bookstore where your friends can recite their poetry.) As a result most businesses fail within two years, with the only people beating down the doors being creditors. Chiefly what lacks is imagination, either in running it or more frequently in the actual concept of the business (pasta and poetry). Which is why I am usually unimpressed with most new companies.

Kathy and I are huge fans of Fresh Direct – a new type of grocery store that delivers high quality food and produce. Fresh Direct is part of a re-imagining of what the internet can do for a business by taking the lessons learned from the first round (Pea Pod and other grocery home delivery disasters) and doing it right the second time. Hiring the right people and actually providing what people want in a service.

Last week I tried Zipcar for the first time. Several friends have raved about it, and the idea is quite brilliant – essentially renting a car by the hour instead of by the day. Car rental companies make more than 80% of their money at the airport from out of town folk renting vehicles. Surprisingly, no one until now has really gone after the other needs of people in their own town needing a car. I signed up for a $50 buck annual fee, and I paid ten bucks and hour for five hours to use a Toyota Scion to drive to New Jersey for work. It was a completely pain-free experience. The car even included an EZPass for the tolls, with the bills automatically added to my credit card bill. No fuss no bother. I loved it.

Kathy and I got rid of our only car because we can – living in New York has its benefits. Using a Zipcar makes our life now even easier. I wouldn’t want to get a car now if it was given to us for free. It was costing us eight thousand dollars a year just for parking and insurance. For how often we used it, we could have hired a Rolls Royce to chauffer us around. Still, our way can’t be a solution for most people in a country a fraction as dense as New York.

Ideas such as this are a step in the right direction for transit in this country. People are still stuck in a framework that mass transit should replace people’s cars entirely, but with the low density of this country that is utter folly. Mass transit systems, such as light rail and buses, should be designed to eliminate people’s second cars: The number of registered vehicles in the US outnumbers the number of households by over one hundred million. 225,000,000 vehicles. It’s going to be a lot simpler to get people to give up a second car in a suburban environment than to give up all of their cars.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging
















































Misty Edition. Complaints received that the last Misty photos were from the vaults, as they were. These are a less than a week old and more correctly reflect his a) weight and b) what he does with his kitty existence, which is to regard the world all day long from up on high.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Birds of a Feather









A few weeks ago, we got the sad news that one of our favorite restaurants succumbed to the rules of business and closed down. Some 90% of restaurants fail within the first two to three years (it’s one of the hardest enterprises to run successfully). Bistro St. Marks lasted about three years before closing. It wasn’t an outstanding place, but it was reliable and had an excellent wine list. And the big plus is that we could always get a table without a reservation – probably a good sign of its ultimate demise.

But there are other restaurants, including our favorite, Rosewater, and Wednesday night we went to one of their semi-annual specialty dinners. The theme this time was Game Birds and wines of the Loire Valley. Five courses: Pheasant, Quail, Guinea Hen and Scottish Wood Pigeon. The pheasant and the pigeon were wild and shot in Scottland – three customers ended up munching on some buckshot during the pigeon course. The Quail and Hen were raised (in New Jersey and California, respectively). All birds were provided through D’Artagnan, a provider of top notch meats and poultry. Apparently if you hunt birds in the Scottish Highlands there are companies that will buy them off of you for export to other European countries and America. Tasty stuff.

The wines were fun. John, the proprietor, prefers old school wines of a more traditional bent – less oak and more earth. He paired the Pheasant with a Rose, the Quail with a Blended Muscadet, the Hen with an interesting Gamay, and my favorite, a Cabernet Franc from Chinon with the Pigeon. Domaine Olga Raffault “Les Picasses” 2002.

It’s been a while since we went to one of these dinners, and John promises more in the future – hopefully as soon as May.

Monday, January 23, 2006






Another new year, another set of resolutions. Many might view this annual ritual in a cynical light, but I actually admire it. A chance to reevaluate and an opportunity for a fresh start. There are those who would say such self-reflection should be a constant in our lives, and not limited to once a year, but life is difficult enough to keep up with to constantly vary one’s routines more than once or twice in a year.

