Category: Politics (page 1 of 2)

What in God's Holy Name Are You [Economists] Blathering About?

My Saturday afternoons are productive. If I'm not dicking around on Facebook, I'm dicking around on Twitter. And, like any truly productive person, I bemoan constantly that I have but a few precious few seconds available to get any work done…

So it was this afternoon, when I came across a lovely little tweetstorm from Noah Smith illustrating why it is sometimes so hard for people to talk about economics or to understand what economists themselves are talking about. If you're like me, you have a passing interest in econ, and you may have even learned enough vocabulary to trick yourself into thinking you know a thing or two. Likewise, despite this familiarity, you may also secretly wrestle with the suspicion that, no, you do not understand in any substantive, non-abstract way what is being argued.

For my part, I remain relatively agnostic about most of the hot-button issues (e.g., minimum wage, free trade, etc.), as I feel unable to evaluate competing claims. Often, I feel quite lost.

Like this:

blathering

At any rate, maybe I'm an econ nincompoop, but I get the sense that, if that's the case, so are most of the other layfolk yelling about this or that system, this or that intervention… you know how it goes: Bernie Sanders tweets out some labor statistics and now you've got a PhD.

Ultimately, it takes a significant investment—of time, of work, and of thought—to really understand the forces in play, and sometimes the bramble of jargon represents an impediment to entering the weeds, which is not necessarily unique to economics as a discipline.

Without further adieu, though, the tweetstorm:

Just thought I'd share since this gave me a chuckle.

Okay, back to "work".

2016 Presidential Candidates' Facebook and Twitter Followings

Yeah, so, I'm not really certain why I took the time to do this. If there is one thing I patently don't give a fuck about right now, it's presidential politics. Still, I need excuses to mess around with ggplot2 theming, relative neophyte that I am.

A couple of notes about the chart. First, I tried to use campaign feeds where possible, but stuck with verified feeds in all cases save one: while gathering the data, I wasn't able to find Lawrence Lessig's official campaign Facebook feed. His numbers come from the automatically generated page based on his Wikipedia entry. (If anyone finds an official page that isn't for his foundation, let me know.) I should also note that both Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders have sizable (or larger) followings on their personal/professional accounts.

Second, Twitter counts were rounded (e.g., 56.8 for 56,800; 1.5 for 1,500,000), while Facebook counts were continuous. I just snagged the numbers right off the respective sites. This shouldn't make much difference with regard to the graph.

I admit, considering the reputation he has for social networking savvy—not to mention the frequency with which his Twitter feed appears to be cited in the press—I was a little surprised to see such modest numbers for Bernie Sanders. Joe Biden's numbers also seem a little light to me. Continue reading

Uber v. Taxis, and How Uber Is Like the Sun

The ride service Uber has been in some hot water lately, both with city governments and taxi drivers over what are primarily licensing issues. Cab companies complain that Uber drivers and the company itself are not subject to the same requirements as traditional cab companies and should therefore be forced to stop operating, in many instances. Some cities have sent cease-and-desist letters.

Photo by Kenny Louie, reproduced under a Creative Commons license.

Photo by Kenny Louie, reproduced under a Creative Commons license.

Now, I'm not for the abolition of all licensing requirements like some folks are. I think it's important that professionals like doctors be licensed by the appropriate boards, but in the case of transportation services, I don't see why there should be such an opposition to Uber in particular except that it has true potential to disrupt the market, and probably in a good way for consumers.

At any rate, I'm not an economist, and I don't know a whole lot about the cab business. But the rumbles that I hear coming from cab drivers resemble a hilarious piece of satire called "A PETITION From the Manufacturers of Candles, Tapers, Lanterns, Sticks, Street Lamps, Snuffers, and Extinguishers, and from Producers of Tallow, Oil, Resin, Alcohol, and Generally of Everything Connected with Lighting", or in shortened form, "The Candlemaker's Petition". Written by Frédéric Bastiat in the mid-19th century, this farcical petition lampoons pleas for protectionism by way of what is, I think we can all agree, a perfectly resonable request to the French parliament:

We are suffering from the ruinous competition of a rival who apparently works under conditions so far superior to our own for the production of light that he is flooding the domestic market with it at an incredibly low price; for the moment he appears, our sales cease, all the consumers turn to him, and a branch of French industry whose ramifications are innumerable is all at once reduced to complete stagnation. This rival, which is none other than the sun, is waging war on us so mercilessly we suspect he is being stirred up against us by perfidious Albion (excellent diplomacy nowadays!), particularly because he has for that haughty island a respect that he does not show for us.

We ask you to be so good as to pass a law requiring the closing of all windows, dormers, skylights, inside and outside shutters, curtains, casements, bull's-eyes, deadlights, and blinds — in short, all openings, holes, chinks, and fissures through which the light of the sun is wont to enter houses, to the detriment of the fair industries with which, we are proud to say, we have endowed the country, a country that cannot, without betraying ingratitude, abandon us today to so unequal a combat.

I highly recommend reading through the full-text, which is short but full of other funny gems that uncover the absurdity in many such appeals for protection from competition.

Are Independents Just Closet Partisans?

NPR came out with a gem of an article last week that utterly confuses, I think, both the role and ethos of the independent voter (read: I took it personally). The strawman presented is someone like this: a voter who would like to believe they are an independent-minded person doing their civic duty by refraining from endorsing one political party or another, but who is in fact secretly so totally besties with either the Democrats or Republicans (more likely the Democrats, according to the article).

Despite this overarching misanalysis, the article does somewhat aptly address the myth that independents are swing voters at the core—the misconception that a candidate can gain crucial ground with self-described independents, presumably middle-of-the-road folks, by tailoring a message to appear less strident than the party's base would like. I've resorted to this fallacious thinking a bit myself, often reasoning that, in a presidential election, a candidate attempting to win moderates can afford to soften the rhetoric, as the base will never abandon their horse; for instance, no flag-bleeding conservative Christian will vote Democrat in 2012, even if, assuming he wins the nomination, Mitt Romney decides to tattoo a barcode on the back of his neck and shave his head. There may be some truth to this, but it would probably be a mistake to think that moderate independents represent a large enough voting bloc to make a significant, or at least bankable, difference. By the latter reasoning, a candidate might be better off concentrating more intently on the base rather than on the margins. Speculation abounds, including my own. I'm just sayin'.

I digress.

