Thoughts of an American Centrist

Friday, August 26, 2005

Indoctrination and the True Culture of Life

Let's compare two quotes. First, from the much touted and celebrated antisheehan Tammy Pruette, mother of 5 sons who served in Iraq, as quoted by President Bush:

"Tammy says this -- and I want you to hear this -- 'I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country. And I guess you couldn't ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in.' America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts. (Applause.)"
Now let's compare it to the thoughts of a 20th Century Military Genius, General George S. Patton:

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country."
- Attributed to General George Patton Jr

See the contrast?

Exactly what kind of society are we trying to create where we indoctrinate our soldiers and their parents not that dying for one's country is an honorable tragedy, but that it is actually desirable?

Now obviously if such a thought helps Mrs. Pruette fall asleep at night then she should by all means indulge herself. Only God knows what kind of stress it must put on a mother to send five sons and a husband off to war. The risk and heartache she and her family have given and continue to hazard in service to this country precludes me from questioning her opinions. The President was correct; it is families like the Pruettes that keep our country free.

All disclaimers aside, however, it is entirely another matter for the President to hold this woman's statement up as an example of how "good" military mothers ought to think. What kind of message is he trying to send? "Hey Moms, if your son dies in Iraq, that's really OK, because you really can't get 'a better way of life' than dying for your country!" Don't take one woman's method of coping with her sacrifice and trumpet it as national policy.

President Bush, if you truly want to promote a "culture of life" in this country, then stop pretending that the deaths of our troops are somehow "OK." We all realize that, in war, death and sacrifice are a necessary part. But necessity does not abate tragedy. Don't ever pretend that it does.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Cindy Sheehan for the Rest of Us

S0rry I haven't been posting lately, but again I've had a busy couple of weeks at work. Hopefully, I'll start up again soon. Until then, here's something to read.

One poor woman has lost her son and found herself in a most unfortunate circumstance. Cindy Sheehan has been made into an idol by the left, and an effigy by the right. She has refused to drink the Kool-Aid good military mothers are supposed to drink, and at the same time has been readily been seduced by the Left Side of the Force. (In my world, both the far left and right are the Dark Sides; it is only the middle where you will learn control. The left and right contain too much anger, fear, aggression... consume you they will!)

I don't know if the leftist mumbo-jumbo of bashing Israel and the Afghanistan War in addition to Iraq was brewing in her before she pitched her first tent on that Crawford road. Before she came to Texas, I don't know if she hated the President, or if she was just angry and wanted answers. Whatever the case, what has been done to this woman is not fair. She lost her Son, and she deserves our utmost respect and humility. Cowards like G. Gordon Liddy and Ann Coulter should be ashamed to smear this poor woman who sacrificed the child she bore, but so should those rallying around her that exploit her pain. And for what? Because she refused to be that accepting and humble mother of a fallen soldier who sat in the background and lent conscripted support with her voice while her soul crumbled in secret? Because one of the people who actually sacrificed for this cause dared speak up and demanded that she too had a right to have some voice, no matter how small, in this fight against Terror? I don't care how far out in left field she is when she speaks, Cindy Sheehan deserves to be heard. She has earned the right to be heard not as the straw-man the political machines of the far left and right need her to be, but as the grieving mother that she is. The fact that I myself have entertained thoughts of judgment against her shames me.

When she speaks, I cannot agree. When she stands up as a proud citizen, demanding some semblance of thanks from a grateful nation, I stand with her.

Thomas Crown They are Not

From the "OK, that was dumb," desk:
Two unarmed men burst into Oslo's Hotel Continental, threatened staff and removed three pictures from the walls.

But the hotel had swapped the originals with duplicates after two real Munch works were stolen from the Munch Museum in the city almost a year ago.

"It's a real fiasco for the thieves," hotel manager Siv Lunde Kolrud said.

The hotel's art collection includes 12 Munch originals, which were "in a very safe place", Ms Lunde Kolrud said.

The pictures stolen on Wednesday were actually photographs of The Vampire, Self-Portrait and Melancholy, she said, adding that the frames were the only things of value.

The men who raided the Munch Museum last August are not suspected of carrying out this theft, police spokesman Vidar Hjulstad said.

"They are not like the thieves from the real Munch Museum, these are amateurs," he said. "They made a fool out of themselves."