Most of my New Year’s resolutions concern the improvement of my physical constitution. This year I have vowed to go to the gym twice a week, which would be an improvement on last year, when I went twice, period. I skipped the first week of January (generally the worst time of year to go to a gym.) and started going on the second week. I had a good semi-routine built up already, as I had been going to physical therapy twice a week to work on a bum shoulder, so the timing worked out fairly well, and is less of a disruption than I thought it might be.

I go Mondays and Thursdays (my old physio days) generally around 3:00 in the afternoon as that seems to be when the pool is least crowded. I swim around 1/3 of a mile, and am weekly adding laps to end up in about a month or so more at ½ mile per session. That works out to around ½ hour of workout, which is pretty good, considering my current physical state (‘rather tubby’ according to my father). Once that goal is reached I plan on attempting a third day a week or so.

The math is pretty simple: one burns 700 calories swimming the breast stroke for an hour (the most vigorous swimming stroke). 3,500 calories represents one pound, although the body doesn’t work that simplistically. Still, the math is fun. All other things being equal, in three weeks I can burn off a pound. This means that, if I can keep it up, in ten years I will cease to exist.

I use the local YMCA as it has a pool, is noticeably cheaper than other gyms, and is a place where people exercise as opposed to preen. Another thing I noticed today, although I don’t know why I missed it earlier, is that classes are available to members, so of which look rather interesting, if I want to get past swimming as a method of working out. My favorite listed class is a new one this year (I kid you not) Power Napping:

'Power Nap is a blissful, 45 minute class that combines gentle stretching, breathwork, guided meditation and no-holds barred napping!’

Sign me up.

While I was at the ‘Y’ today ABC Television is giving away some bizarre promotional shower slippers advertising their new show ‘Beautiful People.’ Monday Nights on ABC Family channel. To have this promo tie-in at a gym makes a bit more sense when you read the show description:

“Looks can be deceiving in the new coming-of-age drama series Beautiful People, from the executive producer of Dawson’s Creek. Life is turned upside down for newly-single Lynn Kerr (Daphne Zuniga) and her family when her youngest daughter Sophie (Sarah Foret)) receives an academic scholarship to attend a prestigious private school in New York City. Sophie and her sister Karen (Torrey DeVitto) reluctantly move from their quiet hometown of Esperanza, New Mexico, to give the bright lights of Manhattan a try. Though the city is filled with challenges, with each other’s support, all three women venture on a journey of self-discovery in the city where anything is possible.”

I assume the gym tie-in is the producers attempt to go after the weight-loss market segment – offering an excellent opportunity to purge after dinner at 9:00 PM Monday night (8:00 Central).

There apparently is no Esperanza, New Mexico, although Googling it gives some sense of where the producers cam up with the name. There’s a resort of that name in San Lucas, Mexico, “ Where sun, sea, sky and earth join as one to form a tropical oasis like no other,” – clearly a tag line written by the same people who wrote the one on the shower slippers. Also, there is the Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families in New Mexico. Somehow that seems more appropriate.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging































Electra Edition

The Wee One's broken leg is healing nicely. The stiches came out last week and the rod the vet inserted will be removed next week.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Technology













I will read the New York Press occasionally on subway trips, despite the rapid decline of the quality of the newspaper over the past several years, especially after its sale by the original founders. Still, free is free – can’t argue with that – and occasionally the paper is worthy of something more than birdcage lining.

Other than the film reviews, most of the other cultural reporting reads as pretentious crap, reminding one of the ‘overeducated and unemployed’ meme of the early 1990s. Glancing back down to the paper after looking out of the window as the Q train goes over the Manhattan bridge this morning, I started reading a review of Chris Ware’s latest book, The Acme Novelty Library. I have a passing familiarity with Ware’s work, mostly very favorable, although after reading this review, (‘the best fiction of the season’) I have ordered a copy of it. Graphic novels and comics are both over rated and under rated at the same time, but I have always have had a soft spot for them.

