Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Religious War in Pre-America

I'm reading a "semi-historical" novel that I picked up here in Phoenix. It's "The Summoning God" by Kathleen and Michael Gear, one of a series on the Anasazi culture here in the southwest. Chapters alternate somewhat between scenes of a bunch of 21st century archeologists doing a dig and scenes of the long-dead Anasazi who are being dug.

Apparently the real history is that when the little ice age brought drought about 1130 a.d., times got tough for the Anasazi. Resources were scarce and competition for them created animosities. About the same time their religion splintered into multiple factions which regarded others as heretics to be destroyed. Mass murder, gruesome torture, and inter-sect warfare became somewhat commonplace until the culture was reduced to a shadow of its former state by 1400.

"Religion" has had a place in mankind's psyche for eons, and much of it is good for us. Yet over and over we have used it for evil. You'd think that by now we would have figured out that when we claim God for ourselves and not others, bad things always happen. Our cultural memory needs improvement.

Superstar Parents

All of us had parents, and some of us are parents. Based on our own experiences as children, our own "results" as parents, and our observations of other parents and their children, we know that parenting is perhaps the toughest task in the world. Some parents never begin to understand how to do it, most of us struggle along "doing our best", and some are superstars. I just spent three days in a home with two young children and their superstar parents. It was a revelation.

The children were a boy, almost four, and a girl, almost two. They were happy, secure, energetic, creative, self-motivated, polite and sociable, "obedient" (to be explained later), and totally at ease with their parents. They were also normal "children", with sometimes short attention spans, moments of selfishness and anger, shifting moods, and constant needs. They could easily have been parented into being little monsters, but they had been parented into semi-angelic status by two very smart and dedicated people.

I now know that it's a fallacy that one cannot "learn" how to parent. One of the parents was phi beta kappa in psychology and a former animal trainer. The other was a successful businessman who became a music therapist specializing in autistic children. Both have been totally committed to giving their children a loving environment where they can develop their personalities and capabilities to the fullest. These parents had both the best of intentions and the educational and practical backgrounds to accomplish those intentions.

The most noticeable characteristic of their parenting process was that they often allowed the children exceptional freedom of action. The children were presented with choices whenever possible, and their choices were honored. The kids were allowed to run and jump, fall down, and skin their knees; they were not overly protected from being able to make mistakes they would learn from. They never experienced anger, but always firmness of purpose when a certain outcome was expected. The children were capable of playing independently for long periods, but they were never neglected when they wanted attention. The parents read quality stories to each of them every day, held,hugged and kissed them often, and their father brought his guitar to their bedroom and sang them to sleep every night. The commitment required to parent like this was enormous, especially since both parents worked in demanding jobs.

I would be remiss not to mention that the TV was never turned on during our visit. When I asked about this, I was told that once in a great while the kids could watch certain cartoons. They also played quality DVD's on occasion. The parents hardly ever watched television, themselves. But the kids had a wide variety of toys and plenty of opportunity to play, either by themselves, together, or with the parents. Consequently, their "playing skills" were highly developed and the parents constantly reinforced positive play behaviors and accomplishments.

"Obedience" was never accomplished by tyrannical parenting - by threats, anger,or spanking. Usually, even with the 21-month old girl, it was obtained by offering choices. Sometimes there was a reward for "doing the right thing". Sometimes there were "time-out's" to deal with behavior problems. Sometimes the child would be physically removed to the desired place, but with love rather than anger. I saw 25 times more smiles than frowns on the children's faces, probably because they seldom saw a frown from their parents.

This experience has given me a sober realization about how far our society is missing the mark with our children. It's clear that almost every child would be happier, more capable, and more socialized if their parents practiced even some of the skills demonstrated by these superstar parents. Think of a country populated by adults who had had wonderful childhood experiences! If there is one goal I would support to the fullest, it would be that we somehow teach people how to parent.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Undocumented Immigrants - They're Great!

