Your Thoughts Exactly: March 2006

Friday, March 31, 2006


Barry Bonds, Bud Selig, and "Cheating"

After some good, but heavy, stuff about Iran and the irrational search forequality, its time to turn to less important matters: baseball, steroids, and moral superiority.

Bud Selig recently announced that Major League Baseball is launching an investigation into the use of steroids. The probe will only go back to September of 2002, since before then, performance enhancing drugs were perfectly legitimate under the rules of MLB.

This investigation comes closely on the heals of a revealing book detailing Barry Bonds' alleged steroid use from 1998 through at least 2003, during which he hit better than anyone could ever imagine any player ever hitting.

The book and investigation lead me to doubt how I feel about steroid use. It initially strikes me as blatant cheating. Players who use the juice are disrespecting the history and tradition of America's pasttime, a game that is as much about history as it is about the present. They are trampling on a sport that has given me lifelong pleasure as a fan. But just when it starts to get a bit dusty in the room, I remember two things.

First, Bud Selig is a jackass. There have been rumors of steroid use long before this investigation, long before they were banned in 2002, and long before Barry Bonds became BARRY BONDS. He did nothing. After all, chicks, and paying fans, dig the long ball. When did Bud finally act? Not when Giambi admitted use, not when the Senate embarrassed Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, not when the new testing policy turned up plenty of positive results in the first two years. No, there was no reason to act. Not until public pressure mounted to the point where he would look like an incompetent boob if he did nothing. Hey, Bud, we all know you are an incompetent boob already. Why try to change that now?

The other point I keep coming back to, and the far more important one, is this: players have cheated since the beginning of baseball. Here is a list of a few examples. For some modern stories of non-steroid cheating, check out this site. It has gone on forever. Pitchers scuffing the baseball or applying various ointments to get unnatural movement on their pitches. Hitters corking their bat. Hell, even Babe Ruth did it.

"Wait just a minute," you say. "There is a difference between stealing signs or scuffing the ball and altering your body to make you better."

Well, then, how about "greenies," a form of amphetamine widely used by baseball players since the 50's. Willie Mays supposedly took a liquid form called Red Juice. Even today, many clubhouses have separate "players' coffee" and "coaches' coffee." Guess why the coaches don't want to drink from the wrong pot? And, speaking of coffee, why not rule out caffeine, since it is known to be a mood altering drug.

Lets take this a step further. How is a drug that improves physical performance different from lasik eye surgery? That's ok, right? What if a player had surgery to shorten some tendons and muscles to allow for quicker movements? Is that going too far? How about a kid who, since he was short for his age, had parents put him on growth hormones, only to later discover he would have developed to a normal size on his own, just a little more slowly than their friends. The person is now a 7 foot center in the NBA - did he cheat?

The only difference is that some forms are legal and some are illegal. Are they illegal for a good reason? That's debatable. But they were not banned by Major League Baseball. Even if Barry Bonds came out and said, "Yes, I injected everything you can think of for 5 years, including my record setting seasons," what would you have done? Asterisks in the record book? Erase his numbers completely? What about Ruth the bat corker? Do we also delete just about every statistic from the 1970's, since it is very likely that most players were on amphetamines or, perhaps, cocaine. In fact, why not erase every stat of a player who had some coffee during his playing days.

My point is this: Everyone needs to get down off that horse. Most people are riding it a bit to hard; it needs a break. Lose your outrage - it is not very becoming. We were fortunate to see some amazing baseball over the last decade, and none of it was due to anything that hasn't been done before, nor was it against any of MLB's rules. Come back down to earth, think about what makes you feel better than Barry Bonds, and think about what that says of you.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


Response to an Idiot in Time Magazine

The specific idiot is Charles Krauthammer, who “rights,” (get it?) for the Washington Post and is a contributor to Time as well. His latest article titled “Today Tehran, Tomorrow the World,” discusses the danger of Iran receiving nuclear weapons, which gives me a nice launching point for discussing my own personal views on the U.S.’ Iran policy, while debunking his.

Kraut’s (get that one?) argument goes something like this: nuclear weapons are exceedingly dangerous, and should only be given to those countries that can be assured to use them responsibly. Iran, under Ahmadinejad is the exact opposite, a country who is specifically building nuclear weapons to use them irresponsibly. Krautie goes on to compare the beliefs of Irani’s to those of medieval Europeans, to claim that Ahmadinejad believes that the 12th imam of Islam will resurrect himself in two or three years, and if Iran gets nukes, every other ideological regime and terrorist group will be buying them at the local bazaar.