I was struck by an unrelated quote in the review: “His ideas are all about the way technology is alienating us not only from our own potential but from our ability to imagine it. It’s a clever concept – technology debilitating our imagination, specifically our ability to think imaginatively about technology. I have no idea if Tim Marchman came up with that on his own, but it’s a clever turn of phrase. And like all clever bits, it’s essentially meaningless, but simultaneously gets the mind to wander.

In my case about the inherent lack of imagination in technology design, hence the story of the Philco Predicta. Every new invention requires a new type of design, but initially the design behind the invention succumbs to metaphor. The car is the classic example. For decades, cars looked like carriages and had no design identity of their own. Car as carriage. Television is another classic example. The first televisions looked like radio consoles, and in fact often were radio consoles with the radio tuner removed and replaced by a small 4” TV screen. TV design remained like this until the mid to late 1950s.

The Philco company, during the recession of the late 1950s saw it’s bottom line suffering as TV sales fell, so they came up with new designs, unlike anything seen before. Several models of the Predicta were developed, starting in 1958 with the Holiday Model (I have two of them), and ending in 1961. They became (and still are) the most famous TV design created, a unique object to themselves without referring to any other type of technology. They became an icon.

As well, they drove Philco into bankruptcy. Sales didn’t take off, and most of the TVs ended up being sold to hotel chains and other institutional buyers. So much for the role of imagination in the marketplace. Obvious cynical points could be made here about the blandness of culture and the insipid nature of Americans, but that’s tired ground.

What’s clear is the value of comfort food. Yum.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

In Vino Veritas













One of the problems of maintaining a blog is the time commitment involved. This is something I wanted to post about when it was fresher in my mind, and more timely; life, specifically work got in the way. We are in the midst of a fairly typical January work blitz, when architects and developers realize that, Oh, Christ we’ve got that presentation in January that we blew off preparing for during the holidays and now we’re completely boned unless we get that renderer on board, pronto. Eleven active projects right now and another ten or so under negotiation.

It was over a week ago that my brother was in town for the weekend. On Saturday, Kathy and I took him and Wells out to our favorite haunt – Rosewater, which is a convenient short walk from our house. Typically Kathy and I order the tasting menu, and that night was no exception. Essentially let the cook decide what to order, six courses of it, and then let the owner pair each course with a different wine. It’s Kathy’s and my favorite way to order at a restaurant.

One of my biggest complaints about modern dining is the outrageous portion size, enough to choke an elephant. Presumably restaurant owners have to pile on the food to make every meal seem like a sumptuous feast, but the end result for me is massive pain and bloating which obviously ruins the experience. That’s why I prefer the tasting menus, if done correctly. Many small courses, so you get a wide variety of tasting experiences without the need for mobility assistance at the end of the meal.

We have several times had the overfed problem even at Rosewater, but Saturday’s hit the bill perfectly:

Course 1: Duck Prosciutto paired with a New York State Cremant d’Alsace

Course 2: Chilean Sea Bass paired with a Gini 2003 Soave Classico

Course 3: Foie Gras Torchon paired with a Bonny Doon Muscat, Vin De Glacier, also from New York

Course 4: Homemade Pork Sausage paired with a 2003 Cotes du Vantuax from Chateau Valcombe

Course 5: Lamb paired with a 2002 Quintadi Vallado

Course 6: 4 desserts including a sticky date bun, Cheri Spiced apple fritters and a flourless chocolate cake. The desserts were paired with a La Spinetta 2005 Moscato d’Asti.

In the future I will try to post more detail on the foods, but the delay in posting this has hampered my memory.

As often happens we had John, the proprietor of Rosewater, write down the paired wines for us. Usually we hold onto the list for a while thinking that we will do something with it, and eventually throw it away. This time, however, we were so impressed by the dessert wine that we got John to give us the distributor’s name, Michael Skurnik. Armed with this information I took it to our favorite wine store, Slope Cellars and was able to order a case of it. As a plus, they actually had the Gini Soave as well, although a 2004 which they claim is even better than the outstanding 2003 that we had.

