Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Month: August, 2012

How Big the American Penis

When did the morality of the United States go from entering World War II because it was the “right” thing to do to invading Iraq because we could?  We won the Cold War and promptly anointed ourselves the world’s policeman and obligatory parent.  We went from a Vietnam-era public untrusting of our government and pleading for peace to a public untrusting of our government and spoiling for a fight with it and everybody else.  We wrap ourselves in two diametrically opposed swatches of moral cloth; the second amendment and the bible.  We believe our government has become tyrannical and thus we must arm ourselves with all manner of weaponry.  We dismiss gun control with vitriolic fervor, siting the legislative ineffectiveness of established laws, while ignoring the fact that those same laws had been eviscerated by NRA-backed politicians.  “See, they don’t work,” say the gun lovers.  A cynical person might see this as a self-fulfilling prophecy purposely set up by the NRA to prove that gun laws don’t work, hiding the fact that the laws were programmed to fail as written.  Fitted with a 30-second sound bite mentality, we espouse our philosophy in fortune cookie slogans.  “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  “If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.”  “Should we outlaw the spoon to prevent obesity?”  “Should we outlaw the car to prevent automobile deaths?”  No, we should use some common sense and prevent 100,000 Americans from being shot every year.  Duh.  The problem, of course, is that common sense isn’t common anymore.

We must arm ourselves with concealed weapons because the boogeyman is going to attack us in our homes, while at the same time we profess to follow the teachings of Jesus.  “Keep Christ in Christmas,” reads the bumper sticker on the left side of the bumper of the twelve foot high pickup truck under which I can drive my Camry and not get wet from the rain.  The right side of the bumper has another sticker which reads, “Gun Control means using BOTH hands.”  If only someone in the audience in Aurora had been packing…

Yes, American machismo is alive and well, even without any requisite reasoning.  The top selling vehicle in 2000 was the Ford F-150 pickup truck.  In the years that have followed (living in the post September 11 world of war, our “desire” to move away from an oil based economy  and the birth of “green” technology), the best-selling vehicle through June of this year is the Ford F-150 pickup truck.  My, what we have learned!  True, gas mileage has increased over those ten years.  The 2000 F-150 only got 15 miles per gallon.  The 2012 model got 17.   And why do they have to be jacked up so high that in driving in my lowly hybrid sedan I can’t see past the steel wall in front of me.  Having them behind me is no bargain either.  Their headlights are so high that they pass directly into my rear view mirror!  And when did we begin to believe that pickup trucks must be driven like NASCAR vehicles?

Of course, there is a path back to reason that doesn’t have to pass through “Who is John Galt” egoism.  The 2008 Supreme Court decision referenced, championed and waived like a flag by the gun loving public (D.C. v. Heller) contains language that makes sensible legislation possible.  Two words, actually.  Paragraph number two specifically states:

The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

sensitive places.”  Further define “sensitive places” and the problem is solved.  Add movie theatres, churches, and anyplace else that I, my wife or children might wander and I’ll be happy.

The second option is to legislate around the second amendment’s archaic premise.  The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D- N.Y.) suggested on November 4, 1993 that while the United States had a 200 year supply of guns, we only had a four year supply of ammunition.  Turning the oft-quoted phrase noted above on its ear, he was quoted as saying before the senate, “Guns don’t kill people; bullets do.” He proposed legislation adding a tax on ammunition.  A 10,000% tax!  Translated, that means that a $24 box of 20 Black Talon cartridges would cost $1,500.  The Black Talon was a 9-millimeter hollow-tipped cartridge with a bullet advertised as expanding “to expose razor-sharp reinforced jacket petals.  Advertisements for these bullets are quoted as saying, “These cut tissues in the wake of the penetrating core,” and “penetrates soft tissue like a throwing star — very nasty; very effective; a real improvement in handgun ammo.”  Sounds like a great product!  Alas, despite his being the chairman of the Finance Committee, the bill went nowhere.  In an odd endorsement, the comedian Chris Rock, speaking years later as part of his routine, said:

You don’t need no gun control, you know what you need? We need some bullet control. Men, we need to control the bullets, that’s right. I think all bullets should cost five thousand dollars… five thousand dollars per bullet… You know why? Cause if a bullet cost five thousand dollars there would be no more innocent bystanders.

