Location: Indianapolis, Indiana, United States

I'm just trying to develop an online body of work (even if the work is throwaway nonsense) to advance my writing career.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Spend Some Time In Mozambique

Not so very long ago--fewer than twenty years--Mozambique rated at or near the bottom in United Nations living conditions surveys. Along with Angola, a nation with very similar colonial history, the former Portuguese colony was considered Hell on Earth in the early 1990s, a country plagued by drought, famine, and a protracted civil war.

Though it will not soon be mistaken for Beverly Hills, Mozambique has seen several years of substantial economic growth, in part because there was no direction to go but upward. Still, compared to Angola's preposterously tenuous version of peace, Mozambique has witnessed no large scale outbreak of hostilities since a late 1992 accord in Rome formally ended the nation's conflict. This relative stability permitted thousands of expatriates and refugees to return home and allowed for the rebuilding of much of the infrastructure that had been waylaid either by war or the destructive departure of the Portuguese in the mid-1970s.

These factors, along with increased cooperation with both African nations and western governments, have fueled the aforementioned economic advancement. According to, the World Bank recently lauded Mozambique for its decreased number of "at risk" projects funded by that body. And though a number of wealthy nations, including the United States and Sweden, have extended nascent development aid, their contributions have been auxiliary rather than essential.

Sadly, promising economic statistics cannot offset the scourge wrought by the AIDS virus nor do broad numbers alter the fact that most Mozambicans remain in abject poverty. However, without such macroeconomic growth, this developing nation would probably have no chance to allay many of its social difficulties. The question as to whether nations, rich or poor, should focus on large scale economic development or improving the quality of life of individuals on a smaller scale is a source of long and rancorous debate. The ideal answer, of course, is that both agendas should be pursued in a delicate and sensible balance, but nations tend to lack both the political consensus and the abundant resources often necessary to do both of these things simultaneously. In any case, a nation that has risen from the ashes in the manner Mozambique has must learn to relish small victories.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Be Very, Very Quiet

With all due respect to family members and friends who engage in some type of hunting, I find the practice creepy. To be sure, I find it less creepy when the hunter makes efficient use of prey, most notably for food, though other uses also spring to mind. But unless you're a member of the Kalahari San or some other small hunting and gathering society that employs no currency and/or hours from any grocery, I'm not entirely convinced of the necessity of hunting. In other words, I fail to understand acting on the impulse to kill unless one's subsistence relies on it. Let me clarify that I don't outright condemn said impulse unequivocally, only that its rationale eludes me.

This comes from someone embarrassingly incapable of killing much of anything. The only visible creatures I terminate without qualification are mosquitoes, cockroaches, and flies; anything else will be spared barring extenuating circumstances. Kill a spider? Forget it! I've even developed a bit of a superstition about this, so a spider gets put outside. Maybe I could make an exception for a brown recluse or some other dangerous arachnid, but only maybe. I do believe I could kill most anything--even a human being--that represented a direct mortal threat, but beyond that I can't fathom taking a life.

Still, I don't eschew meat. A dedicated hunter might argue there is more honor in the exhaustive labor required for transforming a live animal into a meal ready to serve than there is in stopping by KFC on the way home. Well, maybe. On the other hand, millions of domestic animals are bred for the sole purpose of human consumption. Thus, my conscious is not terribly bruised simply because I'm largely unwilling to take a life even as I voice no objections to others doing my killing for me.

Some varieties of hunting assail my sensibilities more than others. For instance, I once watched footage of men in large four wheel drive vehicles aided by packs of hound dogs successfully trap a mountain lion in a tree before blasting the harrassed creature onto the ground. Sick. Where's the sport and the challenge and the risk? How can a person feel good about him or herself after doing something like this?

Similarly, a consultant contracted by my former employer once boasted of traveling to Argentina to kill doves. He further explained that the doves were garden pests who sometimes decimated the farmers' crops and their vast flocks needed thinning. So, in his eyes, he was doing the world a favor. Sorry, but I thought his claim was bogus. While I have no objection to a farmer taking shots at doves that threaten his livelihood, I can't fathom anyone beaming with pride after having snuffed out the lives of animals about a hundredth his size. I figured the guy just liked to kill. And I have a problem with that.

I don't want most types of hunting outlawed. It's not difficult to see the cultural importance of it. But I remain troubled by the rationalizations some individuals employ to defend certain types of senseless killing, especially where they involve rare and/or helpless creatures.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Death to All Capital Punishment Proponents

Sweeping declarations typically get people into trouble, but I've never known anyone who opposed capital punishment for exactly the same reasons I do. This probably makes me crazy; I'm comfortable with that.

