Saturday, November 21, 2009

When Will Arrogance Go Out of Style?

So, this week, it's Obama bowing to the Japanese Emperor during his visit to Asia. Is our President being subservient? Why is he bowing to some old Emperor? In the comments on a short NPR story about bowing and when it was in style in the US, one reader noted: "Since he's so fond of prostrating himself before those with a "divine right" to rule, does that mean he's just being more religious than the rest of us?" All I can do is role my eyes. Did he not even read and understand the article itself? The one that noted that when our country was created, bowing was a normal thing? That it continued for some time, before going out of style? Oh, yes, and the part where it's noted that in Japan, bowing is not at all unusual?

At what point did being polite and respecting the customs of other nations, especially one of our allies, become subservient? Can anyone answer me that? Another story on this subject, which I Googled up, stated: "This person who swore he would support and defend the Constitution of the United States obviously doesn't understand (or care) that America has never bowed to a foreign country or its leaders ..." Actually, I recently saw pictures of both Nixon and Eisenhower bowing to foreign dignitaries. So, apparently doing so does not destroy the fabric of our Constitution, only this person's preconceived notions of American smug superiority. Certainly, some elements will look for anything to use against Obama. This is obvious, as the above 'bowing' issue proves. If you're gonna make bold, definitive statements, at least spend a couple minutes on Google or Wikipedia first! It would certainly cut down on the embarrassing eating of crow later.

It's not so much the uproar over this, specifically, that bothers me. It's how it seems to be just the most recent case of Americans seeming to take this 'Leader of the Free World' thing way too seriously. I've always hated that phrase, to be honest. It drips with arrogance and self righteousness. When people use it I can almost hear the macho swagger in their voice. Certainly America is the pre-eminent military power in the world. Assuming we don't continue to grind away our Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. But we are hardly the voice of freedom for the world.  We certainly have screwed up enough things over the years, and should have learned by now that we are not always right and that our good intentions do not always wisdom make.

Some will jump up at this point and declare me 'unpatriotic'. This is the usual response to anyone who questions, or in any way, impugns America. When, in fact, this is what patriotism is about. It's not about supporting anything the country does, no matter the wisdom of the actions. It's about loving the country enough to be concerned when it appears to be veering off course. Bothered so much that you feel the need to speak out in an attempt to avoid a perceived mistake. I feel like the Bush Presidency was an exercise in focused arrogance. We built no bridges or partnerships to fight terrorism. We bullied and threatened anyone who didn't follow our lead. That, to me, is the worst kind of arrogance and pride. You cannot organize resistance to something that way. All you end up doing is annoying your allies and alienating everyone else. It's really just psychology 101 or simple schoolyard politics. There's nothing strange or complicated about it, so I'm amazed that so many seem not to see it.

I tend to read a lot of military history and I've been struck by a number of things relating to the Roman Republic and Empire. There were a number of times where the Romans got themselves into bad situations simply due to arrogance. They operated with the view that anyone who wasn't a Roman was uncivilized and therefore a barbarian. This attitude led them to repeatedly, throughout their history, stumble into bloody wars that could have likely been avoided. They dealt with 'barbarians' as beneath them, even when these peoples were nearly on par, socially and technologically, with them. And they often treated even their 'barbarian' allies with less respect than they should have. Thus creating several nasty enemies from former allies. As you might imagine, this sort of foreign policy did not go over well. This attitude and the dismissive way Rome dealt with it's 'barbarian' neighbors, during its last century or two, contributed quite a bit to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. What might have happened if they had integrated the Goths and others into the Empire, rather than treating them as unworthy and uncivilized interlopers we will never know. But I'm confident the result would have been preferable to the bloody wars that did occur.