That's the funniest thing I've heard all day!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

New Blog

I've added a new blog to my blog-roll, Schneier on Security. Unlike the rest of his neighbors on the blogroll, Schneier's is not a political blog, but rather the thoughts of one of the most respected experts in the field of computer security. Why, you may ask, has yours truly decided to list a technology blog on the roll of honor? Well, there are two reasons.
  • Firstly, I'm a software engineer by trade, and this stuff catches my eye.
  • Secondly, the world of computer security is becoming increasingly intertwined with political questions.
Identity theft, privacy, NSA vs. EFF concerns, and homeland security all depend on digital security and cryptography. Perhaps the blog is not as natural a fit for this site as some others, but I do believe that an understanding of the underlying issues behind our political discussions are helpful. For example, Shneier's latest post is concerns the state department's plan to insert RFID chips (think EZ-pass) into passports (good idea). He also discusses the Orlando airport's ideas for "validated identity cards," to allow frequent flyers easier access through security checkpoints (for reasons stated in the post, very very bad idea).

Check him out. You may learn something.

What is Profiling?

Cross posted at "The Yellow Line"

To begin an embroiled debate centered around the tension between law enforcement, anti-terrorism, and civil liberties, one need only mention the word "profiling." Of course, it's not profiling per se which gets people so uppity, but rather what they assume you mean, namely, racial profiling. Racial profiling by definition describes the automatic suspicion of guilt based solely on race. I will acknowledge that such a practice is discriminatory, counter-productive, and insulting. However, I don't want to talk about racial profiling today. Instead, I want to talk about profiling of a different type: behavioral profiling. I believe that creating a sketch - a profile - of the types of people likely to commit terrorist acts is absolutely essential to successfully protecting the public good.

Webster's lists one definition of the word "profile" as:

4 : a set of data often in graphic form portraying the significant features of something... a graph representing the extent to which an individual exhibits traits or abilities as determined by tests or ratings

Note the use of the term "significant features." The word is plural. To effectively hold an accurate mental picture, police officers must be able to look for and recognize a variety of factors, including reticence to questions, nervous glances, paranoia, when appropriate, race. Racial profiling is not the act of using race as one piece in a criminal profile, but of using race as the only characteristic.

Kira Zalan writes a very compelling argument for including race in the list of factors that make up a terrorist profile:

We must stop pretending that the terrorists so far, by-and-large, have not been of the same ethnic origin. This will reasonably narrow down the search for potential perpetrators. But, it makes ALMOST as little sense to stop every Arab or North African in NYC today as it does to stop every 5th random person. Therefore, the profiling must be even more exact than race to be effective.

Israel has been perfecting the art of profiling, and has successfully prevented El Al (national airline) hijackings since 1970. The profilers are trained to look for signs of suspicious behavior (body language), which provides effective clues of whom to question. Barring exceptional con artists, body language is a dead give away of suspicious behavior. In fact, police officers are trained to look for such clues when dealing with everyday criminals.

The results: plenty of Arabs fly El Al, and yet enough people have been turned away to prevent terrorist attacks since 1970.

So why not fly some Israelis to NYC to train New York’s finest on such tactics?


Now that idea makes a lot of sense.

Friday, August 05, 2005

NCAA Outlaws Indian Mascots

The politically correct stench is so foul I can hardly breathe. MSNBC reports:
The NCAA banned the use of American Indian mascots by sports teams during its postseason tournaments, but will not prohibit them otherwise.

...

Nicknames or mascots deemed “hostile or abusive” would not be allowed on team uniforms or other clothing beginning with any NCAA tournament after Feb. 1, said Harrison, the University of Hartford’s president.
...

At least 18 schools have mascots the NCAA deem “hostile or abusive,” including Florida State’s Seminole and Illinois’ Illini. The full list of schools was not immediately released.

...

Florida State, for example, has received permission from the Seminole tribe in Florida to use the nickname. That, however, will not suffice.


Allow me to be a bit hostile to the NCAA.

What kind of crazy parallel universe do these people think they live in where they actually believe sports teams named in honor of American Indian tribes constitutes discrimination and / or hostility?

My goodness, people, we name sports teams after Indian (sorry, "Native Americans") not because we hate them, but because we respect Native American values, culture, courage, and art. Why would we name our teams (and by extension, ourselves) after something we hated? I've never heard of the "Valley High Ax Murderers!" There's a reason why we have an American hero named William Tecumseh Sherman, but none named John Stalin Smith.