I am glad that Mr. Krauthammer associates millennialism and the idea of basing your foreign policy on the basis of messianic resurrection as medieval and foolish. I wonder, however, if he shouldn’t be spending more time looking at the White House rather than the clerics of Tehran. Our current President (you know, the guy with the secret nuclear codes,) is a Born-Again Christian who believes in messianic resurrection. And seems to have a jones for interfering in the affairs of The Promised Land. And who throughout his five and a half years in the most powerful office in human history, has consistently used Biblical language as a means of communication and metaphor, especially with regards to the U.S.’s dealings with non-Christian enemies.

The issue of religios destiny's influence of leadership is under-studied, but really a scare tactic on the part of the author. The real issue is that Krauthammer and most people want the power of nuclear weapons, and specifically the security guarantee they provide to be concentrated in an elite group of nations, with U.S. approval. This is an unrealistic with. Like all technologies, once nuclear weapons were created, the destiny was for them to be spread to other countries. Patronizing attitudes such as Mr. Krauthammer’s will not solve any issues with regards to keeping nuclear war from happening in the future. The U.S.’s credibility on this argument (“crazy countries shouldn’t be allowed nukes because they will use them,”) is severely undermined within the international community because we remain, to this day, the only country to actually use nuclear weapons. And we have about 10,000 of them while most countries have zero. The U.S. is not in a position to hold anyone over anything from a moral high ground with regards to warfare at this point.

So what should we do about Iran? Yes, the current leader makes some frightening statements about the destruction of Israel. Delaying the process of nuclear proliferation in Iran, through the Russian enrichment of uranium to be shipped back to Iraq is a good first step to quell the fears of a maniacal destruction of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, or whatever.

But eventually, be it 2, 5, or 20 years from now, Iran will get nuclear weapons. There is no way to stop it from happening, other than a worldwide, coordinated effort to eliminate all nuclear weapons stocks from all countries, and ensure no plutonium or uranium is converted. That will not happen.

Iran is a country on the road to liberalization, due to the will of its own people, slowly moving out of the colonial 20th century and the reign of the West supported Shah. Ahmaddinejad’s popularity in Iran, and he is popular among young people espcially, is because, contrary to his hard-liner image he has not curbed the liberalization of social freedoms of the Khatami regime, while rallying the Iranian people around the idea of Iran (and Islam,) under attack from an invading West, led by, of course, the U.S. Of course we play right into this perception by invading the countries to Iran's east and west, flying recon missions over their territory, declaring Iran an "Axis power," and threatening to use force. This goes back to Thucydides and Athens and Sparta. Why do you think Iran is helping the insurgency in Iraq? Because they think they are next in line on the Bush Invasion Chart. Keeping the U.S bogged down in Iraq keeps them from turning their attention to Iran.

This is a classic realist scenario for conflict, states, without the central presence of some organization to determine conflict, continually build up under the guise that the “other,” is a threat, with each further buildup only reinforcing the threat and need for further defensive measures, until eventually conflict occurs.

To avoid this trap, we need to disengage from saying things like “all options are on the table,” and let the conflict be mediated by other countries who share the same interest as we do, (EU, Russia.) as U.S-Iran relations have deteriorated to the point where trust is an issue. The hawks in the defense department do not need to worry about "looking strong," to scare Iran: The Bush Administration has already proven they will invent reasons to invade someone if they have to. The threat is there without vocalization.

Then, we need to focus on setting up Iraq and Afghanistan as governments that function without the guarantee of protection from the U.S. military. As long as the reinforcement of the military remains the preeminent reason for the rule, we will present a threat to Iran’s leadership by effectively surrounding them, making the idea of nuclear weapons (and guaranteed defense from invasion,) more palatable.

Finally we should make connections to Iran through backchannels: student exchange, trade if possible. This is more of a long-term strategy for bettering the image of the United States in Iran and vice versa. Avoiding behaviors like detaining Muslims permanently without trials and torturing prisoners might also help.

This does not have to be a problem for us. Yet I do not trust our leaders to see things this way. Since it is clearly us vs. them and good vs. evil to people like Krauthammer and members of the Bush Administration, whatever motives we have for whatever actions we undertake, are clearly well-intentioned. We all know who suffers from such a prism: American soliders, the citizens of the Middle East, and the image of the U.S. Oh well, guess we just got to grit our teeth and bear it for another two and a half years.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


What IS the plan?

As a collective society, we Americans and humans have goals. Those goals may differ from person to person, and some exceptional individuals may not agree with them at all, but on a whole, there is a shared interest in bettering our nation and our world, and the majority of them align well- peace, elimination of poverty and crime, security, health, etc.