This is how the Bush Administration seemed to deal with the world, much to our detriment. There seems to be this warped view that to show a basic level of respect to a potential adversary, even if only respect for the office, is some form of weakness. I have no idea where this comes from. It's this mindset that historians regularly site as a factor in the fall of past empires. So why do some continue to think that talking down to Iran or North Korea is at all helpful? To treat them with some basic courtesy doesn't show weakness. It shows we are willing to play the political game. We must remember that we are dealing with people who have their own constituencies to deal with. They can't just cave in, even if they might personally be willing to give ground. To do so will make them look weak to their supporters. Again, it's schoolyard politics. If you back them into a corner, with no exit, they will fight tooth and nail. If you leave them room to maneuver and deal realistically, there is a much better chance of success. They will then be able to compromise here and there without losing face to their supporters. One of Bush's bigger blunders in foreign policy was his infamous 'Axis of Evil' speech. In one speech, he managed to back every country on this list into a corner, giving them only two options- give in completely to our demands, essentially groveling at our feet or remain our mortal enemies. Great choice, eh? Debase yourself in the eyes of your internal and external supporters or keep the status quo as the underdog who is standing up to the bully. So in one speech, Bush found the perfect way to guarantee their continued stone wall opposition. What the Bush Administration, and many others who still support the same policies now, fail to realize is that part of international politics is smiling and shaking hands, even if you'd rather push them in front of a bus. It's about maneuver, proposal and counter proposal. You can only demand when you have complete control of a situation and that rarely occurs outside of a surrender ceremony.

On the edges of this, you have Obama being raked over the coals by conservatives for simply saying to the world that America has made mistakes.  Seriously? So America is never wrong? Or is it that we are showing weakness by admitting it? Then I must be confused. I distinctly recall being told and hearing numerous times while growing up, that it takes a strong person to admit when they've made a mistake. Ring a bell? I'm sure just about every parent who criticized the President on this has used that little parable with their own kids. But this apparently doesn't apply to countries. It's as if, by keeping silent, no one will notice that we sometimes screw up. By admitting it, and accepting responsibility when we do, we gain respect in the eyes of friend and foe. Nobody trusts someone who maintains that they are always right. It demonstrates a disconnect with reality and an unwillingness to be honest. Hardly traits to inspire partnership or loyalty.

Since Obama was elected, America's standing in the world has risen dramatically. And it's happened because he doesn't talk down to other countries. He doesn't belittle anyone who disagrees with our policies. Even when dealing with Iran or North Korea, he manages to keep a professional tone that indicates America's stand, but doesn't try and kick sand in their faces. Now many will say that we shouldn't care what others think about us, but that would be speaking in ignorance. This is a global economy. We cannot exist, separate from the rest of the planet. Good relations are essential for our survival as a economic and political force. We don't have to like everyone we deal with, but it costs us nothing to treat them with some minimal level of respect, regardless.

For example, I don't particularly like or trust Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but I see no reason not to be professional in our dealings with him. He is the head of a sovereign nation and we should at least show a minimum of respect for his position, if not the man. And the more evenhanded and businesslike we are in our dealings with him, the more we contrast his wilder pronouncements. This is a win-win situation. We keep the door open to communication and possible solutions with Iran and we show the entire world that America is a reasonable country. Thus, moderates in the region will be more likely to see us as intellectually engaged and deal with us in a meaningful way. Don't forget, people are people, no matter their race, creed or theology. If you start the conversation with a slap to the mouth, you have immediately closed off almost all positive outcomes. If, however, you start off with a polite greeting, the outcome is still open to negotiation. No, it won't always affect the final result. But at the very least, our allies and others around the world will see that we are reasonable and level headed. Not because we tell them we are, but because they can see it in our actions.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why We Must Fix Healthcare

I just read a first hand account of a recent free clinic, not in some third world country, but in New Orleans, LA. Those who took advantage of this opportunity were not vagrants or welfare leaches. The majority of them were actually employed. Though not in a job that provided full benefits.

I ask you to read this for a perspective on health reform:  Health Reform's Human Stories

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Should We Stay or Should We Go

Afghanistan. The 'other' war has come center stage recently as the Administration considers how to proceed. More troops? Less troops? Pull out? Certainly no shortage of opinions. The senior commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, has called for some 40,000 additional troops to prevent 'failure' of the mission there. Now President Obama is weighing these options and is expected to announce a plan in the next few week or so.