Yeah! Every time somebody get shot we’d say, ‘Damn, he must have done something … Shit, he’s got fifty thousand dollars’ worth of bullets in his ass.’

And people would think before they killed somebody if a bullet cost five thousand dollars. ‘Man I would blow your (f*@#ing) head off…if I could afford it.’ ‘I’m gonna get me another job, I’m going to start saving some money, and you’re a dead man. You’d better hope I can’t get no bullets on layaway.’

So even if you get shot by a stray bullet, you wouldn’t have to go to no doctor to get it taken out. Whoever shot you would take their bullet back, like “I believe you got my property.”

In his 1870 work My Summer in a Garden, Charles Dudley Warner wrote, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”  Never was this truer than an agreement between Senator Moynihan and Chris Rock!

The macho American male dismisses “rational” discussion on these topics as the ranting of bleeding-heart liberals.  Tree hugging, global-warming-believing, socialists.  We won, you lost, discussion over.  Deal with it.  My gun is bigger than yours; my truck is bigger than yours. My penis is bigger than yours.  Now sit down and shut up before I hit you with either of them.

In Defense of the Camel

Alex Issigonis, a Greek automobile designer born in what is now the Turkish city of Izmir, was quoted in the July 1958 edition of VOGUE as saying, “A camel is a horse designed by committee.”  Famous for designing the Mini as a small, utilitarian, simple to use automobile, his name is lost to history.  These same adjectives, coupled with a similar design aesthetic could also be used to describe Steve Jobs.  Mr. Jobs was the laser-focused CEO of a small, silicon-valley based company called Apple.  Neither one was interested in public opinion surveys or focus groups, and as we know, neither man ever amounted to much in life.

Thankfully, our public leaders are held to a higher position.  President Clinton was forever accused of giving wet-Willie’s to people because his index finger was always wet.  But it was only wet for the purpose of seeing which way the wind was blowing.  Every president since and every senator and representative down the line from the national to the local level have taken this game book to heart.  Public opinion is the narcotic to which every politician is addicted.  We are the Gallup Nation.  For reasons that elude me, our Founding Fathers insisted on forming the government as a republic rather than a democracy.  Fortunately, that nuance (nuisance) has been lost on all subsequent generations.   Committees now lead us and our government has become the camel.  And don’t we all love camels?

In fact, the situation is a little more complicated.  While public opinion dictates the position of politicians, lobbyists and partisan “news” organizations teach the public what to think.  So, lobbyists tell us what to think, we tell the politicians what we now believe and the politicians tell us what we want to hear.  It is a very efficient system.

For some reason, we, collectively, have an unfounded appreciation for Abraham Lincoln.  First of all, with a name like Abraham, are we sure he wasn’t Jewish?  I, for one, have never seen his birth certificate.  I can’t help but wonder if a modern president were in office back in 1862 whether or not we would have had a Civil War at all!  Public opinion at the time must have been pushing one way or another.  Why did our leader not bend to their wishes?  Certainly, if we had wanted slaves freed, we would have said so.

Hamilton wrote numerous articles for the people of New York regarding the future of the Union in the Federalist Papers.  Arguing for a Union rather than thirteen independent countries (or 3 or 4 regional countries) ignored the wishes of the public completely.  Who’s to say that we would not have been better off with 4 individual countries rather than one big one?  Maybe the Civil War would never have occurred if the north and the south were already different countries!  Forget the first few articles from the Federalist Papers regarding foreign aggression, they were obviously written under duress.

Camels are fun to look at.  We like them.  We should all have one, like a gun.

I have submitted this article to the requisite committees who have changed it at the request of the lobbyists and we submit it to the public for the absorption in hopes that our politicians adopt it as their own.

And now back to Fox News…

Because it’s Next

In the ninth episode of the second season of The West Wing, Sam Seaborn the fictional White House Deputy Communications Director, finds himself arguing the merits of space exploration with the daughter of the Chief of Staff.  His answer, written by Aaron Sorkin, is priceless.    I thought of this exchange while watching Curiosity land on Mars two nights ago.

Sam Seaborn: There are a lot of hungry people in the world, Mal, and none of them are hungry ’cause we went to the moon. None of them are colder and certainly none of them are dumber ’cause we went to the moon.


Mallory O’Brian: And we went to the moon. Do we really have to go to Mars?


Sam Seaborn: Yes.