This all sounds rather odd – if you like a wine at a restaurant, get the name and just go get it at the store. Unfortunately life is never that easy. Typically wines in a restaurant are from different distributors than in stores, so if you find a great wine at your favorite place, then you are pretty much stuck getting it only at that restaurant. Fortunately, several of the better restaurants in Park Slope are starting to work with local wine merchants, allowing people to sample at their favorite place and then go buy bottles of what they like.

On a somewhat related note, the Supreme Court last year disallowed most state laws governing the interstate sales of wine as unconstitutional. New York was one of those states, but they are becoming in danger of missing the deadline of revising the state laws to make it possible for people like me to order wine over the internet. Granted, the legislature has more pressing agenda on its plate, but they can’t get any of that accomplished either. Plato, in the Laws, argued that the best way to discuss philosophy is while drunk; In Vino Veritas and all that. Perhaps the critters up in Albany would do well to put that item of business on the top of their to-do lists.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging (Delayed)



















Misty Edition

Cat Blogging Delayed from Friday because I spent too much time on Friday afternoon trying to track down a $30 discreptancy in my business accounts. All resolved now. I have $30 more than I thought - enough to buy a case or two more of cat food.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Wolcott













I see with pleasure that my brother has started blogging more than once a quarter. And his latest post is a screed against the media; hopefully his recent visit to New York has led to this new found energy in the internets.

He pretty much nails this rending of garments media orgy covering the latest literary scandal du jour – the fake memoir of ‘A Million Little Pieces.’ Unlike Mike, I have never read it (contemporary memoirs of angst filled lives and resulting lessons learned tend to leave me with a bad case of hives.) But I’m certain that the publisher, Anchor, is laughing all the way to the bank with the kind of coverage that money can’t buy, even after a stint on Oprah’s book club.

I hope he girds his loins if he decides to delve deeper into the cesspit of our media industry, however. Book scandals ain’t nothin’. Lord knows, a scandal such as this wouldn’t get a fraction of the coverage during the heady shark-infested days of summer, but as the stakes get higher, the stench grows, sending even sharks scurrying away in search of fresher chum.

As shark repellent, James Wolcott is on fire today – his blog is a must read for continuing snarky coverage of the various media offenses against out citizenry. Smelling salts for when you get the vapors watching as the media coverage of events in our nation’s capitol resemble a bunch of monkeys trying to fuck a football. To wit:

…This is the sort of idiot we're inflicted with, the perfect representative of the Beltway Democrat who cautions against politicizing anything remotely political for fear it might give David Broder a spot of indigestion. Imagine what the Newt Gingrich of the early nineties would have done if he had had something like this handed to him on a platter--he wouldn't have sent it back to the kitchen. He would have worked it for everything it was worth, and more. But Beltway weenies are too timid and prissy to exploit a golden opportunity. Everyone knows the Abramoff scandal has "Republican" stencilled on every side of it and if you won't/can't use it to jump all over the Republican Party and the DeLay machine, what the hell are you even doing in the Democratic Party? As more details surface, the Abramoff cesspool is going to make the K-Street crowd and their Republicans on retainer look even worse than they do now, and here's Davis waving the white cocktail napkin of surrender and urging preemptive pullback. Beltway Dems like Davis and the DLC crowd don't want to politicize the Iraq war, or the Alito hearings, or the Katrina clusterfuck, or the NSA spying scandal; they shy away from every prospective fight and prevent any ongoing debate or controversy from gaining traction. Just as Jack Murtha's bombshell was gaining momentum, in droops Joe Lieberman to back up the president with a gift-wrapped testimonial…

Go read. There’s a reason I link to him on the right.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

9/11













One of the books Kathy got me for Christmas is Tom Friedman's Latest, 'The World is Flat.' While I haven't had much time to dive into it, focusing instead on other tomes, I read the first 30 pages or so recently, killing some time waiting for some of Kathy's wonderful cooking.

In the parts that I read, Friedman goes on about how the fall of the Berlin Wall being a prominent episode in our nation's history, perhaps of more importance than the attacks on 9/11. He delights in the clever dancing around of the juxtaposition of 9/11 and 11/9 (the fall of the Berlin Wall, in 1989.)