Much has been made of how the troop surge in Iraq helped reduce violence but, we must be careful about making general assumptions that the same plan would work in Afghanistan. The two countries are vastly different. Contrary to Iraq, Afghanistan has minimal infrastructure. This, coupled with mountainous terrain, makes the same sort of mass troop movements and area control techniques useless. The non-urban population is highly dispersed and more beholden to local leaders than the central government in Kabul. So a surge of troops would almost certainly be much less likely to have the kind of affect seen in Iraq. Put simply, these issues would make this a dramatically more difficult situation, no matter the troop numbers.

Another major issue is the drug trade. Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is a major opium hub. This brings in a whole new complication to the situation. According to the CIA World Factbook, about 1/3 of the country's Gross Domestic Product is from Poppy and illicit drug production. So, basically, one out of every three farms is dedicated to growing drug crops. Not a good thing for stability, since with drugs comes corruption and violence. With drug crops making up such a significant portion of the country's economy, simply destroying the poppy fields is hardly going to solve things. The farmers need to make money to live and currently poppy production is the most lucrative crop. This only adds to the political and factional violence already plaguing the country.  And of course the various extremist and anti-goverment groups use the drug trade to finance themselves. With this much drug money floating around, it doesn't take a Harvard scholar to tell you that this pretty much guarantees  governmental corruption at the highest levels. There have even been numerous accusations of Hamid Karzai's own brother being heavily involved in the drug trade. So any military operations will have to consider the drug problem in addition to the factional and political issues.

One thing that is similar, though probably still on a much larger scale than Iraq, is the simmering and often explosive, anti-foreigner sentiment. While there is undoubtedly some of this everywhere in the country, it is most rooted in the rural areas where the tribal system is in full control. These are people who remember the last time a foreign power swept into the country in 1980. And as much as we may draw a sharp distinction between ourselves and the Soviets, to the Afghans, the line is much more blurry. This is something that America and the West seem exceptionally hard headed about. We keep believing that because we have good intentions that they should understand and let us go about our business. But our intentions are of no concern to them. All they care about is that foreign soldiers are running free in their country. Attacking their people. We seem to have a lot of trouble looking at our 'interventions' from the point of view of those we are 'liberating'. Things look a lot differently when you are on the other end of the assault rifle.

That we have a working relationship with the Karzi government carries little weight either. Karzi's popularity is on a low ebb and has never been very strong at all in the tribal areas. The recent election was rife with accusations of fraud and ended up so close as to require a run-off election. But the run-off election never happened due to the opposition candidate withdrawing at the last minute. Most recently, the US Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry, has reportedly advised the President that  he is unconvinced that the Afghan leadership is committed to rooting out governmental corruption and that he has concerns about committing more US troops. Eikenberry is a retired Lt. General and former commander in Afghanistan which gives his opinion even more weight.  All of this casts a shadow over Karzi and his new government. Aside from these accusations, Karzi has his own internal problems to deal with and has to balance them with our needs. He is bound by political and factional necessities that limit or may even prevent him from fully supporting US and NATO operations and requests. Put simply, he has to worry about staying in power.

What it comes down to is this. The question of whether to add more troops or not is putting the cart before the horse. The real questions are, first, what is our ultimate goal and, second, can we realistically achieve it? If our goal is to eradicate the extremist elements, then we may indeed need to infuse more troops into the country. But is this a realistic goal? I'm not debating the morals of right and wrong. The question is, can it really be done, considering what we know about Afghanistan? We are dealing with a nation that has a highly factionalized tribal system outside the cities, with minimal infrastructure, very rugged terrain, a central government without any real power in the outlying provinces and a population that doesn't really want Western troops there at all. Some have simply pointed to General McChrystal's request for more troops and declared that we should listen to the commander in the field. But we must remember that McChrystal is looking at this from a purely military perspective, based on his current tasking. At the end of the day, McChrystal is simply trying to achieve the goals the Administration has set. Which brings us back to the question of what the ultimate goal should be.