What really chapped my ass was the article's attempt to call independents who vote for major parties "closet partisans," as if a party preference somehow strips the independent of their claim to the title suggested by their affiliation. Are some independents closet partisans? Undoubtedly. But to say that one is a loyal Democrat or Republican (essentially what the article claims) and not an independent because they hew to the lesser-of-two-evils mentality during general elections is flat wrong. It fails to account for the difference between political and voting philosophy, which is to say one might adhere to a political philosophy not engendered by the major parties but, when it comes time to vote, chooses the candidate he/she considers to be less destructive. (Campaigns appear to have hordes of believers, and to be frank, I think this was the major problem with Obama's 2008 campaign.  At the end of the day, I suspect most people view their meager choice as the opportunity to pick the person who will fuck up less.)

While I might not agree with the prior voting mentality as described, I don't think it's fair to call these folks partisans. Third-party candidates often leave as much to be desired as do their major-party counterparts. I'd probably consider voting libertarian, but I won't vote for Ron Paul even though I respect his candor and gumption, and very much would like to see some of his agenda receive bigger play on a national stage. In 2008 I voted Green Party, but given the chance, I doubt I'd want to cast another vote for Nader.  (Thankfully, he's not running again.)  Neither of those parties, however, reflect my political views exactly; in many ways, they're opposed to one another. But each addresses issues mainstream politicians are unwilling to tackle, and knowing full well that any vote is a vote of compromise, I could still be persuaded should the right candidate come along bearing a third-party standard. (Really, I'm a cheerleader for alternative parties and vote for them often, but in the end we're voting for people, remember, and voting for someone you really don't like ravages the psyche.  Kerry, for one, will be on my soul until the heat death of the universe.) Yet my choices in November 2012 may come down to Romney, Obama, or No Confidence, and while my whimsical little heart might like to think the last of those options would be a resounding fuck you to the big, bad establishment, I may find myself in a different mood when I crawl behind the curtain to do my, mostly symbolic, civic duty. With those unenviable choices in front of me, who would I pick? Well, personally, I recommend castration for anyone who winds up in Mitt Romney's corner, and I'd like to keep my anatomy in tact for as long as possible. Plus, I live in Illinois, so my vote will count even less this year than it normally does. Maybe I'll just write in Indiana Jones, or Hannibal Lecter.

Would that make me a Democrat? Hell no. Still, I most likely won't be able to bring myself to tick a D on the presidential ballot.

The more rampant ideology I run into, the more suspicious I am that its holder has willingly entered an echo chamber. Is—ought remains the implacable philosophical hurdle. Once we've proposed an ought, we've made a choice that, no matter how much we may think so, does not by default follow from the is. We begin to make moral distinctions. So politics is the belief system by which we argue with one another from our respective patches of mucky, infirm ground. By avoiding the neat designations and party machinery, I think many independents put themselves in the position to avoid the immediate knee-jerk reactions and group-think that true partisans display.  But that doesn't preclude them from voting Democrat or Republican, or favoring one or the other, nor should it call upon them the insinuation of partisanship.

Forgive the lame ice cream analogy.  Someone always makes one and, today, it's my turn: if you give me a choice between chocolate and vanilla, I'll pick vanilla most of the time.  What really gets my blood pumping, though, is cookie dough... or cookies 'n' cream... or mint chocolate chip.  Sometimes I just can't decide.

 

(Before I finished this post, I came across one by Will Wilkinson on Big Think entitled "Politics vs. Empathy," in which he outlines a study that found subjects' did not project their visceral-state feelings onto those perceived as dissimilar, specifically those of different political affiliation.  Prior research has shown much the same thing, and it's worth taking a look at Wilkinson's brief description, where he provides a link to the full-text and an explanation of what sorts of projections came into play.  To me, this is a neat little anecdote that reinforces my suspicion of political group affinity.)

 

Mammoth Reads: The Death Penalty

Lethal Injection Chamber*

The following list of articles skews toward the anti-death-penalty persuasion, and does not hit every cogent point, pro or con, regarding capital punishment. How could it? But the furor over Troy Davis's execution the other day—as well as some back-and-forth with fellow Sloth Jockey blogger Vinnie Bergl—has the topic fresh in my head. I don't know whether Troy Davis was innocent or guilty; I don't know whether doubt over his innocence or guilt was a false impression given by the media. For purposes of the following post, and the questions it asks, Troy Davis's specific case doesn't really inform the greater question: is the death penalty ever justified in a civilized society?

I'm against capital punishment for what some might consider a simplistic reason: that, when doling out an absolute punishment, one innocent killed at the hands of the state is one too many. I'm also sympathetic to skepticism over revenge, and my loose understanding of the greater effectiveness of capital punishment as a deterrent is that it doesn't work. To me, the death penalty is a difficult institution to defend, even if I probably wouldn't lose too much sleep over the execution of a mass murderer or serial killer.

Consider the following:

Why Does the United States Love the Death Penalty?

In this piece for Lapham's Quarterly Christopher Hitchens considers why the United States is the last country within its so-called peer group to maintain the death penalty:

To be in the company of Iran and China and Sudan as a leader among states conducting execution—and to have pioneered the medicalized or euthanized form of it that is now added to the panoply of gassing, hanging, shooting, and electrocution and known as “lethal injection”—is to have invited the question why. Why is the United States so wedded to the infliction of the death penalty? I have heard a number of suggested answers: two in particular have some superficial plausibility. The first is an old connection between executions and racism, and the second is the relatively short distance in time that separates the modern U.S. from the days of frontier justice.

...

The reason why the United States is alone among comparable countries in its commitment to doing this is that it is the most religious of those countries. (Take away only China, which is run by a very nervous oligarchy, and the remaining death-penalty states in the world will generally be noticeable as theocratic ones.)

There are a couple of good paragraphs omitted from this excerpt in order to tie the thought together. Later in the article, Hitchens also considers the Nuremberg trials and the hanging of Saddam Hussein—executions that bookended larger cultural/political movements and could not be considered standard application of capital punishment—bringing, as he almost always does, an interesting perspective to the issue, wondering where we might draw the line were we the surviving victims.

Will Wilkinson on Morality and State-Sanctioned Killing

Wilkinson has three posts on this list because capital punishment seems to be an issue about which he feels exceptionally strongly. Apart from questions about its effectiveness, both in the court system as well as in its place as a deterrent, Wilkinson questions the very root of the revenge impulse that leads to capital punishment, arguing that it has no place in modern society.

"Plush and Unusual Punishment"
This post was written after Anders Breivik went on his sick rampage in Norway. Many people in America were screaming for his blood, while Norwegians seemed to be coming to grips with the sheer gravity of the event, their Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, civil and calm and reflective in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Some news outlets got wind that Norway's maximum sentence was only 21 years (though it carries the potential for extension) and were understandably miffed. Furthermore, we also discovered that Norway's prisons are not the dungeons that American prisons are, a fact that did not sit well with retributionists.

