John Wayne is the Duke. Elvis is the King.

John Wayne's Holster: August 2008
John Wayne's Holster
Visit my main blog at Monkey Wrench Revival. Visit my birdwatching blog at The Birding Nerd.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

President Clinton Makes His Case Against McCain

Photo Credit: BBC

It’s convention season again. Ho hum.

I usually don’t watch the conventions. I don’t find much substance in them. Most of the speeches are nothing more than ballyhoo, hollow platitudes, and empty promises. That being said, every once in awhile, one can actually glean something useful from a speech.

Such was the case last night, when President Clinton spoke.

Knowing that he was scheduled to speak, I decided to tune in. Despite my philosophical differences with President Clinton, as well as the Democratic Party, I had a feeling that his speech would be worth listening too. He is always an engaging speaker. As such, I decided to lend Mr. Clinton an ear.

Most of his speech, like all convention oratory, was fluff. He didn’t do much to persuade me that Obama is the "man for the job". He told us the Obama is “intelligent” and “curious”. Surely, they are admirable qualities. But sufficient for the Presidency? We were also told that Obama has superior policies on the “economy, taxes, health care, and energy”, but we weren’t told what those policies were.

Then again, convincing me to vote for Obama was not his purpose. He was the attack dog. His mission was to convince us of why we shouldn’t vote for Senator McCain.

He convinced me!

Actually, convinced is not the right word. I probably should have said that President Clinton reaffirmed my convictions. I wasn’t planning on voting for McCain anyway.

Fluff aside, there was one shinning moment in Clinton’s speech, not including the revelation that he is in love with Joe Biden. It came in the latter half of his speech, when he put the spotlight on what the Republicans have to show for the last 8 years in the White House. President Clinton stated:

American workers have given us consistently rising productivity. They've worked harder and produced more. What did they get in return? Declining wages, less than ¼ as many new jobs as in the previous eight years, smaller health care and pension benefits, rising poverty and the biggest increase in income inequality since the 1920s. American families by the millions are struggling with soaring health care costs and declining coverage. I will never forget the parents of children…who told me…that they couldn't afford health care and couldn't qualify their kids for Medicaid unless they quit work or got a divorce. Are these the family values the Republicans are so proud of? What about the military families pushed to the breaking point by unprecedented multiple deployments? What about the assault on science and the defense of torture? What about the war on unions and the unlimited favors for the well connected? What about Katrina and cronyism?

Clinton then took a short interlude and told us what a great guy Senator McCain is, before telling us he is not that great, and we shouldn’t vote for him. He then continued on his diatribe against the Republicans, stating:

[The Republicans] took us from record surpluses to an exploding national debt; from over 22 million new jobs down to 5 million; from an increase in working family incomes of $7,500 to a decline of more than $2,000; from almost 8 million Americans moving out of poverty to more than 5 and a half million falling into poverty - and millions more losing their health insurance.

Then more fluff….

I think President Clinton summed-up the immense mountain of problems that the next president will inherit. Knowing that many (but not all) of these problems were the result of Bush’s failed policies, combined with the fact that McCain is offering more of the same, is enough to convince me to vote for someone else.

But not enough to vote for Obama!

His policies are the same, only different. We are being offered a false choice between two candidates whose main interest is gaining power for their party. It's a reflection of the sad state of political affairs in this country. Both parties have their hands in the pockets of corporate America. Both are enslaved to the lobbyists and special interest groups that finance their campaigns and line their pockets. The average citizen is left out in the cold. When you boil it all down, it doesn't make much difference whom one votes for. The results will be the same, only the means will be different.

There is really not much to look forward to in November. No real hope for change.

Is Spongebob running?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Aspiring to Mediocrity

My Uncle Dan taught me a lot of lessons about life – lessons that I will never forget. Sports provided the venue for a fair number of those lessons. Learning how to win gracefully, learning not to be a sore loser, giving it your all. These are things that apply to life, just as well as they do to basketball, football or even whiffle ball.

Another vital lesson I learned was the importance of challenging yourself. You will never get better if you don't challenge yourself and overcome obstacles. Or as Uncle Dan used to say, “You want to become a better player, then you have to play against people that are better than you!” This is one of the most important lessons one can learn.

When kids grow-up and venture out into the real world, they are always going to come up against people who are better than they are in one particular way or another, be it in the work place, their social life, the gym, or in the routine events of daily life. When confronted with obstacles, they can either face the challenge, or fold up their tent and go home crying for mommy. Sadly, many Americans are teaching their kids to pack it in and go home.

I saw this story a few days ago on ESPN about a 9 year old kid who was banned from pitching in his Little League games because he was better that the other kids. Apparently, the kids on other teams were not having any fun because they would always lose. When the boy’s coach told him to go out and pitch despite the ban, the opposing coach had his team walk off the field, thus forfeiting the game.