This brings me to, what I believe, is one of the most important issues. The US military. Since 2001, when we began our post-9/11 military operations, we began deploying major segments of the US military to Afghanistan and later Iraq. These deployments have resulted in, roughly, some 150,000 troops in Iraq and some 60,000 in Afghanistan. This is a significant portion of America's available military forces, including Guard and Reserve units. Enough of a percentage of troops to require that units be rotated back into action over and over and over, with only short breaks in between. And lets not forget that we've already had troops in Afghanistan longer than we had troops in Europe during WWII. While combat operations are certainly not as consistently intense as they were then, the stress level of troops constantly on guard for insurgent attacks is great. The pressure this has put on the troops and their families has been tremendous. We must remember that our military is not a machine that can be turned on or off and simply oiled once and awhile. These are our fellow citizens and they cannot be run through this sort of high stress situation for years at a time without there being a corrosive effect on them personally and on combat effectiveness professionally. The previous Administration seemed to see the military as a resource that could be used indefinitely. Simply numbers on a chart.  But as suicides and post traumatic stress spike, and combat stress spills over into off duty violence the government must realize that we are running our troops ragged. They are not an infinite resource and the longer they exist in this purgatory of repeating deployments with only the minimal time home with families, the more damage we will do to them personally and to the military as a fighting force.

While I would very much like to see the extremist elements suppressed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, wanting it is a long way from having it. Can we, realistically, hope to eradicate these elements? Especially considering that, to them, there really isn't much of a border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, thus adding in a complex political side to an already messy internal situation. Personally, I don't see how we can do too much more than we have so far without at least doubling the current troop strength. An additional forty thousand will help, but I don't see how it will solve anything in the long run. The Soviets put in upwards of 105,000 men, at any one time,  during their invasion and occupation, and had complete control of the government, yet they couldn't pacify the country.  There is a reason Afghanistan is called the 'graveyard of empires'. This is a region that gives the insurgent defender every advantage over an invader. We need to consider what more we can realistically achieve. Not just what we would like to or feel we should achieve. It's time for some pragmatic analysis as to our goals, the means we have to apply and, most important of all, the likelihood of success.

So, what do I think? Well, while there are major differences between Iraq and Afghanistan, they have some things in common. First, and foremost, we must accept the fact that we cannot 'Win' in either country. I know how tough this is to wrap our heads around, as America is very much into winning. To 'Win' would require us to control most of the variables. However, even at the best of times we only control one part of a complex equation. We can suppress armed insurgents to a degree, we can provide expertise, we can provide intelligence assets and we can offer ourselves to support the central government. That's it. We will never eradicate the extremist elements in Afghanistan. The only way that would even be vaguely possible is if we stationed troops in every single village, town and city in the entire country. Essentially a police state. This is, of course, ludicrous. We will never convince the Afghan people to support the Karzi government if they don't feel trust in it themselves. It's their government, made up of fellow Afghans. The impassioned words of an outsider are not going to convince them. That kind of trust has to be built by Karzi, not the West. Secondly, we may very well be starting almost as many fires as we are putting out. Every single time a bomb or missile kills a civilian, we ratchet up the distrust and discontent of the people against us. You and I know that even modern, precision munitions cannot completely avoid collateral damage. We may have taken out an entire Al Qaeda cell, but all the Afghans know is that America killed their son/daughter/father/mother. Each time this happens, we move moderates towards the extremist camp. And we move another angry person to pick up a gun.

The bottom line is that this is not our country. It is not a Western country. It has a social order that is almost alien to most Americans. This is a region which has seen, time and again, world powers using them as nothing more than a spot on a Risk game board. Just a colored shape on the map to be occupied for strategic or monetary gain. They know we are not there out of an altruistic desire to make their lives better. Whether we do good there or not, it will not transform their hearts and minds about us. Pragmatically, it is probably time to start moving towards the exit, just as it is in Iraq. I feel that we have done about all the good we realistically can and that it's up to Afghanistan and it's people to take it from here. To do anything more would require the West to pour so many troops into the country as to make it little more than a client state, with a continuous insurgent threat. It's their choices that will decide the direction of the country from here on out. We cannot win this conflict. Only the Afghan people can win it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Why I Love Autumn

My favorite time of year is now. Autumn. While so many others are bemoaning the end of summer and the cooler temps, I rejoice. I am positively giddy to be free of the 90 plus, humid degrees. To be able to walk outside without immediately bursting into sweat is divine. As I've often told anyone who would listen, swimming is the only thing I can think of that benefits from temps over 70 degrees. Everything else is more pleasant when it's 70 with a nice breeze on a partly cloudy day. In fact, I love coat weather. I know it's odd, but I like wearing coats. Look at my closet and you might think I have as much of a thing for coats as some women do for shoes. I'm not sure why it is, but I just feel more comfortable. Maybe it's just the extra layer between me and the world Or perhaps it's a vanity thing where I feel like I look better. Whatever the reason I am ever so happy for evenings in the 40s & 50s again.