Wilkinson considers these points, and while I'm not sure I am in total agreement with him on all points, including the following excerpt, I think he is genuinely concerned about humaneness and civility, two traits that are, I think, more important than the capacity for retribution:

Nothing can be done to bring Mr Breivik's victims back to life. The most compelling, non-mystical case for vengeance is that it offers some consolation to those wracked by desolation and fury at the murder of their loved one. But the point of a criminal justice system in a civilised society is not the mental peace of those collaterally wounded by crime. All evidence supports the proposition that Norway's criminal justice system is both practically and morally superior to America's. If America's abominably cruel and unjust system delivered results even remotely comparable to Norway's enviable level of civil peace and order, then there might be some reason to take seriously American animadversions against Norway's short sentences and humane prison. But we don't. We're not even close. So Americans should just shut up and watch. It could do us some good to see how a civilised society handles such a horrifying crime.

(Vinnie originally cited this quote, and I remember arguing that I didn't know why our court system should necessarily ignore the mental peace of the bereaved. I think my argument ran along that lines that we should consider whose rights we prioritize: victims' or perpetrators'. That supposes we cannot consider both, and I'm not sure I'd defend my original comments all that fervently at this point.)

"The Killing of Troy Davis"
Wilkinson on the difference between justice and revenge:

Now, I don't know how to convince you that even especially heinous murderers don't deserve to suffer the same fate they meted out. I suppose I would start by distinguishing justice from vengeance. I would observe that there is no pervasive ethereal moral substance that must be kept in some sort of cosmic balance lest society devolve into chaos. We may feel deeply, in our marrow, in our prickling indignant skin, that the yin of crime calls out for the yang of punishment. But I would warn against putting much trust our retributive instincts. I would suggest that civilization demands setting these feelings aside, that it requires that we ask ourselves in a cool hour the point of criminal justice.

As an atheist I find the moral claim of this statement—essentially that no cosmic balance exists to be righted—persuasive, and I think we do need to be careful when our instincts to exact revenge hew to such lines of thinking. However, overcoming the sense of violation and, for lack of a better term, evil that most decent humans feel at the thought of murder is a tall order, especially if we consider that animals, humans included, are likely programmed to retaliate.

Our baser instincts should not govern our policy, and while I'm a bit torn on the absolute question of the death penalty, I think its continued existence mandates that we use it sparingly—that is to say, almost never. Rationality and civility are best served when we can prevent certain atavistic impulses, like those Wilkinson deems objectionable in his post, from finding purchase.

"Moral Progress and Arguments Against the Death Penalty" 
I'm including this one for a few interesting graphs that Wilkinson includes which show the decline, over time, of capital punishment in Europe, of execution rates in the United States, and of executions in the United States for crimes other than homicide.

Wilkinson equates these declines, speculatively, as effects of a society that is growing more "moral". Now, to make this assumption, or to agree with Wilkinson's suggestion, we have to assume a moral position that supports the notion of killing as wrong, whether it comes at the hands of an individual or the state. If you don't subscribe to to this philosophy, you will see a number of problems with the assumptions contained in the article.

I'm not certain that a decline in death penalty rates is necessarily indicative of a society that is making moral progress; I could imagine other reasons for such declines. Our society, however, does appear to be growing more inclusive, more accepting of moral ambiguity in general (i.e. non-dualistic thinking), and more capable of considering alternatives to current paradigms (I'm not implicitly nodding to any ideological movements here, by the way).

Are these shifts in perspective and others like them indicators of enhanced intelligence and morality?

Our Angels Aren't Smart Enough

Jason Brennan on Bleeding Heart Libertarians:

Even if we grant for the sake of argument that some people deserve to die, it does not follow that the state may be authorized to kill them. For a state to have the right to kill criminals, it must make decisions about guilt and hear appeals in a fair, competent, and reliable manner. It must have rules that reliably let the innocent–or those whose guilt is reasonably in doubt–go free. The American criminal justice system fails to meet these standards. Perhaps a government of smart angels should be granted the right to kill. We could debate that. But no state in America deserves any such right.

Wilkinson reproduces Brennan's post in its entirety in "Moral Progress and Arguments Againts the Death Penalty", and I've just done the same thing here because Brennan's bottom line essentially states my own.

The discussion that follows in the comments is an interesting one that I haven't been able to read in full just yet. However, I highly recommend taking a look at the discourse between the commenters and a couple of the BHL writers, a back-and-forth that prods at the notion of irreversibility and compensation for false imprisonment: For instance, is a person's spending twenty wrongful years in jail any more reversible than killing them? That twenty years is lost, and they can never be compensated for the time. (For the record, I don't think this notion disqualifies the anti-death-penalty position, nor do I think the distinction means we must do away with all punishment, as one commenter seems to; the comparison, however, is something we might want to think about in order to check our presumptions. But if we can compensate falsely imprisoned people at all, it stands to reason that we have a better chance to do so if they are alive than if they are dead, in which case we could not compensate them at all.)

Much of the grunt work on good blogs is now done in the comments section, by the way, and leafing through differing immediate perspectives can be useful.

The Death Penalty Digest

I just happened across the blog Just Above Sunset while looking for trackbacks to the Brennan piece.

Editor Alan takes the following Gandalf quote as a sort of thesis, or frame, for his article:

Many that live deserve death. And some die that deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then be not too eager to deal out death in the name of justice, fearing for your own safety. Even the wise cannot see all ends.

He provides a digest of some recent writings on the death penalty that cover a wider array of opinions than I've linked to in this post, and it's well worth the read, as he touches upon the contemporaneous (to Troy Davis's) execution of a white supremacist whose crimes are sure to spark disgust and an impulse for revenge—all in all, a much different kind of execution than one tinged by the specter of doubt, the perception of the specter of doubt, or any case in which a confirmed innocent was killed.

___

Obviously, we have a lot to think about relating to the death penalty. To read meaningful discussion and consider differing opinions is, I think, invaluable and utterly necessary, especially when considering challenges to our own humanity. In my introduction I stated that I wouldn't lose too much sleep over the execution of a mass murderer or serial killer, and while I still admit to feeling this way, I think the Gandalf quote is a fitting statement of caution in favor of humility and against self-righteousness, and a wise starting point from which to deal with the question of administering death.

I'm interested to hear any thoughts.