But what about other goals, such as art, diversity, technology, science, God, and freedom? By and large this is much greater disagreement as to what is a 'good' amount of any of these goals. What does this mean? Let me provide an example.

Back in the day, I thought that gun control was a great idea. Guns were designed to kill people, the second amendment doesn't specifically allow for individual gun ownership, and gun deaths in the US seem largely preventable. I thought then, and I still think now, that banning guns would lead to many fewer murders in the U.S. But gun enthusiasts all over would disagree- the NRA has a laundry list of reasons why gun bans wouldn't work, are unconstitutional, and just generally bad. But let's say that we ensured that a gun ban WOULD work- that somehow we could get guns to disappear off the street. Let's say we also assured them that the second amendment was not being violated. Would they suddenly give up? No, because they enjoy using guns, and the vast majority of gun owners use their guns responsibly. Why should they have to give up their hobby and sport because a certain gang member or Vice President of the most powerful nation in the world can't think before he pulls the trigger? What if we convinced them that it would save 1,000 lives each year? Would they give them up? Some of them would, I'm sure- but it wouldn't resolve the underlying issue, which is that they use them responsibly, so they should be allowed to use them.

I draw a parallel from this to violent media- video games, TV shows, and art. I am also convinced that if violent media were to 'disappear', the murder rate would drop. Violence in media is 'cool', and though the VAST majority of people can handle a killing or two million, there probably exist a few borderline people who are influenced to the point that they kill. But let's say that there was definitive evidence that this was true- that if we banned violence in the media, we knew that the murder rate would drop- that thousands of lives and injuries would be prevented. Would we be OK with this? I think that people would be up in arms against it. Is there any real, qualitative difference between these two situation other than the number of gun enthusiasts vs. violent media enthusiasts? I don't think so.

OK, so what point can I possibly be making here? I'm trying to point out that we have deemed a certain amount of violence acceptable in our society. We have deemed a certain amount of sex acceptable in our society. And we have even accepted a certain level of murder and death- and it certainly is NOT the standard 'if we only save one life, then it's worth it' and 'we can't put a price on human life' rhetoric that is pounded into our heads. Some people would definitely want to ban violent media- they would not see it as a restriction of freedom as much as they would see it as a safeguard. But most would not, because we want our artists and our culture to be free and diverse, because we also have a level of art and diversity that we find acceptable.

Let's compare this with two past societies- the Romans during the Pax Romana, and the Arawaks of the pre-Columbus days. The roman empire, at its height, was a tremendously successful empire- large, powerful, rich, and at times, peaceful. Their citizens enjoyed a lot of freedom, they had art, entertainment, science, philosophy, etc. But they also condoned slavery, had a stricter class system than we do. They also supported the killing of 'unfit' babies as well as inevitable deaths in military training and the transition to adulthood. I'm sure, however, that if you took a random Roman and asked him whether he thought his society was just and good, he would say yes. And though he would probably point out places for improvement, his ideal society would probably more similar to Rome than the United States.

What about the Arawaks? Their society was small, agrarian, communal, and mostly peaceful. They had very little crime, and no 'poverty'. They were not powerful, nor 'rich', but they also enjoyed freedom and equality that either Rome or the United States could not match. They owned very little in the way of material and land. They were technologically simple, and had very little to speak of in the way of science or entertainment. What would an Arawak think of as his ideal society? Would it be safe to say that it would look much more like his current society than either Rome or the US?

If you took an impoverished inner-city family from Chicago, New York, or LA, and asked them to describe their ideal society, I think they would paint a picture of the United States, only now with racial and class equality, low crime rates, ghettos eliminated, where they had access to education and a job that they wanted, access to health care, and a chance to live in a house they owned. If you took an upper class suburban family from anywhere in the US and asked them to describe their ideal society, would it be very different? Probably not. Where it WOULD differ is in the details- the secondary goals. The second family might mention terrorism as being eliminated, the first family would probably focus more on racial equality. The second family might say that environmental care was an important focus, whereas the first family might say that immigration was more important. One family might think secularism was important and one might say that the spread of churches was important and that their ideal society was Christian. And yes- one might say that in their society, anyone who wanted a gun could have one, whereas the other felt that unwise.

So I ask you this: What are we supposed to do? What happens if you think environmentalism is important, but by supporting environmental care, you're putting people out of work in Brazil because you are denying them access to their own rainforest? What if you're campaigning to stop violence, but in doing so you find out that you have to eliminate violent media? What if by instituting faith-based initiatives, you choke off religious freedom? There are tradeoffs in every solution- you'll make some people unhappy and others unhappy.