I celebrate the colors of the leaves too. I mean, really, who doesn't? After so many months with only varied shades of green, the trees seem to come alive even as they are going to sleep for the coming winter. And while I often wish the colors would last longer, I guess it would get boring after a while too. Better to have the short, spectacular explosions of reds and yellows, like living fireworks. And even when they fall to the ground. I enjoy walking through them. The crisp sound of them under foot makes me smile. And more than one person has seen me run up and high kick my way through a big pile of leaves. They even make the rain more exciting. The stiff, dry leaves make a rain shower so much louder and more interesting as it drips it's way through the trees and filling the woods with a crackling sound.

So you won't hear me pine for the dog days of summer or shorts weather. Instead, you'll find me shuffling through the leaves, with a henley over a t-shirt or a light coat, and smiling. Did I mention that I love Autumn? :-)

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Sign Too Far

Yesterday, in an event sponsored by Representative Michele Bachmann (Republican, MN), hundreds of people came out to protest the current health reform bill. Whether I agree with them or not, it's certainly their right to protest. But, at least in my eyes, they completely invalidated their point when they started making comparisons that were so over the top as to be astonishing.

First we have the, now standard, signs calling Obama a Marxist. Which is amusing since the same groups regularly use signs of Obama as Hitler. It may come as a surprise to some of these individuals, but Hitler was a Fascist and was directly opposed to the Marxist/Communist movement. So, for anyone who's ever watched the History Channel, or just Googled the terms in question, these comparisons come off as what they truly are; a number of ignorant people who grab political terms out of thin air without regard to what any of them actually mean. As long as it evokes an emotional response, that's all they care about. Even if that response is based on misinformation. The saddest thing to me is that it actually works sometimes. Do any of these people ever stop and actually, you know . . . think? Has the intelligence level of the country really dropped this low?

But the one that really got me was this one. A large sign with the title "National Socialist Healthcare. Dachau, Germany 1945" over a picture of the bodies of concentration camp victims, piled like cord wood. Really? Does this make sense to ANYONE?! I'm not sure what angers me most about this. Is it the fact that the inference is exaggeration on a galactic scale? Or is it that they are taking a truly horrific piece of human suffering and death and reducing it to a disagreement on healthcare reform? It is insulting and demeaning to all those who died in these camps. It is a testament to the moral bankruptcy of those who created and cheered this sign. And it highlights a complete lack of understanding of the real world. I am at a loss to understand how anyone could create such a shameful and disrespectful image. Not only does it sicken me that some people actually think this is a legitimate comparison, but it seems to confirm that these people are not intelligent enough to even be allowed in the discussion of real issues. This may be an overreaction, but how can I think otherwise, considering the apparent ignorance involved?

What is the matter with people? It's one thing to want attention for their side of the argument. But when the means they choose are so ridiculously outrageous, how can anyone take them seriously? How can I, or anyone else, engage these people in dialog? There's no common ground, as they have started the argument from a point of lunacy. I can't help but conclude that they don't even care what others think anyway. This sort of protest comes off, not as a demand to have their input considered, but as a demand that you just do what they say. Period. That's not a discussion, that's the kind of overbearing, rule by fiat that they accuse the current administration of. Am I the only one who sees the irony here?

Thursday, November 5, 2009


For the love of [insert appropriate deity here]! I am so sick of hearing the word Liberal used as a synonym for Lunatic or Idiot! Have we really gotten to the point where we are redefining legitimate terms simply to insult each other?  This is one of those things that seems to be far more of a Conservative thing, I've noticed. Every time a Conservative politician or pundit uses the word Liberal, it's spit out as a slur. Often phrased with disgust or contempt. As if the target of the remark were some raving luntic. The term 'Liberal' has been slowly hammered into purely a negative. Why?