* Image courtesy of publik15 (image link) under a CC BY 2.0 license.

Mammoth Reads: Homeopathy, Philosophy, Monopoly

Water in the Pill

Pharmacist Scott Gavura reviews a paper titled "Against Homeopathy — A Utilitarian Perspective" from the journal Bioethics about when it might be ethical to use homeopathy in a clinical  setting.

Homeopathy is based on the "theory" that "like cures like."  In essence, find a substance that produces symptoms similar to those of a cold, and that substance should help to cure the cold itself.  Furthermore, homeopathy states that the more a substance is diluted in water the  more potent it becomes, which is, of course, bunk.  Claims like these (and those of many other homeopathic fantasies) fly in the face of everything we know about basic physics.  (Here is a search for "homeopathy" from Neurologica Blog; Steven Novella has done more writing on the topic than anyone else I know of, and his blogs are a terrific resource for anyone interested in the evolving fight to keep homeopathy and other dubious "alternative" medicine practices out of so-called mainstream medicine.)

To Gavura's point (and also Kevin Smith's, the author of the Bioethics article): the decision to use homeopathy in a clinical setting would be contingent upon no other feasible treatments being available.  A placebo would provide only the advantage of psychological comfort to the patient.

Neither Gavura nor Smith appear too convinced that prescribing a placebo in such a scenario would be ethical.  Neither am I; and Gavura provides a terrific outline of why placebos generally don't have a place in clinical treatment, tackling the ethical issues with more authority than I can pretend to.

As a patient, I don't want my doctor to deceive me with a fairy-tale medication, even if it means I have to grapple with an inconvenient truth.  Bottom line: a patient has the  right to provide informed consent.  One can only do so if they're provided with facts—not a vial of what's really nothing more than water.

...And Then Someone Asked "Why?"

I don't, frankly, have a whole lot to say about this one; I have been an outspoken, if somewhat intellectually lazy, critic of philosophy as a worthwhile endeavor, though I'll admit to using the term loosely, often referring more to the lame mental ejaculate that commonly passes for insight.

Katja Grace on the matter, from Meteuphoric:

...It matters whether the methods that were successful at providing insights in what were to become fields like psychology and astronomy—those which brought definite answers within reach—were methods presently included in philosophy. If they were not, then the fact that the word ‘philosophy’ has come to apply to a smaller set of methods which haven’t been successful does not particularly suggest that such methods will become successful in that way.

At any rate, the utility of philosophy is worth considering.  My sneaking suspicion is that the conjecture and loose framing of conceptual questions provided by philosophical thought is an important starting point.  Eventually, though, scientific inquiry takes over, redefines, and, ideally, answers the  questions we've posed.  In some cases, science viciously neuters philosophies.  For instance, those philosophers who continue to idly ponder the nature of the universe—its structure, the implications of its existence, etc.—would probably do well to let physicists answer those questions.

Perhaps philosophy is, in some respects, more equipped to investigate social and intellectual issues than it is problems with supposedly quantifiable solutions.

The Freedom to Compete

I've tried to follow the Net Neutrality wars over the past year or so, and I've been an advocate of the FCC baring its teeth for once to stand up to the telecommunications corporations.  (How long can an organization be so preoccupied with tits on TV, after all?)  Sadly, they offered a watered down plan and made too many concessions to the oligopoly that currently owns the pipe.  My interest in this regard is not in more or less regulation, but in good regulation.  As I see it, if too much regulation ends up stifling positive competition, then it should be loosened or done away with.  If the opposite is true, then the market should be regulated accordingly.

In North Carolina's case, municipalities and co-ops have been creating broadband networks that outperform—both in price and in speed—those of Time Warner and other commercial purveyors, but a bill passed the North Carolina House and Senate with veto-proof margins that restricts public competition.  Today, Gov. Perdue failed to veto the bill, perhaps because her veto would have probably been overturned.

Doc Searls explains the nature of the internet in its current capacity:

We also need to recognize that the Internet is a utility and not just the third act (after phone and TV) in the “triple play” that phone and cable companies sell. The Net is more like roads, water, electricity and gas than like TV or telephony (both of which it subsumes). It’s not just about “content” delivered from Hollywood to “consumers,” or about a better way to do metered calls on the old Ma Bell model. It’s about everything you can possibly do with a connection to the rest of the world. The fatter that connection, the more you can do, and the more business can do.

I think Searls is dead-on when he classifies the internet as a utility and then goes on to support the idea that competition related to broadband services, from whatever source, will be crucial to moving our web forward, especially in rural areas where broadband penetration is low.  Searls also posts a letter written to Gov. Perdue by Larry Lessig—whose books Code: Version 2.0 and Remix are two fantastic texts about the potential and future of the internet—that parses the issue as only Lessig could.

Searls' post is still worth a read even though the bill has now formally become law.  He sketches out the basics of why net neutrality needs to be protected at the state level, not just in Washington, as well as why improving internet service will require a multifaceted approach that involves both the cable/telephone companies and municipalities.  Beefing up our broadband  capabilities is not optional; our future requires widespread access to fast, affordable internet.

 

A Good Day to Be an Egyptian

Well, they did it; and good for them.  The people of Egypt finally managed to run Hosni Mubarak out of town on a rail and paved the way for a democratic future—assuming the Egyptian military, which has now taken on the responsibilities of the President, doesn't succumb to the vice grips of power and greed.  Its willingness to act as a short-lived transitional government isn't a sure thing, but the gamble is one worth taking.  The military itself was split between those who supported the protesters and those who wanted to see Mubarak cling to life until September, when God-knows-what would happen.  Those odds are better than what Egypt would get with Omar Suleiman at the helm, though, and its beginning to sound more and more like the army will comply with quick transition.

Being a little late for work this morning, I was fortunate enough to hear the BBC's coverage of Mubarak's resignation as it was happening.  Tahrir Square was a cacophony of cheers.  I can't recall ever hearing such mass jubilation as I did on the radio today. The joy in that crowd was irrepressible; it was incredible and uplifting to hear in real time.

The road ahead won't be easy, and it will be interesting to watch how the political landscape in Egypt takes shape over the next few months and years as they begin to grapple with their government.  The United States will surely be watching in hopes that the Muslim Brotherhood is somehow marginalized and kept out of executive power; I hope, though, that America doesn't do too much meddling.  Egypt is not Iran, nor is this revolution going to turn out like Iran's did, I don't think.  The best thing for the Middle East right now is to have a country like Egypt organically embrace and forge a strong secular democracy, which seems likely for the moment.