Unfortunately, this event is not an isolated one. Rather, it is a microcosm of an oft-repeated and all-too-common happening in the lives of our children. Kids are being brainwashed with the idea that winning is the only reason to engage in any activity. The competition and the striving seem to have lost their meaning. The proverbial playing field is being artificially leveled so that outcomes are more or less the same.

Competitions are frowned on in schools, because that means someone has to lose and have his/her feelings hurt. All the kids at birthday parties have to be given bags full of snacks, toys, and other party favors, otherwise someone may feel sad because they didn’t get any presents. At school talent shows, everyone gets a blue ribbon and a certificate just for walking in the door.

It's as if all inputs are equal.

I'll let you in on a little secret. THEY'RE NOT! And don't be suprised when you get out in the real world and your shortcomings smack you square on your face.

Unfortunately, our children are not being taught this lesson. They don't know how to deal with disappointment, or how to handle set-backs. Or more importantly, how to find something positive in the disappointments and set-backs that they all eventually must face. As many successful people will testify, the most valuable things they learned about themselves, or the things that spurred their greatest triumphs, were revealed to them through the mistakes they made and the defeats they suffered along their journey.

In short, our kids are being told that only winning is important. And if you can’t win, then it’s not fair, so don’t play. Its an attitude that produces spoiled, mediocre children who “grow-up” to become maladjusted and mediocre adults.

And we wonder why the US is falling behind the rest of the world.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

China’s Future Path Is Hopefully Not to the West

Photo Credit:

I got together with some friends last night to watch the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. Despite the horrendous presentation offered by NBC – not to mention all the commercials – the ceremonies were quite impressive. China laid out its vision for the future.

Taken together with the Opening Ceremonies, China has successfully used the Olympic stage to announce to the world that it is an emerging world superpower with a solid foundation. It remains to be seen what direction China will go. Will they be like Japan (1964 summer games, 1972 winter games), and emerge as an economic superpower committed to democracy? Will the follow the lead of Germany (1936 summer games), and become a closed, oppressive, and nationalistic government? Or will they forge their own unique path? Time will tell…

If recent trends in China continue, I think China will emerge as a more open government. Certainly, China in the second half of the 20th century was controlled by a brutal and oppressive communist regime. But with the death of Mao in 1976, followed by the dying out of the old guard, a slow but steady transition in Chinese politics has been on-going for the last 30 years. During that time, China has transitioned from a highly centralized government-controlled economy to a thriving market-driven economy.

Certainly China still has its problems – some of which are quite serious. The Chinese people do not enjoy the same freedoms that many in the west take for granted. There are still restrictions on the press, free speech and religious practice. There are also a variety of human rights issues in regard to Tibet, treatment of religious and political prisoners, and policies toward Darfur. But some of these things are changing, albeit slowly.

Many in the west expect the changes to happen overnight, but that is not being realistic. One can’t take a country from the failed policies of communism and Mao’s cultural revolution, and expect it to adapt to free markets and an open government overnight. Russia tried it, and it was an utter failure. It doesn’t appear to be working very well in Iraq either, despite the US’s best efforts to impose it upon her. Taking note of these lessons, China must proceed cautiously – and it seems they are doing just that.

One must also keep in mind that China may not want to have an economic and political system modeled after the west. President Hu Jintao himself suggested that China will persue a different path, as he laid out the blueprint for China’s development. Speaking at the BOAO Forum for Asia, President Hu stated, “There is no ready or unchanging path and model of development that suits all countries in the world. We must explore and improve our development path and model in keeping with China's national conditions.

While China admires the economic growth and prosperity we enjoy here in the west, she loathes our social liberalism and its attendant moral bankruptcy. As such, China will take the necessary steps to prevent these problems from becoming her problems. The closing ceremonies at the Olympics illustrated this point quite nicely. The ceremonies not only laid out China’s vision of the future, but they served as a warning to China of what she could become if she is not careful. This warning was inadvertently issued by London, the host of the 2012 summer games.

What does London (and by extension, the west) have to offer? Following China’s display of its rich cultural heritage and its ambitious roadmap for the future, London put itself on display for the world to see. First, they sent-up London mayor Boris Johnson, who staggered to the podium, with his coat unbuttoned, and his knuckles dragging on the ground, to receive the Olympic flag. Next, they rolled in a double-decker bus surrounded by androgynous pedestrians clamoring to climb on board. And what cultural icon should pop out the top of the bus? A likeness of William Shakespeare? Perhaps Issac Newton? How about Ernest Shackleton? Maybe even a Beefeater? No, these guys were apparently unavailable. The best that London could come up with was Jimmy Page – an ex-booze guzzlin’, -coke snortin’, -heroin shootin’ has-been rocker, whose favorite past-times are satan worshiping and stuffing mudshark and red snapper into women’s...(yes there)...(and also there). What does Mr. Page have to offer? Just a Whole Lotta Love - a misogynistic ode that is euphamistically about his penis. Now that’s culture! That’s class!