Liberal:  (From the New Oxford American Dictionary)
• Open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values
• Favorable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms
• (in a political context) Favoring maximum individual liberty in political and social reform

This is the definition of Liberal. Sounds positively evil, doesn't it? Practically Communist, right? Sure, some people take it to the extreme, but no more so than Conservative extremists.

Lets be honest here, without Liberals, America would be a much more backward place. Whether they used the term to describe themselves at the time or not, who do you think spearheaded the abolition of Slavery? Liberals. Women's right to vote? Liberals. Civil Rights? Liberals. It's the progressives among us who push beyond tradition and what's considered 'natural' to do what is right. I'm sure some will try and pull out the nugget that Abraham Lincoln was a Republican, and therefore a conservative. But the various political parties have changed a lot over America's history, so you can't say that Republicans of the 1860s had the same party philosophy as those today. Conservatives by their very nature, support the status quo. They support tradition. Don't rock the boat.

I'm not saying that every Liberal idea or movement is great. Like all philosophies, you can take it too far.  You can get too lost in ideals and lose touch with the realities of life and human behavior. And that is the whole point. Both Conservatives and Liberals need each other! The Liberals push us to step outside our little, safe boxes and reach for more. Conservatives are the sea anchor that keeps the dreamers from racing off into a philosophical fog. Yet the current Conservative movement, in particular, seems determined to demonize anything with even a whiff of Liberalism about it. As if anyone who is not a Republican is, by definition, an ultra left-wing wackjob. Believe me, if the hard core Conservatives ever got what they keep screaming about, the majority of them would regret it soon after. As the wise saying goes, be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Middle Ground

Those who know me and have had any kind of political or social discussion with me will attest to the fact that I consider myself a Centrist. If you really want to put a party name to it, I'd say I'm a Conservative Democrat. But as is usually the case with political views, the more you try to align someone under a standard party label, the less accurate it is. I tend to see some good ideas from most of the various points on the political spectrum. From Republican to Libertarian, Green and Democrat.

This is what frustrates me so much. Every one of these factions, which is of course splintered into moderates and extremists among its own members, claims to know the truth. They boldly state that they have the answers to all the country's woes. But every one of them is wrong. The answers to most issues are not contained within a single ideology. Especially the really contentious ones. This is something few seem willing to understand. Partly it's a human tendency to look for absolutes. And partly it's an underlying need to compete with another group to see who's better or smarter. And since humans generally want to belong to a group of like minded individuals, we end up with these clots of people, each person reinforcing the other's feelings of absolute certainty. I can tell you, there are few things more detrimental to intelligent, reasoned problem solving than a sense of 'absolute certainty'.

In fact, that sense of certainty is the antithesis of reason. There are rarely absolutes in this world, aside from some basic moral codes of conduct. Even some of those are less absolute than we like to think. We all agree that killing another human being is wrong. Yet we do it all the time, institutionally, in wars and capital punishment. So even that's not entirely black and white. So why do we seem to think that one, ironclad political philosophy will serve to solve all of our problems? Socrates is quoted as saying, "True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing." I would modify it slightly and say that true knowledge is when you realize that you don't have all the answers. I truly believe that the most important skill anyone can learn in life is to be able to step outside yourself, intellectually, and look at things from another point of view. Call it a reality check, if you like.

Without this kind of reality check, it's very easy to become so entombed in our own opinions that we just assume that every other viewpoint is wrong. Once you've walled yourself so deeply in this certainty, you become intellectually dead. All you end up doing is spinning around in tighter and tighter circles, blocking out more and more of the outside world.  Then add to that the effects of listening to pundits and assorted personalities who mirror your own opinions. It becomes harder and harder to even consider other ideas. This is how a society stagnates.