My suggestion is this. Let's do away the the very idea of equality, which is a childish, simplistic, and naive way to look at humans. No human has ever been equal to another human in any realistic way, and to suggest that everyone is born equal at the start is to ignore everything in human history. Freed slaves were not equal at emancipation. People born in Rwanda are not created equal. Someone who has genes that make them more likely to murder someone should not have 'equal' access to guns as someone who has genes that make them likely to use them for hunting. Someone who is blind shouldn't have the right to drive a car.

The problem with societies are not the rules and laws. The problem lies with the individual. Just as a parent who treats their quiet kid differently than their socialite kid, I think our society needs to embrace individuality. Maybe one person gets taxed at a higher rate, but gets to use guns and watch violent movies. Another person gets 'free' health care and food, but isn't allowed to drink any alcohol. The idea of freedom is done away with too. The idea of freedom is that we are allowed to be free up to the point where we affect other people- but everything we do affects other people, and to set up rules and limits at a societal level means you're always going to be painting with a broad brush.

I don't think we're ready for this any time soon- we don't understand what makes people tick- but I think we should work towards it. I recently went to a dog-training class, and the instructor's dogs were well-behaved to the point of being a little depressing. She told them to sit, and they sat. She told them to lie down, and they sat there the entire class without moving. Every single one of her dogs were exactly the same in personality, which is to say that they had none. As much as we'd like to think differently, humans can be programmed in the same way. Would a society of humans who were all programmed to obey the government's rules perfectly be a utopia? There'd be equality, no poverty, no crime, peace, and prosperity, but there probably wouldn't be any art, diversity, or freedom. At what point is it ok for humans to be a little bad to make the whole society better? Making our societal rules to say 'everyone can have a gun', 'no abortions' or 'no violent media' is a lot like training every dog to be the same. And I don't think we humans are really any different.

Monday, March 13, 2006


So What's the Plan?

Here is something we can be assured of: The plan of the Bush administration to storm into the Middle East using programs such as “Shock and Awe,” and assuming that they would be greeted as liberators by a population begging to emulate everything Western, (despite the fact some of their cousins had been disfigured or killed during the invasion,) has been a colossal failure. This failure could have only been predicted by those who know anything about military strategy (especially the important principle that wars require money and troops,) or have taken a college level course on the Middle East.

As even conservatives begin to speak out against the war, let’s not forget that, at the moment of truth in March 2003, no one, Republican or Democrat, was against authorizing this invasion. Coming out against it three years late, and, moreover, continuing to authorize money to fight the war despite claiming to be against it doesn’t gain you many points in the Marmaniac’s eyes.

But was the Iraq invasion part of some greater plan to bring Democracy to the Middle East? I would say yes and no. In the late 90’s, with the world relatively peaceful, Rumsfield, Wolfowitz, and a bunch of other neo-cons would have had the U.S. use it’s post Cold-War unipolarity to wipe out specific trouble spots in the world, with public enemy number one being Sadaam. The Clinton Administration took a more hands off approach to foreign policy, choosing to focus on domestic issues and maintaining control of the government in the face of political scandal. The election of Bush II, complete with reinstating several cronies from the 80s into positions of prominence, vaulted the neo-cons into power, ready to implement their ideas on the rest of the world.

And then 9/11 happens, providing a symbolic beginning (and I mean this in the religious sense as well: the beginning of Armageddon so to speak) and blanket justification to the Bush Administration for any policy against anyone of Middle Eastern descent, no matter how unconstitutional or foolish.

But what if 9/11 hadn’t happened? Would the neo-cons, who from the 90s have advocated taking out Sadaam have gotten there way? I think so. I can’t imagine George W Bush going through eight years of office without attacking someone in some way.

If the destiny of the Bush Administration was to wildly attack the Middle East in hopes of spreading a democratic revolution, then it is the destiny of the administration that follows to clean up the mess. Here are some issues the next administration will have to face.

First we need to look at what philosophy we want to take within the region. Are we going to suppress authoritarian regimes through superior military force? Are we going to rely on the combined cultural power of the West and the powerful sway of the world economy to coerce governments and people into toeing the line? Are we going to use diplomacy? Are we just going to ignore the region as a whole, through determining that our own interests are best served elsewhere? Are we dealing with states or groups of people, and how to we distinguish between the two when determining policy?