Twenty years ago, during a televised presidential debate, Bernard Shaw asked Massachussetts Governor and White House hopeful Michael Dukakis if he would want the death penalty imposed on the hypothetical rapist and murderer of his wife. It was a provocative question, one that required Dukakis to envision a horrifying scenario. Millions recall the question, but few remember the Governor's response. That's because the governor's response was rubbish, some dispassionate nonsense about the death penalty not being a deterrent to violent crime (I had to look up what Dukakis said, as I too failed to recollect).

Death penalty opponents make some reasonable arguments against capital punishment, but they make some bogus ones too. I used to be full of the same canned, predictable responses when it came to discussing the matter, but I've changed my tune. I won't say the song is unique, but I'll at least claim it's unusual.

Some people may deserve to die. And if I had been asked what I wanted to happen to the person who killed my wife or mother, I would have declared that I'd be tempted to destroy that person with my own hands. That's exactly what I would want to do! Given an opportunity, would I follow through? Who knows? But I know how I would feel. There's nothing wrong with those feelings when one experiences a devastating loss: rage and sorrow and misery. It's difficult to blame vicitms who confuse justice with revenge; after all, the difference between the two depends heavily on point-of-view.

But that isn't how our system works. We do not permit crime victims, direct or indirect, to carry out justice as they see fit. Doing so would be a prescription for chaos, disaster, anarchy. That doesn't mean victims should have no voice in the process, only that punishment cannot be meted out according to their desires.

Executions are not merely about what they do to the executed; they are about what they do to the executioners too. To us. I am not sorry Timothy McVeigh is dead, but I am sorry "we" killed him. Ditto for Saddam Hussein and for thousands of other depraved wretches who have been hanged, electrocuted, poisoned. It is fair enough to decide in one's own mind that someone deserves to die, but something else again to carry out the killing. In my opinion, government should never sponsor such killings, regardless of the crime.

There's more, of course. These are nearer to the conventional arguments made by death penalty opponents, but some of them bear repeating. Execution is the one thing you can't take back if a mistake is made. Recent DNA tests have exonerated a number of death row inmates. And since no system can ever be error free, it seems a dangerous risk to continue to advocate life's most irrevocable act. In addition, our formal justice system does not see fit to rob from thieves, to rape rapists, to beat up assaulters, to blackmail extortionists. So why should we kill killers when reciprocation is not acceptable elsewhere?

Opponents of the death penalty are not wrong to encourage compassion and forgiveness. But they sometimes come across as insensitive when they imply all people, especially the families of murder victims, who support capital punishment are bloodthirsty oafs. They are not. But neither are all death penalty critics weak-kneed bleeding hearts. We are not.

Capital punishment detractors often cite the "death penalty is not a deterrent" point and the compassion and forgiveness points and the "death penalty is too expensive" point and the "what if you've made a mistake?" point. All these possess some degree of merit, but aren't necessarily relevant to grieving families, most of whom don't care if executions deter murderers as a whole, aren't in the mood to forgive, aren't terribly interested in the cost, and are reasonably sure the only mistake was the murder. But there may be other ways to reach people that have yet to be tried.

For now, capital punishment is supported by most Americans. I accept that. But I believe most Americans are wrong about this. And instead of insinuating the majority consists primarily of thoughtless boors more interested in a pound of flesh than in justice, I would like to see deeper philosophical ideas discussed with less hectoring and namecalling. Of course, this is how I feel about most debates. Don't count on my wish to become reality anytime soon.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

So Long To All That?

The world now contains boys and girls who possess a reasonable awareness of the world around them but carry no or very little direct memory of the September 11th attacks. So what are we supposed to tell them? And should we imbue the narrative with the same kind of emotion we ourselves felt that day or convey the events in detached, logical terms?

Many variables must be factored in when determining the answers to such questions, not least one's own level of involvement. A lower Manhattan police officer will no doubt elucidate a chronicle quite unlike one relayed by an accountant from Spokane. Maybe the best approach of all, then, is simply to wait until they ask. After that, tell the tale from as many perspectives as possible: emotional, rational, first hand, international. Give these kids something we who experienced 9/11 were denied, that is, a decent overview of the events all at roughly the same time. Do you recall how difficult it was to clarify things in our minds, how many questions surfaced, the variety of allegations and outrageous claims, the endless speculation? It was chaos on a level most of us have not witnessed before or since. So tell them. But wait for them to ask. And they will, what with the endless retrospectives and references to September 11, 2001. No doubt they will ask.

I've known two people whose birthdays fall on September 11; my own is September 13. In 2001 and a couple years thereafter, I still felt the pall of 9/11 on my birthday, but for whatever reason that sensation seems to have subsided. I'm guessing the same may not be true of those born on the actual day.