Despite what you may see in John Wayne movies, Americans love and respect Indians. Trying to discredit that respect as a form a racism does a disservice to us all.

Update: Yeah, what this guy said!

Do not confuse a philosophical statement with science, merely because it is spoken by a scientist.

A commenter, Steve, on my earlier post made a very well thought out point that there seems to be a belief among atheists that Evolution must necesarily void Creationism. Steve then went on to conclude that this means that evolution and creationism must be mutually exclusive. I disagree.

I believe such a view results from misidentifying the overreaching and elitist statements of individual scientists for science itself. Carl Sagan was a brilliant astronomer whose insights into the cosmos influenced much of modern astronomy and astrophysics. He was also an ass who poured pitiless contempt upon all of us who believe in a higher power. It is important to separate the man from his work. The Dawkins quote you cut and pasted was not a scientific theory, but merely one man's opinion as to how to explain what he saw around him (an opinion, I believe, warped by his atheistic prejudices). Consider the statements of Dawkins and myself.

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. ~ Richard Dawkins

From the earlier Post
I ask, "How could all this beauty and intricacy have happened without a guiding hand?"

Dawkins and I are really asking the same question. Our philosophies, however, lead us to different answers. Scientists who try to pass off their personal beliefs about what their discoveries mean as hard science are as out of line as the Intelligent Design folks who claim their ideas are a result of the scientific method. Science has been contaminated with religious questions for hundreds and hundreds of years. Those of us who truly search for an answer must recognize what is and what is not true science.

In Defense of Tony Blair

Good job, Tony. The British Prime minister announced his plans to introduce legislation that would deport radical Muslim clerics (and anyone else, I suppose), who engage in "acts preparatory to terrorism," and outlaws "indirect incitement" of terrorism. I think this is a good idea. If Great Britain graciously allows individuals to immigrate in the hopes that they can experience the liberties and freedoms of the country, why shouldn't they then have the right to expel them when those same people act in a way which undermines that very democracy? After all, they probably would have been denied their visa or green card (or whatever permanent residency is called in the UK) if they had been honest up front with the immigration officers and told them that they were coming over to advocate terrorism.

Free Speech? Not really.
People are making all kinds of noises that this is free speech issue, but is it? We've established long ago in all democracies that freedom of speech is not absolute (read the US SCOTUS decision proclaiming that we cannot cry "fire" in a crowded theater). The question remains: if the threat is not immediate, is dangerous speech still overridden by safety concerns? I would argue that it is.

But this is all beside the point. Remember, the British government is not criminalizing this activity. Nobody is going to jail. Instead, Prime Minister Blair is pretty much stating that "If you side with the terrorists, you are no longer welcome here." What is so awful about that?

Not Profiling
Another point that should be made is that this is not racial profiling. We're not going to go around deporting peaceful Muslim clerics, here. The only ones who need to be worried about this are people who are speaking out in support of terrorism. That has nothing to do with race, speech has to do with actions. By very definition, profiling is something that occurs because of personal factors beyond our control. This situation has nothing whatsoever to do with racial profiling. In fact, peaceful Muslims in Britain are applauding this measure!

This is just a common-sense measure that should be passed. I encourage our own congress to introduce similar legislation.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Go SOX!

Whew! Went to my first Red Sox game last night at Fenway, and I was in awe. Just to think that in that park World Series were won and (often times) lost, heroes were minted, and literally millions of fans for the past 100 years have paraded through, cheering in unison when the Sox make a great play, and falling silent in unison when the other guys do.

There's just something about sports that connects us. People from all economic, social, racial, and religious stripes will always come together and cheer passionately for a team beloved for no other reason than geography. It's not just a present day connection, either. Our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers all watched and cheered players in these same parks (if we're lucky enough to live in a city that has an old park.) There's something very comforting in knowing three strikes will always make an out, and children will always wait in the stands, dreaming of being on that field some day. In all the seriousness and trouble in the world around us, we need sports.

Of course, it also doesn't hurt that the Sox just won their 7th staight! Go Red Sox!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Evolution is Fact. Here is Why I'm a Creationist.

While in the comments section of The Yellow Line's post "The Evolution of Science Class," (great title, BTW), I have noticed a peculiar phenomenon: because I believe that God created the universe (and am not afraid to explain my reasons why), people automatically assume that I favor teaching Creationism in biology class. The fact of the matter is, I don't.