Jimmy Page

With this warning in mind, and thousands of other examples like it, China will not model itself after the west. I think it is more likely that China’s will develop a system more akin to that of Singapore, with a mix of economic freedom and social control.

At least I hope so!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008

The world suffered a great loss over the past weekend with the death of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. Here is an exerpt from a WashingtonTimes article on Solzhenitsyn's legacy. The full article can be found here.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who died Sunday of heart failure at age 89, was a titan in Russian literature and politics of the 20th century. He survived the Stalinist purges, World War II, eight years in the gulag, a successful battle with cancer, and communist denunciation. After spending 18 years exiled in America, he made a triumphant return to his homeland in 1994.

His life reflects the tragedy of 20th century Russia, which suffered the turmoil of wars and revolution. Sixty million people were killed by the communist Soviet regime. Some 27 million died in World War II.

Solzhenitsyn was arrested and imprisoned for eight-years in a labour camp for critical comments he made about Lenin and Stalin in a personal letter to a friend. His experience in the Soviet gulag system was documented in a number of his books, such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The First Circle. However, it is for his novel The Gulag Archipelago, for which he is best known. Collectively, these works revealed to the world the horrible truth about Soviet totalitarianism.

Following his release from prison, Solzhenitsyn was forced into exile and stipped of his Soviet citizenship. He eventually took refuge in the United States, but never accepted the western lifestyle as his own. In fact, he was a rather harsh critic of west in general, and the United States in particlar. His commencement address to the Harvard class of 1978 is scathing, but paifully on target. In my opinion, it would make a nice addition to summer reading programs for all high school students.

It is no understatement to say that Solzhenitsyn contributed greatly, more so even than Reagan and Thatcher, to the collapse of the Soviet Union. I think Solzhenitsyn's role in the demise of Soviet communism is best summed up by a statement from the New York Times Russian languange blog, where one writer under the pen name Xaliavschik stated:
"[Solzhenitsyn] smashed the Soviet regime. After he published The Gulag Archipelago and displayed the underbelly of the union, nobody in the world (among thinkers and intellectuals) believed in the prospects of communism."

Solzhenitsyn was laid to rest yesterday in a Moscow monastary. Hopefully, for Russia's sake, and for her future, he will not be forgotten.

Bush - All Hat and No Cattle

While watching the International version of CNN on Taiwan cable TV, I noticed that the Olympic torch has finally arrived in China. I guess that means the games are about to get underway.

Another thing I noticed is that all the coverage of the lead-up to the Olympics is focused in China's human rights record and Beijing's terrible air pollution problem. At the forefront of the protests are the issues of China's restrictive policies regarding the personal freedoms of its own people, its oppression of Tibet, its genocidal crackdown in the Darfur region, and its policy toward Sudan.

Personally, I find all this politicking before the games to be ridiculous and hypocritical. Politicians with their fingers in the wind are trying to win the favor of the electorate, and gain positive favorability ratings, both at home and abroad. President Bush even chimed in, stating:

America stands in firm opposition to China's detention of political dissidents, human rights advocates, and religious activists. We speak out for a free press, freedom of assembly, and labor rights not to antagonize China's leaders, but because trusting its people with greater freedom is the only way for China to develop its full potential. And we press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.

Bush's talk of human rights, labor rights, and freedoms smacks of hypocrisy. That is not to say that Bush is incorrect about the state of affairs in China. In fact, he is right on target. China's record in these areas leaves much to be desired. One only has to view Amnesty International's report on China to see that.

The point is not an issue of China's human rights record. It has more to do with the fact that Bush is the one putting the spotlight on the issue. "W" needs to clean-up his own back yard before he starts pointing over the fence. Perhaps he should reference the bible that he claims to love so much before making such remarks. If Bush will recall, the gospel (Matt 7:3) states, Why do you see the speck that is in your brothers eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

Bush speaks of human rights violations in China, but thinks nothing of maintaining secret prisons, or killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Iraq simply to gain a strong foothold on access to the regions oil reserves. Bush's suport for the tyrannical and oppressive Saudi regime is another case in point.

Bush speaks of labor rights in China, but thinks nothing of allowing US corporations to exploit the undocumented foreign workers that pour over the Mexican border every day. He thinks nothing about the allowing the importation of cheap goods produced overseas in the sweatshops of Asia.

Bush speaks of the denial of various freedoms (speech, press, religion, free association, etc) in China, yet continues to a trade with China on a balance that is heavily in their favor. Did I mention that Bush also maintains favorable relations with the Saudis?

Despite all his rhetoric, Bush is planning on attending the Olympic games. Now there's a man with convictions for you! Bush can talk the talk, but apparently he can not muster up the courage to walk the walk. The man is all hat and no cattle.

So much for all his cowboy swagger.