Mallory O’Brian: Why?


Sam Seaborn: ‘Cause it’s next. ‘Cause we came out of the cave, and we looked over the hill and we saw fire; and we crossed the ocean and we pioneered the west, and we took to the sky. The history of man is hung on a timeline of exploration and this is what’s next.

 

It’s not verbose, it’s not scientific, but its simple philosophy is flawless.  What’s next?

An Interview with James Madison

Published July 4, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Thanks to Doc Brown, Marty McFly and time travel, James Madison was cryogenically preserved when he died in June of 1836 at the age of 84.  He was the last surviving Founding Father, considered the Father of the Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights.  Today, healthy and alive, he celebrates his first “second” birthday, having been reborn on July 4, 2011.  We sat down at the Off the Record bar in the Hay-Adams Hotel here in Washington to discuss what he thinks of the political experiment he helped craft over 220 years ago.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

First of all Mr. President, let me thank you for taking the time to meet with me and to wish you a very happy first birthday.

Madison:

Thank you, although I must say, I feel rather like the 261 year old I really am!

ThoughtsAtLarge:

Well, I can only hope to look as good as you at 261, if you don’t mind my saying so, Mr. President.

Madison:                  

Very kind of you to say.

ThoughtsAtLarge:          

Mr. President, as one of the original architects of the American democracy, how do you think it has performed?  And as a follow-up, is it what you had envisioned it maturing into?

Madison:          

Let me first qualify your statement.  Yes, I was one of the people involved in the formation of the government, although, you must understand two things straight away. First, most of us were very young and the times were very uncertain.  I, myself, was only 26!  Second, we consciously created a republic, not a democracy.  The distinction is worth noting.  But to answer your question, I am generally pleased with how it has withstood time, although, it was intended to be more fluid than it has been interpreted.  For example, the three-fifths compromise as written in the Constitution seems both offensive and silly today.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

You are talking about Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 which states:

“Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.”

Madison:

Yes, that was a compromise between the northern and southern states regarding slavery.
But the 13th and 14th Amendments rendered that clause moot, thankfully!

ThoughtsAtLarge:

You were originally a Federalist, or a proponent of a strong central government, but ended up changing to a Democratic-Republican, in favor of strong state’s rights.  Why the change?

Madison:               

Well, you have to understand that, at the time, there was no sense in having strong state’s rights without a strong central government.  However, once that was achieved, we could turn our attention to assuring the ability of individual states to control their own destiny.  Certain concepts lend themselves better to an overarching unanimity, while others can be subject to a more regional interpretation. 

ThoughtsAtLarge:

It is ironic that as the chief author of the Bill of Rights, you were originally against having them at all!

Madison:  

That’s correct!  I didn’t think they were necessary.  I also worried that by delineating specific rights, others, not delineated would not be protected.

ThoughtsAtLarge: 

There are now 27 ratified amendments to the Constitution.  Doesn’t that speak to your desire to have the government’s framework remain fluid?

Madison:     

To a degree, yes, although it was not our intention to have future Supreme Courts attempt
to opine on our intentions in 1789 without taking into consideration society today.

ThoughtsAtLarge:

Can you give us an example?

Madison:         

Of course, the First Amendment never foresaw radio, television, the internet, and iPhones, Fox News, MSNBC or CNN.  The Second Amendment never foresaw any firearm more powerful than a single shot musket or the rise of the United States military to be the most powerful in the history of mankind. 

ThoughtsAtLarge:

It’s ironic you should mention the Second Amendment.  You were a strong proponent of protecting the citizenry’s ability to bear arms.

Madison:                     

Yes, I was, but, again, times were very different.  Our concerns revolved around foreign invasion and insurrection rather than a federal government evolving into a tyrannical dictator.  After all, it was the government we created!  We certainly never foresaw the awesome firepower now available to our citizens.  Remember, it was within the confines of a well-regulated militia that this amendment was conceived.  Today, it has been interpreted to mean that virtually any and all manner of firearm is available to our citizens.  I have read the gruesome accounts of mass murder committed by citizens with access to unbelievably powerful weapons.  Indeed, every day there are firearm murders, suicides and accidents committed under the auspices of my amendment.  This sickens
me!  Our government has evolved over time.  So too, must the Constitution, including the Amendments!  Common sense!  Where is the common sense?