The question that puzzles most people is "why I would not want something taught in schools that I believe is true." The answer is really quite simple: science and religion are two separate fields. The only reason that we talk about both in the same breath is because the two have been artificially intertwined by advocates on both sides. Science and religion explain two different regions of our awareness that have little or no overlap. Call them what you like - fact and faith, reason and intuition, objectivity and philosophy - the two operate in separate realms of our consciousness that were never meant to compete.

Fact and faith are mutually exclusive when applied to the same problem, and therefore must inhabit separate spaces. In most cases, this is not an issue. Take the example of a murder trial: science and reasoning (hopefully) lead us to decide guilt of innocence, while subjective moral consideration determines our sentencing laws. The two principles peacefully coexist.

In the realm of biodiversity, however, faith has trodden in the realm of science. Science makes no claims of replacing religion as a moral guidebook. The trouble arises when people try to use the Bible as a science book. When this happens, a misguided combination of faith and assumptive reasoning overrides scientific evidence. Look, people, the Bible is not a science text. In my Bible at home, the creation story covers about a page and a half of a 1500 page tome. What is written about creation is an annotation issued to people with primitive scientific knowledge. In God's eyes, this brief primer was good enough. He wanted us to know that He created the Earth, but didn't feel it at all necessary to explain His mechanism for creation any more than He felt it necessary to explain genetics when he told Adam and Eve to "go forth an multiply."

In the millennia since the time of Moses, we have learned a smidgen more about the natural world around us. Mendel, Darwin, Watson & Crick, and countless others have since explained and proven how species evolved, reproduce, and continue to evolve. This is well established scientific fact. This should be taught in the biology classroom. My faith leads me to look at the complexity of the world around me, and the complexity of life. I ask, "How could all this beauty and intricacy have happened without a guiding hand?" That is philosophy. That question should be asked in Sunday School, or perhaps a philosophy classroom. It should not be answered, one way or the other, in a science classroom because science does not have the tools to answer it.

One subject. Two questions. Two answers based on very different parts of my understanding.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Centrist Blogtopia at The Yellow Line

In the past, I've talked about the need for more Centrist organization to give our movement heft. Today, we took a baby-step towards achieving that goal.

The Yellow Line, one of the most well written Centrist blogs in the 'sphere, has recently expanded its list of contributing members with an eye towards becoming an online centrist think tank (with the exception, of course, that in this think tank, the contributors aren't getting paid!) If we are to come up with bold new centrist ideas, getting together to think about common causes will be key!

As for this blog, I still intend to post with about the same frequency as I do now (I know, that's not very often), and I will most likely cross post anything I write over at TYL here as well. So keep your eyes peeled for some fascinating discussions.

To Alan and Joe, thank you for asking me to be a part of this. I am truly honored to be part of this experiment, and I eagerly look forward to working with such fine writers.

The Member Blogs:

Monday, August 01, 2005

The Ownership Centered Workforce

The full title of this post could have been "A Great American Business Success Story: American Airlines and the Ownership Centered Workforce." No, that is not a typo. The American Centrist praises American Airlines for its well rounded and socially responsible business strategy (thanks to The Moderate Voice for the link):

While the other so-called legacy carriers are also slashing labor costs and increasing efficiency in an effort to compete with successful low-cost airlines, American has been the most aggressive in emulating the positive employee relations of low-cost rivals. Indeed, when American's management intensified its cost-saving efforts, it didn't turn to high-priced outside consultants. Rather, it asked its employees, since they do their jobs day in and out and know them probably better than anyone else.
And it is working!
From the maintenance floor to the cockpit, American Airlines is daily scouring operations to increase efficiency and find even the smallest cost savings. It's paid off: Last week, the company announced its first profit in almost five years.

Now, this is the kind of business model that our major airlines need. Instead of trying to offset rising fuel costs by cutting employee headcount, pay, and benefits, they are tapping into those same employees' vast intellectual resources to cut true waste out of the system. Look at the article's opening examples:
Two American Airlines mechanics didn't like having to toss out $200 drill bits once they got dull. So they rigged up some old machine parts - a vacuum-cleaner belt and a motor from a science project - and built "Thumping Ralph." It's essentially a drill-bit sharpener that allows them to get more use out of each bit. The savings, according to the company: as much as $300,000 a year.