One of the biggest jokes in the American political scene is the republicans ranting about undocumented "illegal" immigrants. The rants would lead one to believe they are totally against having these people around. The reality is that they love them and want nothing to change. These "illegals" are good for them, and good for the country, too. Why?, one might ask.

Here are a few facts to consider. Illegals are cheap, they work hard, and they can't be in a union. Illegals can't file for worker's compensation, they don't get health care benefits, and they do work that almost all native-born Americans believe is below them. Consequently, prices of the things illegals help create, such as agricultural and meat products, construction, and restaurant/hotel services are cheaper than they would otherwise be. The cheaper prices allow more sales and more profits. What could be sweeter! It's a republican's dream.

The democrats, however, want to legalize these illegals. Why? So they can be in unions, be eligible for health care, worker's comp, social security and other benefits, and thereby become more expensive. This would result in them becoming less competitive with regular American workers and, at a minimum, raise the "floor" wages for all unskilled or low-skilled jobs. A large number of legalized illegals would become voting democrats, at least in the first generation. Democrats wouldn't mind if new illegals were kept out of the U.S., however; fewer of them means less competition and maybe we have enough already.

Republicans and democrats with any sense agree that it's impossible to send the illegals back to their home countries. Our economy couldn't stand the loss of so many workers, nor could we deport so many people without risking social chaos. Moreover, "regular" Americans aren't creating enough children to populate the work force we will need in the future, and the illegals are doing a fine job of this. So, both parties want to keep the immigrants - they just want to deal with them differently.

Populist shills like Lou Dobbs love to count the "cost" of the illegals. They cry about the cost of educating the kids, the emergency room visits, the crime, and the "lost" social security revenue. Fuggetaboutit! The approximately 10 million illegals in the U.S. create far more wealth than they cost our economy, and our standard of living would take a big hit if they left or were suddenly legalized and given competitive wages and benefits.

The bottom line is that the illegals are here to stay regardless of which political party wins the presidency in the fall. No politician would ever say in public that the illegals are good for us, but few of them are serious about changing the status quo in a dramatic way. My view is that these immigrants are doing us a lot of good, and we owe the "good actor" illegals a chance to get citizenship on a reasonable basis. At the same time, I wouldn't mind if we got a lot better at policing our borders.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Obama Tells Truth, Gets Kicked by Hillary!

Randi Rhodes called Hillary a nasty name a week ago, and she got suspended. Now Hillary is proving she is just what she got called. It seems that Barack Obama told a group the truth about citizens in small town and rural America, and Hillary is now calling him an elitist for being honest about what is driving them.

Obama said, with respect to these people, "It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." Exactly true. Nothing is going well for less educated, more isolated Americans. They have little good fortune to look forward to, since the path forward is extremely rocky. So they huddle together, talk tough, blame others for their problems, and support an ill-advised war against people different from them. We can certainly understand that behavior. Obama understands, too, and he was brave enough to tell it like it is.

This situation demonstrates why Obama should be our next president. He understands our country, the good and the bad, and he's willing to talk truth about it. That's the way to open the door for talking about change. However, if Hillary thinks the beliefs and values prominent in America's heartland are fine just as they are, then she should announce Mike Huckabee as her running mate.

Hillary is simply another suck-up politician. Rather than talk the truth that she also knows, she decided to acquiesce with, in a backhanded way, those who blame their problems on others. She called him an "elitist who does not understand the values and beliefs of Americans". I beg to differ. Obama understands very well the values and beliefs of these Americans. The difference between them is that she's more than willing to prostitute herself for their votes. Will it work? Perhaps. Prostitutes can be attractive when you're down and out.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Department of Homeland Insanity

When I first read it, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Perhaps it was only news in the northeast. Anyway, recently the officials of the U.S. Border Protection and Customs Agency decreed that Lake Erie fishing charter captains must obtain a passport or two forms of ID from customers, and then call in to the Border Patrol one hour prior to crossing into Canadian waters to provide a passenger list for background checks. This would be required even if the charter boat captain had no intention of landing on Canadian soil.