President Obama was worried, in the beginning, that Mubarak would retain power and that any show of support from the United States to the protesters could potentially sacrifice political ties with Egypt.  Now, he is openly embracing the revolution, a sentiment I suspect his administration probably harbored privately all along, but wouldn't it have been nice if he had spoken up two weeks ago?

He was worried about being on the wrong side of history, of course.  But the wrong side of history was the one Mubarak was on, no matter who would have won this showdown.

It's a good day to be an Egyptian.

The Nature of Competition As Spiritual Hemorrhoid

Courtesy of goodrob13's photostream. (http://www.flickr.com/photos/goodrob13/3928208574/)

So the Obama administration is presently hemorrhaging classified information courtesy of WikiLeaks, the Bush administration is doing so posthumously, the earth’s crust is hemorrhaging oil, and Tom Vilsack is simply battling an embarrassing case of hemorrhoids after/during the stress of the Shirley Sherrod debacle.  Those are the big stories at the moment, but in true form for a real live Twenty-First Century Narcissist, I’m not really thinking about all that right now.

Something terrible happened on Sunday at Dave & Buster’s… I lost.

In and of itself, losing is not a rarity in my life though I am, in general, more accustomed to winning.  But on Sunday evening, I lost in a big way.  I lost at everything.  Even now, my ego hasn’t restored itself, nor will the chasm be sated or filled by gobbling up Scrabble wins and cheap, trivial victories.  The merciless drubbings I received left me pithed like a dissected frog against a lab mat, immobile and dumb, twitching violently, wanting for an elusive victory at something, anything.

First, I absorbed two straight losses at what was essentially a free throw competition — something I don’t believe I’d ever lost until two nights ago — and then a demoralizing defeat at the Super Shot basketball game.  I was put away handily on the air hockey table by a score of 7-2, at the trivia board three straight times in a row, and I managed to die before my partner in two co-op campaigns on Terminator: Salvation and House of the Dead 4.  I am still surprised I avoided making a hellish scene and tearing some poor child’s arms off in a rabid, ego-fueled frenzy.  There is nothing that incites a petulant rage quite like the perturbation of the competitive spirit, and in my twenty-six years of competing at various events, I have never taken the prospect lightly, which has cost me more than one enjoyable evening playing Taboo or Risk with friends.  (The two remaining teams in a game of risk cannot enter into an alliance with the intention of ending the game in a truce when other armies have been exhausted.  The game must be played to the death.  The incident that spawned this aside happened nearly two years ago and serves as a cautionary tale to all Risk players that treaty restrictions must be stipulated before the game, and in the interest of competition, alliances should generally be disallowed.)  I did manage to win the Daytona racing game, but there isn’t much satisfaction in placing first when the difficulty is set to Easy, the transmission to Automatic, and the game itself is a subpar racer made by SEGA in 1994.

Whether this rage is the justifiable product of primate evolution or a pathetic shard of the male ego still buried in my amygdala (probably both), I almost never see the point in playing “for fun”.  Playing for fun is playing to win, and the fun comes as a by-product of real competition, not half-assed lollygagging through a novel activity.  I don’t want any mealy-mouthed “the fun is in the journey” platitudes either.  The journey isn’t fun unless you care about the destination, and if you don’t care about the destination, why take the journey?  This isn’t to say that I’m always an unreasonable loser, but most people who know will probably tell you that I’m certainly not a tranquil one.  I’d be loath to disagree with them publicly and at the risk of self-delusion.

But that’s just one asshole’s opinion, a maligned philosophy that emanates from a severely wounded ego, and if you must know, while I’d been planning to post on the site for a few days now, the only reason I got around to it this afternoon is because Master Gorman needled me this morning and pointed out that he was beating me easily in the post ratio.

Trust me, I’m bordering on illiterate right now as I’ve been staring dumbly at this computer screen for going on six hours with very little to do but ponder the slow waste of the world, the burden of being a vile loser, and the long-term implications of muscle atrophy.  I am in no condition to be blogging, and if you were looking for, you know, information, you’ve caught me on the wrong day.  If you catch me on the right day, you might get to read some better dressed gibberish, more eloquent bullshit.  You might not be subjected to such public conceit. (Neil, there will be actual content next time.  I promise.)

So for now, it’s time to suck down my private devastation and try to see the bigger picture.  Stare into the Hubble Deep Field image I’ve now made my desktop wallpaper and contemplate smallness for awhile.  Make this nightmare seem mercifully silly.

This article is cross-posted at Foolish Human.

Brain Dump: Golf and Iran

There are few activities more masochistic than golf.  The twisted nature of the sport has been covered all too well by golfers and comedians alike, so I will spare you the banal jokes.  I'm in no mood for them after what happened this afternoon.

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I'm not one of those people that plays golf often as I find it is best enjoyed sparingly and only after adhering to a months-long regimen of intense meditation, masturbation, and dieting.  Anything less might allow for my violent competitiveness to creep in and ruin the day for everyone.  Indeed.  No one who competes against me in anything, be it darts, pool, basketball, or jacks (etc.) will end up enjoying himself very much.  If I perform well, I normally win by a large enough margin to make the game seem pointless, and if I am losing, I will fall into petulance and throw a conniption fit with little regard for the embarrassment caused by my actions. It's a bad scene and one from which I recommend abstinence at all costs.  There is nothing like seeing a grown, half-bearded man in a straw hat and brightly-colored Hawaiian shirt stomping on the green and digging large ruts into the fairway with his 9-iron as happened today.  By the sixth hole (of nine) I was putting with a severely bent Diamondback putter that became so when I took aim at my golf bag with an old 9-wood and made what essentially proved to be my only solid contact of the day.

That was my Father's Day gift to my dad.  How proud he must be of his 25-year-old son.

For now, it might be feasible to blame last night's thunderstorms for flooding the course and forcing me to decide against wearing my red canvas Converse One-Stars.  Whereas the bane of my golf swing since time immemorial has been a more or less consistent and wicked slice, I kept hitting the ball off the heal of my club and putting a nasty draw on it.  Somehow, my monster drives were stolen and replaced with low-flying line drives that seemed almost magnetically attracted to the tree lines.

But it does seem shortsighted to bitch and moan about a golf game, let alone my first of the year, no matter how badly it went awry.