But enough is enough. Seven years later, most of us, with a few notable and understandable exceptions, ought to be able to observe these events sans the misery and the rage. My hope is we carry the lessons with us, honor the fallen and the heroes but without allowing those old, sour emotions to cloud our judgment.

Monday, September 08, 2008

GOhyPocrisy II: The Palin Papers

Sarah Palin is qualified to be Vice President and Barack Obama is qualified to be President. All this claptrap about age and experience is overblown. No particular set of life experiences can accurately foretell whether or not someone is prepared to run the White House and the Constitutional requirements are spare and very general, as they should be.

Voters are entitled to ask whether it is fair for the Obama camp to hammer away at Palin's lack of experience given their own candidate's relative youth, just as they may question McCain's selection since he has spent months insisting Obama isn't ready for the job only to tab an even younger individual to be his running mate. But none of the four candidates can be dismissed outright as unready to be President. Fact is, everyone is unready to be President until he or she is President. That's just how it works.

As for Palin, she has generated among Republicans a great deal of enthusiasm, a quality largely absent among this group prior to her emergence. McCain made the right choice if his aim was to produce buzz. Palin's pregnant daughter does not really trouble me, though I can't help but wonder what conservatives would be saying if Obama had a 17 year old daughter expecting a child. Still, it doesn't make Palin a bad parent. Teen pregnancy can strike just about anywhere, whether the parents are attentive or neglectful, conservative or liberal, religious or secular. In fact, my only quibble with Palin on this matter is letting her daughter wed at such a tender age. Clearly, there are occasions when this works, but I don't generally perceive marriage at 17 a prescription for a happy and productive future. However, I could easily be mistaken in this case. One must be very careful second guessing parents or blaming them for their children's errors; just ask John Walker Lindh's mother and father, or those of the shooters in the Columbine massacre, all of whom received intense criticism when it was not really known one way or the other if their parenting styles contributed to the havoc wrought by their kids.

Large contingents of the GOP remain embarrassingly hypocritical. After a great deal of whining about Sarah Palin receiving unfair coverage from a sexist media, there were nevertheless lapel pins saying "Hottest VP" at the Republican convention. Still, that's only minor, as the pins could be taken as either a compliment, a joke, or both. What's worse is their continued insistence that the media is out to get them. Yes, Keith Olbermann is a dyed-in-the-wool liberal and yes, Chris Matthews confessed to being smitten by Barack Obama. But Bill O'Reilly continues to claim "the media" is openly campaigning for Obama. Apparently, he means "the media" excluding himself. And Glenn Beck recently fielded a triumvirate of guests attacking Obama. So it's obviously not okay for CNN or MSNBC to at least attempt a level of professionalism and objectivity, but it's perfectly fine for Beck and O'Reilly to assail Obama at every opportunity.

One of Beck's guests, columnist Jonah Goldberg, really disappointed me. Goldberg is a thoughtful and intelligent writer capable at times of rising high above his own personal biases and producing exceptional insights. Even when he's clearly stumping for Republicans, he often does so with enviable logic and clarity. On Beck's program, however, he seemed little more than an attack dog and went right along with the tired "liberal media" contention made by so many others. Understand, it isn't that "liberal media" is an utter falsehood, but this phrase oversimplifies a very intricate system and is just as laughable as Hillary Clinton's "vast right-wing conspiracy".

But I digress. Goldberg went on to say that "good guys" like Rush Limbaugh attempt to fight the liberal media bias, but intimated his ilk were greatly outnumbered. Sorry, but Limbaugh will never be a good guy, as far as I'm concerned. He can be funny, witty, and observant, but much of his program is on the level of a morning radio DJ--check out his Ron Artest parody if you don't believe me--and it's hard to view his "Operation Chaos" as the actions of a good person. If the shoe had been on the other foot and, say, Al Franken had been calling on Democrats to vote Republican to lengthen the race between John McCain and Mitt Romney, Limbaugh and company would have been screaming bloody murder that someone had the audacity to tamper with a national primary election. I will still read Goldberg's articles when I see them, but there are too many items on the debit side of Limbaugh's resume' for me to ever see him as anything but a creep.

And the biggest hypocrite of all is me! I said I wouldn't write much about the election and here I've devoted two consecutive articles to it. Ah, well... on with the show!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


You know perfectly well you're a hypocrite and so am I. Regardless of our religions or ideologies, everyone has failed at some point to remain true to the values he or she professes to follow. It happens, and I can live with it. Often as not, I have had to live with it because I myself was the hypocrite.

We all know Democrats can be hypocrites. The word liberal implies open-mindedness and acceptance of others when, in fact, many who claim allegiance to liberal ideals can be as dogmatic and rigid as those from whom they try so hard to distance themselves. Similarly, those on the left often display a smarmy condescension toward those who disagree with them. Having admitted all this, the level of hypocrisy emanating from the Republican Party has lately become insufferable for me. I realize I'm painting with a broad brush here, but one has little choice but to do so considering all the nuances associated with politics.