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

So you would be open to changing the Amendment?

Madison:                    

Times change, sir, and so too must law.

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

I see our time has expired, Mr. President.  I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with me to discuss your unique perspective on our government.  May I ask what your upcoming plans are?  Given the changes to which you must be adapting, I am curious to hear your plans.

Madison:        

I have relatives, descendants really, that live out west, far beyond what I knew as “west”!  I am traveling on my first airplane later this month and meeting with them.  I am also fascinated by the cinema.  My, let’s see if I can get this correct, great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great granddaughter wants to see the new Batman movie.  I am very much looking forward to it!

ThoughtsAtLarge:   

That’s lovely.  Where does she live?

Madison:           

Aurora, Colorado.

Heroes

When I was growing up, Pete Rose was my hero.  I loved the way he played the game.  He gave 100%, every game, every day.  You can denigrate him for betting on baseball.  It was wrong.  You can say he was a Hot Dog.  But Charlie Hustle earned his name.  Likewise, I loved watching Jack Klugman’s Quincy.  He, too, ran as fast as he could into whatever brick wall stood in his way.  If I could distill their personalities into one word, it would be passion.  It is passion that I have always hoped to impress upon my children.  Find whatever you love and pursue it relentlessly. 

However, today’s heroes can no longer be recognized for their passion, but rather their popularity.  Seriously, can anybody tell me what Paris Hilton or any Kardashian, brings to society, other than manufactured drama?  P.T. Barnum said, “Without promotion something terrible happens… Nothing.”  Lady Gaga is the new Madonna, a master publicist with limited talent.  Talent and hard work has given way to reality TV, American Idol and an instant gratification mentality.  However, as alarming as this development is, there is another that is far more damning.

There is an Irish proverb that states, “If you want an audience, start a fight.”  This type of publicity is best represented by the likes of Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.  Stephen King, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called Glenn Beck, “Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother.”  Why?  Let’s review a few quotes from Mr. Beck:

“When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.”

“Can you let your son’s body become the same temperature as your son’s head before you turn this into a political campaign against the president? Could you do that?”    (This to Judea Pearl following his son Daniel’s beheading at the hands of Pakistani militants)

“Not a single time have we gotten a right from Congress or from the President. We get them from God.”    (Really? Makes you wonder about the Second Amendment, doesn’t it?)

“The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be, ‘What the hell you mean we’re out of missiles?’”

Mr. Limbaugh also has a litany of available quotes, but this is a blog and not a thesis.  Ironically, the Information Age has sparked a new Dark Age.  The endless availability of information has resulted in people seeking out only the information with which they agree.  If you’re a conservative, you watch Fox.  If you’re a liberal, you watch MSNBC.  CNN, probably the most balanced of these three, is suffering in the ratings because of this phenomenon.  Debate is non-existent.  Compromise a sign of weakness.

Nowhere is this chasm in conversation more evident than on the issue of guns.  Debate has been reduced to bumper sticker sound bites.  “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” “If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.” 

The NRA is the lobbying arm of gun manufacturers cloaked behind a bastardized interpretation of the Second Amendment and followed by a Kool-Aid drinking public.  Fact and common sense have no place in the conversation anymore.  Fact, the United States makes up 5% of the world’s population, but owns 50% of the world’s guns.  Look at this graphic from CNN.  Does anything stand out as being apart from the norm?

And yet, we can’t get Washington to approach gun control because of the fear politicians have of the NRA.  Where does it end for the NRA, .50 caliber sniper rifles to greet the mailman? Fissile material on eBay?  This paranoid mentality instilled on their flock is scary.  They believe that the Day of Confiscation is imminent, that the government is about to turn on them and subjugate them, that fascism and socialism are the new American order.  For people so concerned about the Second Amendment, they show no faith in a government that created it.  Every armory-owning yahoo is now a Constitutional scholar.  However, as the NRA was their teacher, they reduce the Amendment to an unimpeachable, fortune cookie-like “right to bear arms,” selectively forgetting the “well regulated militia” part.

It is frustrating.  Discussion dissolves into name calling and with the high ground (if not the moral high ground), the gun-owning majority dismisses a rational minority.  Congress is deadlocked on every issue, mirroring a public paralyzed by institutionally fed convictions.  We can be passionate about our convictions and open to discussion.  We are better than this.  Where are our heroes?