After all, Tehran continues to reel in the turmoil of Ahmadinejad v. Mousavi.  I have no doubt the election was fixed, but without international press allowed into Iran to report on the situation, it is difficult to know exactly what is what.  Mousavi was the former prime minister of Iran and has ties to Khomeini that are badly covered or glossed over in the Western press, facts that don't require access to the country and should be well-publicized.  In perusing the blogosphere, I saw one comment on Anonymous Iran that went like this: "Agreed, Mousavi was more of an excuse than anything. And the spark led to a fire that is by no means about him anymore."  So it sounds to me like Mousavi is not the reformist/outsider he was cracked up to be, and it stands to reason the the comment from Anonymous Iran might not be far from the truth.

Long before the election and the subsequent Iranian protests, the conventional wisdom stated that most Iranians did not possess the combative, ultra-conservative bent of the clinically insane Ahmadinejad.  The kids listen to Western music, wear Western clothes, and more or less, adhere to Western ideals while behind closed doors.  Sure, the view from the street was much different, but the society operated on a society-wide version of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.  Now, they've got a figurehead and a rallying point, and for their sake, I hope they win.  I don't think they will, but anything that serves to dislodge or destabilize the theocratic element in their government — and, by that, I mean the Ayatollah and his clerics and, while they're at it, Ahmadinejad — is a movement I'm likely to support.

Don't get me wrong.  During the Bush years and before, I get the sense that the United States dealt with Iran very crassly and without nuance, and to some extent, Obama might not have sufficiently changed that tune yet.  There has been eerie but understandable silence from the White House on this matter, and any commentary that they have proffered has been tepid and unsure.  Unable to offer blunt support for the protesters, they've opted to criticize the Iranian government for little more than the obvious, the deaths of innocent civilians.

Until everything boils over, though, we might as well add a supportive green tint to our Twitter avatars since that's the level at which political action operates these days.

Lawrence Lessig and the Future of the Internet

When George Orwell's famous protagonist from 1984, Winston Smith, begins to read The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, supposedly penned by the revolutionary Emmanuel Goldstein, Orwell writes that the best books are the ones that tell you what you already know. Granted, Winston arrives at this revelation while hiding from the eyes [and telescreens] of the oppressive government of Oceania, but despite the obvious political differences between 1984 and life in our Information Age, Lawrence Lessig's Code: Version 2.0 (also known as Codev2) often elicits the same sensation and serves, in no small part, to vocalize many of our nagging intuitions and fears about the internet.

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When the World Wide Web first popped up in the late 1980s and 90s, there was a feeling that this was the new Wild West, that cyberspace would be unregulated and anonymous for the rest of its days. I was a child then, and my association with computers was limited to what I could find on the 5-inch floppy disks in my father's office, mostly DOS games like Castle or Mosaic. It wasn't until the rise of Napster, when I was somewhere in the bowels of middle school, that the Internet became a thing of interest and potential.

Lessig strikes a stark contrast between the ferocious, libertarian genesis of cyberspace and our increasingly regulated internet. In much more eloquent and nuanced terms than I can muster here, he investigates various facets of our online lives, our anonymity and privacy as well as the ways in which what happens in cyberspace relates to our lives in real space — or at least these are part of his overall thrust.  [1]

The real purpose of Lessig's book is to flesh out how we may cope with property and copyright laws in the near future and the new ways in which we will need to define our Constitutional principles where precedents simply do not exist. He spends a great deal of time on the evolution of copyright infringement in the music business and the Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) and other organizations' repeated attempts to nip piracy and unauthorized copying in the bud. This battle dates back to DAT tapes and VHS, but those from my generation will undoubtedly remember the day that Napster went down, a victim of the industry Goliath that finally won its suit over the filesharing network. His arguments, in part, seek to in many ways condemn the old cops 'n' robbers paradigm saying that record companies failed to change their models quickly enough and recognize the potential of the Internet to reach wide audiences. One gets the sense as well that Lessig seems to think that the old Draconian method of dealing with piracy will soon prove unsustainable and give way to an era of freer copyright and access to various works online.

His own involvement in Creative Commons — an organization that seeks to revamp online copyright by allowing authors to define the restrictions and freedoms governing use of their own work — might be a hint as to his own vision of copyright law's future as the world increasingly moves online.

The value of Code: Version 2.0, and incidentally, the part of Lessig's book that really sort of dredges up Orwell's sentiment about the best books, comes in his synthesis of the natural system of checks that governs our interactions, what he calls "modes of control" or "constraints". Neither of these terms is meant negatively, not necessarily. Lessig takes pains to describe the productive and destructive ways in which all of these constraints might conceivably play their parts. The modes of control he describes are architecture (code), norms (taboos), the market, and the law, and each one affects our association with the Internet in different ways.

To use but one example from the book, Lessig describes the potential use of something akin to a universal identity on the Internet. This would be something different than an IP address, which simply assigns a series of numbers to the computer you are using to access the web. The suggestion Lessig envisions would resemble a sort of electronic government-issued drivers' license in which websites that require certain information — for instance, age-restricted sites that sell pornography or tobacco products — would be assured that one fulfills the age requirement without that person being required to release any other personal information to the site.

Naturally, this system brings to mind at least a few questions not the least of which might deal with the logistics and security involved as well as the concern over privacy, though I have boiled down the discussion to its bare bones. These concerns are not lost on Lessig, and in each solution he posits or scenario to which he refers, he presents the pros and cons, the potential ramifications, and the boons in a very digestible way. One need not be a computer geek to appreciate or understand the concepts he introduces, and those who are well-versed with cyberspace or computer science or law will benefit from the exhaustive reference list Lessig provides.

It would be wrong of me to say, however, that Code: Version 2.0 only tells us what we already know. As Lessig points out toward the beginning of the book, there are those of us who simply use the Internet for things like shopping, banking, and email, and then there are those of us (an ever-increasing number) who spend time in cyberspace, who possess what can only be considered as lives online. Those from the latter group might have thought a bit more deeply about what it means to be a citizen of the Internet, but for everyone else, Code: Version 2.0 might present some much-needed food for thought. I can say, even speaking as a computer hobbyist and one involved relatively deeply with the Internet (notwithstanding professionals and legitimate freelancers), that Lessig's book did not fail in illuminating many issues of which I either had only a latent understanding or, sometimes, even none at all.

In this way, I suppose Lessig's observations don't exclusively adhere to Winston Smith's own feelings, but I still maintain that much will seem oddly familiar. When he cites those who have criticized his work, Lessig's refutations and clarifications sound almost like echoes from past conversations, and though much of the book is undoubtedly tinged with his own views and opinions, most of his reasoning is sound, and his knack for making seemingly complicated subjects easy to understand makes plain a relatively even-handed approach to tackling what might be some defining questions of the next ten years.