Today the Border Patrol relented. Passengers will have to call in only if they intend to land at a Canadian port. Very good! The tragedy is that this rule was promulgated in the first place, because it shows us the mindset of people who are responsible for guarding our borders. Some of them have no sense at all, and the problem obviously goes up the chain of command. This is confirmed by Senseless Story #2, which follows.

I travel through Canada occasionally to visit my relatives in Detroit. I enter Canada near Buffalo and exit Canada at Port Huron. On this trip I usually view an amazing sight - long lines of trucks backed up at the border waiting for clearance. Once, the line was a mind-boggling five miles long at the Michigan border. Think of the amount of diesel fuel wasted and trucker hours lost! Of course, this cost is not borne by the government; it's borne by you and me when we pay higher prices for the goods in those trucks, or by the owners of trucking companies that fail due to the impact of such government stupidity.

The World Trade Center tragedy happened more than six years ago, and the Department of Homeland Insanity was born not much afterwards. It has many important jobs, including trying to prevent some people and some stuff from coming into the country. That's not an easy job. The tough thing is to separate the tiny percentage of excludables from the giant percentage of perfectly fine people who show up at the border. Have they done a good job in this area? No.

The trick to succeeding in the separation process is to find a way to pass the good guys through quickly, with little effort or resources, so that most effort is spent on the potential bad guys. The situation also presents itself at airports, where I, my wife, and my 80 year old mother have been treated, unnecessarily, as potential terrorists. Why has our government made so little progress in this area since 9/11? Stupidity comes to mind as a possible and likely reason.

There's not enough blog space to go into a deep discussion of solutions to these problems. However, given that the government and the credit agencies know an incredible amount of information about me already, and that techniques like biometrics-based security are well advanced, it's hard to believe it should take more than 15 seconds to pass my wife and I through the border or onto an airplane.

Another possibility is the use of decentralized clearance stations to eliminate bottlenecks like the truck line. Rather than having two or three truck entrances at the absolute border, why not have 25 entrances at a checkpoint less than one mile inside the U.S.? There is nothing preventing this solution except our government's inability to do the obvious, and it's another example to prove that Bush got a fake MBA.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for border security. I just worry when the people in charge of it don't seem to know how to tie their shoelaces. What does this tell you about their ability to catch the smart bad guys? Perhaps they should contract out our security to Wal-Mart, a company that knows much more about how to get things done and done right in the mass market.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008


Sometimes it's hard to be a parent or grandparent, and yesterday it was particularly hard for me. My oldest grandson joined the Marines.

It's not that I have anything against the Marines. My four years in the military provided probably the most valuable experiences of my life, and I owe much of my moderate success to the "can-do" mindset I developed in the paratroopers. The Marines may be equally beneficial for my 19 year old grandson.

What irks me is that this young man failed to involve his dad or me in the decision-making process. Despite being in the 97th percentile on his ACT tests and being accepted to a fine college with an ROTC program, he chose enlistment as a private. Moreover, I have no idea whether he made the best "deal" he could make with the Marines. There are many incentives available, but I bet the recruiter only needs to offer them if they're needed to close the deal. However, my grandson decided to go it alone and make his deal with no advice. That's a kid for you!

One of the best things about being alive is that each of us is a free agent in many respects. We make choices and live with them. Some choices have great import, and joining the Marines is one of these. My bright but immature grandson will never forget the day he signed on the dotted line; his life has taken an irrevocable turn for better or worse.

I'm praying this choice will be for the better, but - it's Michael's life and he's entitled to guide it. My sorrow is that he pushed his dad and me to the sidelines. My hope is that he'll bring us back in when he realizes that going it alone is like sailing out into the ocean without a life preserver; thrilling, but dangerous.

Have his dad and I each made ill-considered and reckless choices in years past? Of course. We wish we could transplant the wisdom we earned by bitter experience, but we are our own best examples of why these transplants seldom occur. Such is life.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Golf Season Opens Tomorrow!

The dollar continues to tank, George Bush has nine more months in office, the Iraq occupation continues unabated, and we've really not got started dealing with climate change or the education problem in America. However, not all is lost: golf season starts tomorrow and Good Witch will lie beside me in bed tonight - both are excellent things.