If America is going to find the answers to healthcare reform, financial policy and the myriad of other problems we are now facing we all have to venture out of our personal bunkers and talk to each other!  Then we work together and not against each other. Everyone, from every extreme, has to stop assuming that their 'side' is the answer. Because I'm telling you, not one of these political parties or social movements hold all the answers. Not one. We like to talk about America as a 'melting pot', but someone must have turned the heat down, because we have started to congeal into large, disparate clots. We are at our best when we work together, when all these diverse viewpoints come together for a common goal. It's only then that we benefit from ideas that we, ourselves, would never have thought of. Conversely we are at our worst when we pull back into like minded enclaves, each claiming a monopoly on good ideas. I'm sick to death of this 'I'm right, everyone else is wrong' blather from the politicians to the cashier at the local Target. None of us is right about everything! And even those who are wrong about one issue, aren't necessarily wrong about everything else!

Take a moment and really, honestly listen to those you disagree with sometimes. Most  Liberals are NOT neo-socialist nut jobs! Step back from your own opinion occasionally and think about it from the other side to see if it really makes sense or if you're riding a wave of pure, knuckle-headed emotion. Because sometimes you'll be surprised to find that you're spewing cross-eyed-badger-spit rather than the insightful political commentary you thought. Don't assume someone is an idiot just because they are a Democrat or a Republican. I guarantee you that there are nut-jobs in every group! Stop using labels like 'Liberal' and 'Conservative' like insults.They denote a political viewpoint, not an indication of intelligence. Once you start hurling insults and derogatory comments, everyone goes on the defensive. When that happens, all meaningful discourse stops and any chance of actually learning anything ends. There are a lot of really smart people out there and not all of them occupy your political orbit. Doesn't make their ideas any less valid or any less likely to be right.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Live and Let Live, Damn it!

I have a very simple philosophy about life. I think people should be able to do whatever they want, with whomever they want, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else or infringe upon another person's right to do the same. Seems simple to me. Seems logical to me. So why is it that people, who are in no way affected by the actions of another person or group simply must go out of their way just to get pissed off about it?!

Whether it's homosexuality, clothing, hairstyle, sexual kinks, theology or any other personal decision, there are always way too many people who've gotta stick their noses in just so they can declare that it's 'wrong'.  I was just skimming an article about Chaz Bono, formerly Chastity, who is in the midst of a sex change from female to male. I didn't think too much about it aside from wishing 'him' well. I noted that the site had comments available and couldn't resist taking a peek. The first comment I see starts off, "I am not judging anyone here. Whatever blows your hair back. If she thinks she is a man more power to her . The fact still remains though, she is not a man, she is a woman who mutilated her body." What the hell?! First, why did this person seem to feel the need to read an article about something they obviously aren't comfortable with and then go out of their way to say how wrong this was?  Look, if you don't like the idea of sex changes, may I suggest that you don't read stories about them? What Chaz is doing has no effect on this person. Why do they feel the need to get involved and spout their opinion?

I have a very short fuse with people who can't just let others live their lives as they see fit. Life is screwy enough without having strangers tell you that you're doing it all wrong. Take gay marriage. I have no clue why anyone feels the need to oppose this. Nobody's trying to force anyone to marry a homosexual. Don't approve of gay marriage? Then don't get married to a homosexual! It's as simple as that. Otherwise, shut up and worry about your own life. How can two people loving each other POSSIBLY be bad?! Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? The only reasons I've ever heard to oppose gay marriage are either theological or vague 'it's not right' blather. I listened to Mike Huckabee try to explain why gay marriage was wrong for 5-10 minutes on The Daily Show one night. He couldn't come up with anything other than vague biblical references and that it was 'unnatural'. As to the biblical side, if there is a God, then He/She will certainly weigh in directly at some point before or after death. He/She certainly doesn't need some self righteous ass pretending to speak for Him/Her! And the 'natural' debate is nothing but hypocritical clap-trap. Women voting was considered 'unnatural' for a while too, as I recall. Natural is whatever is considered by society, at the time, as the status quo. It has no connection with what is right, wrong or natural.

We all have a right to be upset by whatever bothers us. I'm not arguing that. And if we're debating societal or political ideas, then by all means, get involved. But if we're dealing with personal, sometimes intimate, issues that have nothing to do with us we should just keep our mouths shut and walk away. The First Amendment may give us the right to babble incoherently about things that aren't any of our concern, but common sense and basic good manners should inspire us with the wisdom to shut the hell up.