The internet is a still-evolving phenomenon, and though it increasingly encompasses larger and larger portions of our lives, it is still ill understood, both in the possibilities it creates and the concerns it aggravates. With technology on its exponential tear into the future, we are all inescapably tied to its evolution and must take an active part in deciding how we are going to shape the Internet, and thus, parts of our lives. Lessig would argue that we do have the power to affect a change and make these decisions for ourselves, but sometimes, the avenues to such change or modification of the architecture are not apparent. Even if you might not agree with all or any of Lessig's assertions about the globalization of the Web or the role of government in deciding its nature, his book serves as an invaluable springboard to meaningful consideration of the issues that confront us now and will continue to do so in the near and immediate future.

To put it plainly, Code: Version 2.0 should be required reading for anybody with a stake in the future of the Internet — and that's just about everybody.


[1] Lessig makes reference to a 1993 article by Julian Dibbell regarding early internet communities called MUDs (multi-user dimensions). These are word- and code-based environments in which players create their own relationships and surroundings using either the programming code of a given MUD or their own words via object and character descriptions. The article describes a scene from a MUD called LambdaMOO in which a player "raped" a group of people. Of course, the odd question of what might constitute rape in cyberspace brought to light many interesting and twisted questions about our relationship to this new space. It's a thought-provoking (if mildly disturbing) read.


Lawrence Lessig's Code: Version 2.0 is available as a free PDF download.

The Unintended Rant (RE: American Patriot's Comments on Marijuana and George Patton)

The rants don't come easily these days — at least not as easily as they once did — save for a few impromptu outbursts when something ruffles the feathers or playing the jester.  Other than that, there is little to be said about current events.  Things continue much as they always have, Barack Obama or not, and the Republicans, as clinically insane as ever, need not worry too much about a paradigm shift to the Left.  The Democrats are not a party built for political hegemony.  Infighting and weak knees normally derail any such hopes and all for the better, I suppose.  Perhaps the Dawn of the Third Party is not so far away as it seems to be, though the dim hope that the American voter might realize the stagnation wrought by the two-party yo-yo is one better left unspoken lest the eventual disappointment proves too much to bear.

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Alas, I don't think I have a leftist, pinko Commie diatribe in me tonight.  I have yet to respond to American Patriot's comments on my Patton article, which are well-received regardless of whether or not I share a political hair with him/her.  I appreciate a little scrutiny now and again (maybe even always), and if there's one thing my half-assed, lazy commentary can use, it's some point-by-point analysis.

Two things I will address now, however.  The first is that the Marijuana Question should not be a point of contention or debate any longer.  Legalization is the only sensible route, and this concept will only be confirmed in the next ten or twenty years.  The government does not have the right to tell people not to use drugs (recreationally or for medicinal purposes) and wastes resources prosecuting and apprehending "criminals" who pose no threat to society at large.  Coupled with other drug-related efforts such as needle exchange programs, there should be a shift toward a sensible drug policy, one that does not uphold prohibitive law.  American Patriot seems to harbor an additional moralistic attitude to drug use and general inebriation, which I would discourage at all costs.  Lifestyle morality has no place being legislated by governing bodies as long as a person's activities are non-violent, and to answer American Patriot's question, yes, I do think there are more important things on America's plate right now than the legalization of drugs.  Our current policy, however, reflects a troublesome national mindset that is constantly bothered by petty things like marijuana and tits on television and ignores issues like unsustainable housing bubbles and corrupt credit markets (until the shit hits the fan, of course).  Think where we might be now if our resources had been allocated toward useful endeavors in the first place.

I should stress that while I had my college days like most other people, I am sober almost one-hundred percent of the time these days, and by that, I do not mean to insinuate that I am recovering from any lingering addictions or recreational drug habits save for nicotine.  The comment American Patriot made: "I have never heard of a 'social' pot smoker — a person who has a joint here or there just because they like to smoke or like the flavor of marijuana. No, they do it to get stupid and get high, just like alcoholics drink to excess and act irresponsibly. Legalize pot and you’ll see a lot more drunk driving occurring in this country," makes so little sense that I feel odd even addressing the remarks suffice it to say that A.P. clearly has not spent much more than superficial time with pot smokers or has solely been exposed to "stoners".  Personally, stoners don't bother me, but I can understand how the stereotype of the lazy, listless pothead might hold water with someone unacquainted to that scene or its denizens.

But that's all well and good, and I'd prefer not to go on.  The legalization debate is much like the religious one.  No one wins.  No minds are changed.  The entire debacle proves to be one monumental waste of time, and we must hope only that time will eventually allow logic and tolerance to gain a foothold in this most illogical and intolerant world.  It is to my detriment that I either initiate or get dragged into many of these debates, and I suppose I am the instigator in this case.

The second issue to which A.P. made reference that I'd like to address is my insistence on bashing conservatives.  For the most part, I mean the Republicans and roughly half of each libertarian.  To say the Republican Party is braindead is to put it most delicately.  To say that the GOP is bat-shit crazy might be a dangerous underestimation.

However, I will admit to speaking generally, and I do not mean to make the blanket statements that all conservatives are uneducated hillbillies with little care for the rest of the world.  As it seems to me that American Patriot — while grossly misguided on certain issues in my own estimation — is not one such person, I hereby tender any necessary apologies.  I must also express my disappointment that the word "patriotism" has been hijacked and made to mean nothing more than blind, flag-bleeding obedience to nationalism and principles of Manifest Destiny.  If there is a seed of suspicion in me about the wiles of our good A.P., it comes only due to the choice of moniker.  One cannot be sure that people mean words as they were originally intended or as their [the words'] current bastardizations imply.

And what the hell.  Here's the final answer regarding your critique of my Patton post, American Patriot.  You're right that I meander and fall off track.  I'll be the first one to admit as much, but as for my criticism of the speech itself, I did not necessarily mean to belittle it wholesale.  I disagree fervently, and I realize that it was made under duress, as you said, like a football coach might try to pump his team up before a big game (though the stakes were obviously much higher in Patton's case).  I suppose reading Patton's words on that day reminded me too much of the Dick Cheney and Glenn Beck camp, and while Cheney is a sociopath and Beck is a witless boob, you cannot deny their influence on people, which is why I bring them up in the first place.

Trust me, it's my considered opinion that the likes of FoxNews conservative pundits bear no weight whatsoever on the actual political dialogue, but that opinion, as much as I might like to believe it, probably isn't accurate.  Yellow journalism is the running intellectual currency these days, A.P., and if I speak too generally about conservatives, it is only because most of those I know (again, not quite all) or speak with spout the same deranged horseshit I hear coming from the O'Reilly people and the Hannity people and any others you want to put in the same boat.