First, we must consider who has wielded the most political power recently. The Republican Party has dominated the White House for the past eight years and controlled Congress for much of the same period. We have witnessed the party that vociferously opposed "Nation Building" embark upon very costly and interminably long projects intended to alter the political landscape of two separate countries in a practice conservative columnist George Will once referred to as "nation building pursued incompetently." Many argue that the September 11th terrorist attacks fundamentally altered this country's foreign policy approach. That's right enough, up to a point, but it doesn't excuse scores of absurdly expensive blunders made by the Bush Administration and its subordinates. Check out Will's column from November 11 2007 and Bob Drogin's book "Curveball" for further details on this.

In addition, we have seen the political party that emphasizes fiscal responsibilty for government create an almost unfathomable mountain of debt. This party's supporters believe in personal responsbility and not resorting to finger pointing and victimhood, but spend an awful lot of time decrying a biased media, blaming them not only for many of the nation's problems but also for keeping Republicans from getting their message out. This party wants government off the backs of citizens and embraces individuality and personal choice, though not when it comes to abortion or gay marriage. Their rhetoric insinuates a general disapproval of social programs but that opposition appears now to depend on what type of social programs they are. If it's a plan to impose the teaching of "intelligent design" in public schools, that's money well spent!

In all fairness, a discussion about abortion constitutes more than merely arguments about personal choice; it includes also a philosophical question about when life begins. Still, it's not difficult to spot the inconsistency. Conservatives often insist on strict adherence to the Constitution, but abortion is not directly addressed in that document, so the deferred to source typically becomes the Bible. Nothing wrong with that, except it's not the Constitution. Some may believe the Bible unequivocally trumps the Constitution but the founders of this nation hitched their wagons to the latter document, so the Bible qualifies only as a major influence. Therefore, to many Republicans, the Constitution isn't everything, it's the only thing, unless the Constitution doesn't address a particular matter or the Bible says differently. Well, okay!

Understand, a great deal of heat conservatives receive is due to the general air of strictness they claim to exude, only to about-face on anti-flexibility when it suits them. This is the same principle that gets liberals lambasted when they exhibit closed-mindedness and intolerance. Perhaps if the Democrats prevail in the upcoming election cycle, I will be calling attention to their folly and transgressions. My perceptions tend to change somewhat, depending on which party holds the power (does that make me a hypocrite as well?) However, until such time, I suppose I'll have to include myself among those in the "mainstream media." Gosh, I'm underpaid.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Call It "The Puke"

Though it is not my favorite practice, I don't object per se to bidding wars for naming rights to public venues. If some organization wants to pay a fortune to ensure its name gets emblazoned on a basketball arena or concert hall, why should I quibble about "purity" or "integrity" or any of those things? What purity? It's been "Wrigley Field" for about a hundred years, right? However, there are limits to my tolerance and I don't think I'm the only one who believes recent comments by Forrest Lucas, he who shelled out $121 million to attach his company's moniker to the new football stadium in Indianapolis, were, shall we say, endowed with an unpleasant level of audacity.

According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, Lucas dislikes the new nickname fans and broadcasters had assigned to the vast heap, saying, "Calling the stadium The Luke doesn’t sell a dime’s worth of products for us." Evidently, a Russian-owned competitor known as Lukoil is now doing business in the United States. Lucas, already frustrated with the similarity in company names, believes "the Luke" may direct consumers toward this upstart rather than his own venture.

One can understand Lucas' dismay with the competing organization, but any attempt to dictate to the public what they should or shouldn't call a stadium comes across as extremely proprietorial, not to mention petulant. Besides, US Cellular One Field--formerly Commiskey Park--in Chicago is often referred to colloquially as "the Cell", so could he not have foreseen that a similar idea might take hold at Lucas Oil Stadium?

"The Luke" is a pretty inane name for the building, but no worse than its official title. "Lucas Oil Stadium" is cumbersome and named for a fairly anonymous organization with no known connections to the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, or even the Midwest. The new behemoth was constructed largely by public money, but locals had no say in the naming of the building so therefore no incentive to display any loyalty to the created "brand", for lack of a better term.

Lucas can have his company's name on the stadium. Fine, that's the free market, baby. And for his money, he may ask the Indianapolis Colts' organization not to encourage usage of what he considers a counterproductive handle for the place. But that's all. Neither fans nor radio and television broadcasters--unless they are employed directly by the Colts--have any responsibility to move so much as a "dime's worth of products" for this man, whose comments make him sound like little more than a dictatorial ingrate. And since "the Luke" is pretty lame, I suggest we start calling it "the Puke." Thank you.