Of course he is too clever by half, as anyone who has been to Europe can attest. 11/9 doesn't exist, except in America where we unusally write down our dates as month/day/year, as opposed to the rest of the world which does it day/month/year. Since Friedman's book is on Globalization, he should perhaps be more aware that the Berlin wall fell on 9/11 (at least in Berlin).

All of this is just a roundabout way of introducing some photos I recently took down at JFK airport. Hanger 17 (The old Tower Air hanger) is where they store wreckage of the World Trade Center Towers, in some semblance of archived state. I recently had a tour of the place, in preperation for some work we may be doing with the Port Authority in documenting these pieces.















Above is a photo of inside the vehicle tent, which is a seperate enclosure inside the hanger. Over a dozen vehicles remain in the tent, mostly fire and police vehicles, but also taxis and a few private cards caught up in the rain of debris. Some are some crushed that they can't be identified easily as to what sort of car they originally were.















Above is a photo from inside another specialty tent - towards the left are the remains of the aluminum cladding on the outside of the towers. Both towers were covered in 3/8" thick aluminum panels (which is why they tended to glow in the reflected light.) Above is all that remains of that - 17 panels, each of which might be around 2 feet long. All of the rest burned or melted away in the conflagration.

To the right is a piece of structural steel from one of the towers. You can see that crosses and stars of david have been torche out of it - this one done after 9/11 during the resuce and the recovery operation. The ironworkers down there would cut out the shapes from the ruined steel to give away as mementos to people or organizations. Much of the surviving steel from the Trade Center has had that done to it.

More later...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Freedom of the Press













Via Tom Tomorrow, a report from the Guardian:

..American troops in Baghdad yesterday blasted their way into the home of an Iraqi journalist working for the Guardian and Channel 4, firing bullets into the bedroom where he was sleeping with his wife and children.

Ali Fadhil, who two months ago won the Foreign Press Association young journalist of the year award, was hooded and taken for questioning. He was released hours later.

Dr Fadhil is working with Guardian Films on an investigation for Channel 4's Dispatches programme into claims that tens of millions of dollars worth of Iraqi funds held by the Americans and British have been misused or misappropriated...

I wonder how long it will take for the American press to pick this one up.

(Update: Blogger Photo now working)

Friday, January 06, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging






























Petey and Orestes Edition

Go Read!












I've been too busy working to post much. Until later:

Glen Greenwald, filling in for Digby, channels the President's Fear. One step forward and two steps back for the Right's celebrated 'flowering of Democracy' in the Middle East. Meanwhile the president keeps the homeland safe from writers, and for those who are wondering how the Abramoff scandals got started - hell hath no fury as a woman scorned.

Finally for those who like playing with refrigerator magnets, this site will engage your collaborative fantasies.

Go read.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Aux Armes!













As I briefly alluded to in my previous post, for the past year or so I have been reading presidential biographies and American history. Over the past several years I have been feeling especially lacking in that knowledge, searching for the missing brain cells that have left me carrying all that I learned about in school on the subject away like so many dandelion spores. Currently I am reading Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis, which I picked up on a spur of the moment while waiting for a new biography of Andrew Jackson to be published. I heartily recommend to any and all looking for a solid and wonderfully written introduction to Early American History.

The last chapter in the book covers the strange relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, beginning with the intense friendship and the shared experience of revolution, continuing through the forming of the country, and ending calamitously with each on either side of the Federalist/Republican divide culminating in the election of 1800. Neither spoke to each other for the duration of Jefferson’s two terms, and for several years beyond, until 1812, when they were finally goaded to resuming a correspondence that lasted for 14 more years until their poetic deaths within 5 hours of each other, Fifty years to the hour after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Though both had radically different concepts of what the revolution meant, as Adam’s thought more with his brain and Jefferson with his heart, both were wonderfully talented writers, and their over 200 letters are an excellent dialogue of the times.

It was interesting to read about that on the way to work and then to read my Brother Mike’s response to my post of two days ago. Why, that sounds like a call to arms! Man the barricades and let the fun begin! I dare say that at the very least it might encourage him to post more frequently than four times a year.