And it was a group of pilots who realized that they could taxi just as safely with one engine as with two. That was instituted as policy has helped cut American's fuel consumption even as prices have continued to rise to record levels.


This is the type of innovation and practical hard nosed thinking that made the USA the industry leader in pretty much everything 80 years ago, and will work again today. While in the past I have been pretty harsh on the major airline carriers, with American I will make an exception.

Ownership Centered Workforce
When President Bush talks of an "ownership society," I get tingles. Unfortunately, his idea of an ownership society is not what I have in mind. There is no pride in simply owning stock or a private retirement account. Each and every American having a few shares of GE, Disney, or GM does not create an ownership society. Instead, the idea of "ownership" comes from the work of our own hands and our own minds. For a rank and file employee like me, ownership comes from knowing that my ideas are considered, and may end up helping the company. Ownership comes from the feeling that people are counting on me to deliver results. Ownership comes from thinking of "the company" as "my company." Ownership comes from being treated as a resource, not overhead. This is how to build what I call the "Ownership Centered Workforce."

Removed from the employer / employee model, ownership comes from owning a home or a business. Ownership comes from becoming a valuable contributing member at a civic organization. Ownership comes from participating eagerly in all levels of government. Ownership takes effort, but ownership is rewarding.

The New Union Model
One key driving force behind this transformation may be the labor unions. Instead of simply acting as an opposing force against management, unions should actively work to integrate the labor force's unique non-traditional strengths into the overall business strategy of a company. That's how American Airlines can save $300,000 every year on drill bits. Yesterday's labor unions arose because of cash rich owners and management trying to squeeze every last dime from their employees at the expense of basic human dignity. The objective of those unions was to ensure that profitability was shared with employees in the form of a living wage. That primary goal of unionization has been realized, and unions have been struggling to find their role ever since (Ambivablog and The Yellow Line both have excellent posts regarding the future of the unions).

I propose that the next step union evolution be an effort to bring corporate ownership to union workers. Today's unions have pushed themselves to the brink of irrelevance by demanding anti-business practices such as "no-fire" rules, skill-ignorant seniority and pay scales, and costly and wasteful "union only" rules (such as requiring a union electrician to change every light-bulb). Instead of creating wasteful and foolish regulations, unions could work with management to further incorporate their members into the company's overall business model. Why should unions have to wait for executive visionaries to have the epiphany that the workers actually have good ideas? After all, it is the unions that have the most interaction with the employees, and it is the unions who should recognize the cognitive strength the rank and file bring to the table.

A second way to cultivate ownership in a company is stock. I mentioned before that owning stock doesn't create a true sense of ownership, and I believe that rule holds true for all situations but one: the case where the stock is for the company you work for. If unions would promote stock-purchase plans to their members, then the interests of both employee and employer would draw closer together. Employees would have a stake in the company's successes and failures, and managers would have to be sensitive to the large block of share-holders that were the union workers. In this model, both the success of the company and the well-being of the employees becomes the concern of management, Wall Street, and employee alike.

One frustration of the common cause approach is the seesaw approach to pay. There is too often a double standard wherein a company will announce layoffs, pay-cuts, or pension defaults, while simultaneously giving its executives huge bonuses and stock option packages in the name of "talent retention." Such a practice is as good as making an announcement ot employees that says "you're expendable, you don't count." Proportional pay increases and decreases for execs, managers, and employees strengthens ties across the corporation, and creates more of a sense of ownership. When a company does well, all should do well. When a company does poorly, everybody should cut back. It is simply elitist and wrong for top management to fly off to the Bahamas for week-long "Leadership Team Building Conferences" before the ink is dry on the order to slash employee health care benefits.

Resource, Not Expense
The burden of changing the employee / employer culture does not rest solely in the hands of the unions, however. Instead of "The Smartest Guys in the Room" type executives and Wall Street analysts insisting that employee compensation is the biggest inhibition to profits, the American Centrist encourages more and more independent minded business leaders to embrace this concept of an Ownership Centered Workforce. These executives realize that they have a whole drove of hardworking and creative Americans working underneath them, and leverage that strength.

When your employees know they hold real value to the company, and when they can take pride and ownership in their company, you will see dramatic results. Morale is boosted, and with this morale comes pride, creativity, productivity, and drive. When all these factors improve, costs and waste go down. When costs go down without cutting your workforce, we see profitability coexisting peacefully with corporate responsibility. In the business world, this is truly the American Way.