I will say that O'Reilly was right about one thing — and, Jesus, how it pains me to write those words.  We are in a culture war right now, and much of it boils down to whether I'm on the side that wants America to be a citizen of the world or on the side that wants to see the rise of the American Empire.  The other conversations you and I might have if we were sitting in a room together are only peripheral subjects compared to this central conflict.

That scares me and — to put it bluntly — pisses me off.

General George S. Patton's Speech to the Third Army

The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his. Gen. George S. Patton
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General George S. Patton

I was stumbling around the internet when I happened across the full text of Gen. George Patton's famous speech to the Third Army. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but up until about fifteen minutes ago, my only knowledge of this oratory marvel came from anecdotes and the film Patton starring George C. Scott.

In truth, it was nothing I didn't expect. Patton crammed enough violent imagery and profanity into that address as humanly possible and spoke with the hyperbolic sense of patriotism one expects from a general in the United States Army. Don't misconstrue my words, please. There isn't anything wrong with patriotism, and indeed, it is to be commended when applied rationally, but patriotic sentiment was monopolized long ago by a contingent of people who seem unable to grasp loving one's country without full-blown militaristic zeal. To this demographic, patriotism is synonymous with imperialism and typified by the very hubris that has become a de facto substitute for foreign policy. The practice was, by no means, instituted by George W. Bush as many would have us believe (though he did proliferate it with glee), and despite Barack Obama's ascension to power, one can only hope that he will keep his sensibilities logical and refrain from applying the mask of entitlement under which many Americans appear to operate. In general, presidents tend to receive a great deal of undue glory from their respective constituencies, and the last one who really deserved any such accolades was Franklin D. Roosevelt.

We'll see if Obama's pragmatism manages to overcome knee-jerk reactions. His disingenuous handling of marijuana-related questions at last month's internet town hall meeting not only risked alienating a large swath of his supporters but exemplified the power of stagnation over progress in American political culture and reinforced the notion that even he — our supposed beacon of change — is not immune to caving in to the pressures of the Game. The only thing to be said in his defense is that (at least in that clip) he never says he is closed to the notion of decriminalizing marijuana, simply that it would not be a strategy that would benefit our struggling economy. I don't personally agree with his views, but I will say that those watching this broadcast deserved more than a dismissive remark delivered through a smirk.

But I was talking about Patton, wasn't I? I seem to remember something about that, but who can remember anything for more than a few seconds in the Age of Twitter?

For those of you who didn't click the first link to read Patton's speech in it's entirety, here are a few of my favorite tidbits from it:

Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.

Each man must not think only of himself, but also of his buddy fighting beside him. We don't want yellow cowards in this Army. They should be killed off like rats. If not, they will go home after this war and breed more cowards.

We're not going to just shoot the sons-of-bitches, we're going to rip out their living Goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun cock suckers by the bushel-fucking-basket.

And then comes the striking and admittedly brilliant crescendo:

You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON'T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, 'Well, your Granddaddy shoveled shit in Louisiana.' No, Sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, 'Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a- Goddamned-Bitch named Georgie Patton!'

These words were given to the Third Army in secret somewhere in England on June 5, 1944, and I should think they would have to be delivered in a much similar way today to avoid a publicity crisis. No comparable display of machismo and American arrogance could publicly survive the media blitz that would be sure to follow, and rightly so. In 1944, this type of rhetoric might have been acceptable, and not to say that foreign affairs and policy matters weren't nuanced back then, but politics in the 21st century will require a great deal more grace.

Granted, Gen. Patton was speaking to a group of soldiers and not to a room full of reporters or politicians, but perhaps it is for this reason that his speech is even more worrying. This type of patriotism is the norm among conservatives these days, and as hard as it is to swallow the blaring and dangerous political rhetoric coming from the likes of Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Glenn Beck, most of us would probably cringe to hear what they say behind closed doors (assuming they believe their own horseshit).

This is not, of course, to place the blame solely on conservatives for relying on flagbleeding euphamisms. It is only fair to blame much of the liberal movement's willingness to pander to the lowest common denominator — the ilk that see the American Flag not so much as a symbol of freedom, liberty, or virtue but as an approval stamp, a ringing endorsement of whatever policies those who invoke it support. Such willingness to rally behind a symbol rather than an ideal or a set of ideals, no matter with which members of the punditry you align, is what makes true discourse in the political sphere so rare, and it all filters back to the inherent machismo we associate with being American. We're the biggest, strongest, most powerful nation on the planet. We will be, anyway, until China pushes through to the other end of their industrial revolution and the United States comes down with a bad case of what can only be described as international penis envy.

Most of us are not rooted in or befallen by the pathological Superiority Complex that Patton exhibits in his speech. Brilliant general though he was, Patton was also wonky enough to believe he was a reincarnated Carthaginian who had once fought against the Roman Army. So we should take his comments with a grain of salt. His speech is not the ravings of a mad man. It's much worse than that. Patton's speech is a word-for-word translation into military terms of what many Americans likely believe today. They might not express it in the blood-and-guts tradition like our good general, but the reptilian world view that stresses the oversimplified dynamics of Good vs. Evil and Us vs. Them is both prevalent and well-defined. Like Patton, there are those out there whose idea of a Great American is the apish infantry grunt, spiteful of the enemy and willing to charge into a cloud of bullets without asking why, instead thinking only that it is what a brave man would do. Just peruse the comment board under Patton's speech at Free Republic.

Gen. George Patton is who qualifies as a Great American, and perhaps he was in the most brutish sense. He was, no doubt, a brilliant military man and an adept tactician. The United States would not have enjoyed some of the victories it did during World War II if it weren't for Patton, and yes, maybe I'll even concede that he was the man for that time and place. He was the kind of man he glorified in such fervid prose to the men of the Third Army that night in England.

And the ideal here is that we should be working toward a situation in which the glorification of blind patriotism is overruled by the sensible desire for mutuality and peace between countries and not push for a system that maintains American superiority. The challenges we will face in the very near future demand that we not draw alliances based on such arbitrary things as geographic boundaries. We must attempt to see eye-to-eye with the rest of the world — holding our ground, of course, when necessary — and compromise with instead of impose upon them our own set of core values. We need to protect ourselves. Naturally, this is true, and only a woefully naive person would say otherwise, but the best thing we can do is ditch our Old World mentalities. The real ideal here is that we move forward into a world that will never need another Gen. George Patton.

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