Bertrand Russell, an accomplished mathematician, would have had a difficult time dealing with a concept of God in any other way than intellectually. Of course, coming on the heels of the horrors of World War I, one can easily see an emotional angle – the institutions of religion at the time were not equipped to handle the rapidly changing realities and frequent horrors of modernizing life. One has to remember the nature of the times when Russell is speaking.

Still, I have never had sympathy for atheists who rationalize a lack of existence for God, including Russell’s attempts however poetic, any more than those who are convinced of Her being. If I am going to listen to anyone it would be someone more like Kant, hypothesizing (and here I am speaking as if I know much more about Kant than I do) that he knows that there is more to the Universe than he can perceive, because all he has to do is to look at a tree, and realize that it could never have come from within him. Kind of a million monkeys at a million typewriters sort of thing. Kant can’t explain it, so to him it almost functions as a proof of God’s existence, though he would never define it that way. Literally more like proof of more in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in his philosophy. I, myself, would go further. I would argue that it is the height of arrogance to make any more assumptions about the nature of God than Kant did, considering how limited our perceptions of our senses our (just as it the height of arrogance to assume in Her non-existence). Our hearts may perceive more (and many are certain of it), but our minds can’t, not with our narrow senses and minds.

But a belief in God and faith in a religion are two very different animals. Bertrand Russell reads like he merges the two – but if one appropriates his arguments to focus instead on the institutions of religion, well, then one has a whole new ball game. But criticizing religious establishments is like shooting fish in a barrel – it’s too damn easy to be interesting. After all, Russell’s church bases it’s moral compass on the writings of the holy book of a Bronze Age nomadic tribe that’s been translated over and over again for the past several thousand years. The problem with any institution is its inherent reliance on rules to govern the chaotic conduct of its members. A thick holy book almost be definition needs to be dealt with completely, not cafeteria-style, or the whole damn thing falls apart. And then we get on with the bad craziness.

So what to do. Having a faith in something or someone greater than oneself is all well and good, but we live in the real world, and some guidance is in order. A thick and heavy (mis)translated tome telling me how I have to stone my brother Mike to death because he drives on a Sunday or doesn’t have two refrigerators in his kitchen just isn’t going to be much help to me (or my brother, for that matter). For me the solution is fairly simple, an ethic of reciprocity. In other words, the Golden Rule.

If you check out the link above, you’ll find that this concept, simple in execution, and a damn site easier to remember than a holy book, is engrained in just about every institution of faith on the planet, and not just in Matthew’s Gospel. Asian religions actually say it more poetically than has been attributed to Jesus, though to be fair, after making snarky comments about translation, and my pitiful knowledge of foreign languages (especially Aramaic) I should hold my tongue. Still:

From the Shinto religion: "The heart of the person before you is a mirror. See there your own form"

From the Taoist Religion: "The sage has no interest of his own, but takes the interests of the people as his own. He is kind to the kind; he is also kind to the unkind: for Virtue is kind. He is faithful to the faithful; he is also faithful to the unfaithful: for Virtue is faithful." Tao Teh Ching, Chapter 49

Buddhism: "...a state that is not pleasing or delightful to me, how could I inflict that upon another?" Samyutta NIkaya v. 353

Of course, nothing in what my brother wrote really contradicts any of this. Fair is fair, if he can agree with Russell on the basics, than I think I can agree with him:

“For me, Christianity is those things that Russell aspires for and is not those things of which he despairs. God created us for and calls us to a fearless outlook (aren't the angels and Jesus always saying "be not afraid!"?). God didn't make us the way we are to look back toward a dead past ... we must look for the living faith that still sings forward from the past and becoming with our voice the continuing song of a continuing creation that knows no bounds in beauty and joy.”

That's a Good World, indeed, Mike




Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Constitution














As things proceed, I want to post on a wide variety of topics on this blog, and not have it to devolve into just another third-rate political rant. However, I reserve the right to do so occasionally. Plenty of ink has been spilled over the past two weeks on the NSA surveillance of American Citizens, and for plenty of top rank writing on the topic, one can peruse the blogs linked to on the right.