Right now, our military is stretched to the limits in terms of the amount it can do. An invasion of Iran, for example, would mandate 1) a draft 2) a strong ally coming to support us, say Russia or 3) giving up control of Iraq. Any domino effect we could hope for following the toppling of Sadaam appears to be limited, and contingent on the success of the new Iraqi regime. Right now an Iraqi Civil War seems more likely than a peaceful transition to democratic rule.

The cultural and economic power of the West, specifically the United States, is the area of strength that we have not been exerting enough under the Bush Administration, and the best chance for success in the Middle East. We must strive to change the image of the U.S. with the Muslim world, which right now varies from “illegitimate invader,” to “The Great Satan.” How can this be accomplished?

First, we should be doing things like not getting our panties in a bunch when say, a company from a moderate Middle Eastern country does business with us. That’s fight, I am siding with W on this one, (not that it matters, since Dubai Ports World has already begged out of the deal.) If we are to embrace outsourcing and globalization as, 1) economically viable for the future of America and the world and 2) a method to increase interaction between countries, draw ties between them, and help prevent future security conflicts, we have to make compromises and respect the sovereignty and development stages of other countries. Shutting out the UAE is short-sighted, jingoistic, and borderline racist.

What we should be doing is encouraging deals with what I would label “Muslim moderates,” Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, UAE, and Indonesia. We need as many allies in the region as possible, and these countries are a good place to start. We also must, must, find some way to debunk the idea that the United States represents some sort of Christian crusading force that is somehow out to “get,” Islam. The debate over the place of Christianity as part of the identity of the U.S. is a domestic issue, but how we resolve it affects how the rest of the world views us. I believe that we need to focus on re-grasping and spreading the identity of the United States as the country that welcomes all religions and all peoples. This will dim the effectiveness of the anti-U.S. rhetoric of the extremist Muslim imams. Taking steps like putting Arab-Americans in visible positions of power within the U.S. government wouldn’t hurt either.

But those are the easy parts. In the next installment, I deal with the two key states of the Middle East: Iran and Saudi Arabia. Oh yea and that little strip of land called Israel.

Monday, March 06, 2006


34% !!

Bush's approval rating has hit an all-time low for his 5+ years in office. That's impressive in my book. The previous low was 35%, right after Katrina. Now, with the renewed interest in New Orleans after Mardi Gras, (a perfect 6-month follow-up for the reporters) along with Michael Brown absolutely tearing apart the administration with video proof, those memories have come back. But that's probably not what this is about. I'm guessing that yes, Bush will still have <5% approval rating from blacks, but what is driving him to new lows?

I think most polls are showing that Bush is getting flak from the Dubai Ports World deal. Now, I want to put in my two cents in about that just so that you have a point of reference on my bias/perspective. I think... it's all stupid! Ok, not surprising there. Here we have a foreign company that wants to invest money (read: buy) in the US. It wouldn't be in their best interests (read: profit) to destroy our infrastructure- we're allies for a reason- we have money and deals with them, they have money and deals with us. It was reviewed by all the appropriate agencies and approved. Now, after the 45 day review, the VERY same agencies are going to review them again. I think they'll get approved. In fact, if they don't get approved, it's almost definitely going to be a result of politics and not the result of any real change in security. The fact that the company is saying 'we'll submit to any security check' rather than being offended by the subtly racist furor shows that they're just trying to make a buck, and there's no profit in offending the country whose ports you want to buy.

Anyway, I side with Bush on this one (and Bill Clinton too, apparently.) They're allies, they'll still be subject to security like any other company, and they still have to operate under US law. And let's be perfectly honest- the owners of the company have nothing to do with the day-to-day operations of a port. The longshoremen and operators of the port are not suddenly going to let in terrorists or bombs just because the owners said 'no, we like terrorists now.'

If it happens, it'll be because of plain old incompetence, not because of some nefarious from-the-top conspiracy. But the problem is, Bush didn't let the public understand all of this. When he found out about the deal after approval, he simply said "It's fine. I approve." So there's the problem. The one base that Bush could always count on was the security faction- sure, he may not understand civil liberties, or executive power limits, or even disaster relief, but he 'got' security and he 'made the world safer' in everything he did. It was hard to see how this made the world safer. Without that support, the ultra-conservatives were in an uproar, and the Democrats joined in, because any bad publicity for Bush needs to be played up as much as possible.

I feel bad for you, Georgie. For once, you made me happy, and it might start the beginning of the end for you. I suppose that's what politics is about anyway- please 51% of the constitutency, even if it means horrifying the other 49%. Well, I'm on the wrong side. And that's too bad, I guess. So, I'll leave you with this quote: "Don't start trying to do the right thing, boyo. You haven't had the practice."

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