I belong to the Country Club of Mendon, a "poor man's country club" that costs me about $4,000 each year including the food Good Witch and I consume in the grill room. You can join without an initiation fee. There's no pool, no fancy dining room, and you get a steel locker. However, you also get a 6,600 yard, rolling terrain golf course in excellent condition that challenges your ability to play golf. I can walk on just about anytime other than Saturday and Sunday mornings and be playing within minutes of finishing my warm-up, and it's only eight minutes from my home. I have some buddies there, all hard-working and pretty successful guys who love to walk the course and talk man-talk between shots. Who could ask for more?

This past week the nights have been in the high 20's and mid'30's, but the days have been sunny and increasingly warm. Today it was 66, which to me seems incredibly torrid - I almost brought out the shorts and T-shirt. The grass is just beginning to show some green, and the warm wind has dried out the turf. Hopefully, our course will open on Thursday. In the meantime, my buddies and I will play a nice public course tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. The cycle of summertime life begins again!

You may be wondering why it's so great to sleep next to the Good Witch. Well, last night was spent at the ambulance base where I experienced the luxury of "no calls" for a change. I got six hours of sleep before I got up and worked on the ambulance books for awhile. Now, after a busy day where I went to two of my other jobs I'm home for a good night's sleep in my own bed with GW. But someone has to come when there's an emergency in the night, so two nights each week I sleep in my clothes, ready to be out the door in two minutes. The reward is when someone sees that help has arrived.

So, now that "Dancing With the Stars" is over and the NCAA championship game is well underway, I'm still distracted away from the economy, Bush, the war, climate change and uneducated kids. Unfortunately, those things will be there in the morning and on my mind from time to time as I get a few things done before leaving for Nirvana - the first day on the golf course for this year.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Lifelong Learning Update

Good Witch and I have almost finished "The History of World Literature" a Teaching Company course consisting of 48 30-minute lectures.

The course begins with Gilgamesh and ends with Salmon Rushdie, and along the way it stops in India, China, Japan, England, Russia, France, Germany, the United States, and other countries. It shows how stories, and ways of telling stories, migrated around the world over time and influenced other writers in faraway cultures. It also shows how literature is influenced by, and causes, changes in politics, religion, science, and other human endeavors.

Professor Grant L. Voth is an engaging personality who delivers his lectures in a seemingly casual way that belies their exquisite organization and allows his rapid delivery to succeed.

We've now enjoyed our way through survey courses in history, music, and literature, picking up innumerable interesting facts along the way. But the most significant concept that I've internalized is how advances in one facet of a culture affect other facets, so that "progress" shows up in many related forms. Understanding humanity, therefore, requires looking across all its activities as they change over time, often in synchronous ways.

Maybe it's time for a science or religion course. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Monica Goodling is Back in the News

Remember Monica Goodling, that young, wet-behind-the-ears graduate of "Regent University" law school who somehow got a top job in the Justice Department? She's in the news again.

It seems that a top female attorney in the justice department was refused a second year in a good Washington assignment because Monica heard a rumor (true rumor)that the lady was lesbian. Seems that an "outstanding" rating in every performance category on her annual appraisal didn't mean much to Monica, but her sexual orientation meant everything. Goodling had the clout to boot her out over the objections of her supervisors, and out she went.

Well, we have a law in this United States that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Monica Goodling broke it. It appears that this high level justice department neophyte didn't know the law, or at least that was her defense in last year's congressional hearings. Nevertheless, a kid attorney in the Bush administration had the clout to crap on a senior, very experienced prosecutor who she didn't like, and crap she did.

It's time for Monica Goodling to face the music, get fined, and go to jail. When you take a big job, you also take the chance that you might not know how to do it. Sometimes you can make decisions that are criminal, which she likely did. You were a big shot girl, Monica, but now you are in a load of trouble. I don't feel at all sorry for you and I hope you get plenty of quiet time to contemplate this and your other repugnant acts, you self-described "Christian".