President Bush has made a point of defending the phone spying as within his purvey, adamantly protecting his right as the chief executive to engage in such activities. Probably a smart political move, since if he gets nailed for getting his hand caught in the cookie jar, he will at least appeal to his supporters as a stand-up guy, comparable in stature to Winston Churchill. (Although can we at some point soon get past the Churchill analogies for ‘engaging’ political leaders? One would hope that at some point in our nation’s history we might be able to generate a few of our own greatest worthy of being used as a flip metaphor.)

Most of the talk on the left side of the blogosphere has been about the irony of the President’s supporters lapping up his defense of being the ‘protector in chief.’ Imagining all of those people cowering in desperate need of a father figure despite their professed ‘manly’ republican values has been the source of much guffawing recently. TBogg has an excellent typical post on the topic, but most of the others have been writing wonderfully delightful posts on the subject. Other issues have been raised, such as the rather obvious concern that if 3,000 to 4,000 people in the U.S. have been monitored, all of whom have been described as al Qaeda operatives, then why have no arrests been ordered? Also, would all of these rabid defenders of the program be just as eager as beavers about it if Hillary Clinton were president?

What has intrigued me, however, about the whole enterprise, given my recent manic reading on presidential history, is President Bush’s argument that he has a mandate to protect the American people. In his News Conference on December 19th, Bush used the word ‘protect’ 19 times regarding the American people and his job description.

“As President and Commander-in-Chief, I have the constitutional responsibility and the constitutional authority to protect our country. Article II of the Constitution gives me that responsibility and the authority necessary to fulfill it.”

So suddenly Bush is a constitutional scholar. This is the first time in my memory that the President has actually mentioned the Constitution, and of course he is interested in Article II, naturally, as it is the outline of the powers of the executive branch, divided up into 4 sections. An issue is raised here, which I only saw briefly mentioned in a typically rude post by Rude Pundit. To begin with, the beginning of Article II, section II:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

Not exactly a mandate for his actions. That is the only sentence of Article II covering the role of the executive branch in ‘protecting the American people.’ – the president is in charge of the armed forces.

And a more typical quote from his press conference:

“This is a part of our effort to protect the American people. The American people expect us to protect them and protect their civil liberties. I'm going to do that. That's my job, and I'm going to continue doing my job.”

More to the point, as the president constantly regurgitates his talking points about his ‘oath to protect the American People,’ someone should remind him of his actual oath, also conveniently written in Article II, section I (actually the sentence before the previously mentioned one):

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Not 'the people' but the 'Constitution.' Quite a bit of difference. If he is so enamored of protecting the people, he should probably seek other employment. As an employer, if someone doesn’t perform his job description, let alone doesn’t even remember his job description, then I let him go. Perhaps someone should also remind the President of section IV of Article II.:

“The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

Monday, January 02, 2006

A Good World









Welcome to my new blog.

A curious thing happened this year when Kathy and I sent out our Christmas cards. We received reply cards from several of my relatives, and although no one was specific about it, we got the sense that they hadn’t received any cards from us earlier. Like most year end Christmas cards, they all requested for us to write more, stay in touch, etc. Hence this blog.

So why ‘A Good World?’ My brother, Mike, has a blog named after a quote from C. S. Lewis ("Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.") and I felt that to complete the family circle, naming my blog after a quote from Bertrand Russell seemed a good fit. As for the specific quote, it is the longer version of what an English Teacher in my high school had emblazoned on his classroom wall, towering over us in black and white like some Bauhaus version of Times Square.

The quote comes from a talk that Bertrand Russell gave in 1927 at Battersea Town Hall, and subsequently became the title essay of ‘Why I am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects’. The quote is the concluding sentence of the talk and follows a consideration of a number of logical arguments about the existence of God: “Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes.” I agree with this sentiment, although obviously having one’s belief in God motivated by fear does not logically prove that God doesn’t exist.

To the right are links to other blogs and sites. Family and Friends (if you want me to list yours, let me know); political blogs and other sites as well – these I will update and rotate in and out on a regular basis.

Sunday, January 01, 2006