Equality is a Myth, Ugly People Suck, and Other Inconvenient Observations

Posted October 17, 2009 by timtakechi
Categories: Life, Society

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Disregard whatever you’ve heard before: we are not all created equal.

No man, woman, or child is equal to any other man, woman, or child. This is a tough reality to face, especially in a democracy like ours. We would like to think that all men (or women) are created equal, and that we are endowed with certain inalienable rights, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Have you heard this somewhere before? You probably have.

But the truth is a little more brutal than that. Granted, we do live in a society where most people are given equal rights under the law, but the buck pretty much stops there. Anyone can go to school, enroll in college, and apply for a job. But will anyone hire them? That depends on a multitude of factors.

Some of those factors are innate. Others are biological. And others are dictated by society. Let me explain.

Americans like to believe that every citizen can make something of themselves if they just try hard enough. But those on the left will argue that factors like wealth, family prestige, and race/gender/sexual orientation help give certain people an advantage over others. Their observations are quite right. There is an old saying that in America, anyone can grow up to become President of the United States. But it sure helps if your father is named George H.W. Bush and you come from an oil rich family.

There are countless studies arguing that men have an advantage over women in many areas in life, that white people have an edge over racial minorities, and that gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people have hills to climb that their straight counterparts do not. All of these problems are true. And thankfully, society is making progress (as slow as it may seem) to make amends and truly treat everyone as equals.

But besides demographic handicaps, there exists other factors that give people a significant advantage over others. And there is no way to stop it.

Intelligence is one. Smarter people, supposedly, are more likely to succeed than not so smart people. The exception might be found in the world of sports, where brainless jocks can make millions only because they can catch a football better than any of us.

But consider intelligence as an inherent characteristic that gives people an edge when it comes to making money, scoring high paying jobs, and getting into good colleges. No dummy can get into Harvard or Yale (unless, of course, you come from a rich family); never mind survive it for four years. Or get a degree.

It should come as no surprise that intelligence runs in the genes. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I am very inclined to agree. But intelligence doesn’t always guarantee success, of course. There are plenty of lazy people out there who are very bright, but aren’t terribly motivated. They made a choice, and they are living out those choices. And, naturally, there are smart people who choose careers that don’t rake in the big bucks. I am willing to bet that most starving artists are very intelligent people; they’re just not very rich. But money and success don’t always mean the same thing, right?

Then there’s the case of smart people not getting the breaks or opportunities that others do. If you’re an intelligent person who lives in a poor neighborhood, your odds of getting into college or attending a decent public school system is lower than those who live in a wealthier city. This would be what is known as “untapped potential.” There are millions of kids out there who could be potential Noble Peace Prize winners if they just lived in better conditions. What a shame.

Another uncontrollable factor is natural talent. Some people are born with better physical abilities than the rest. No matter how hard I try, I will never become a better basketball player than LeBron James, or a better hitter than Ichiro Suzuki, or a better quarterback than Peyton Manning. They are born with natural skills, hand-eye coordination, and physical bodies that I am not blessed with.

And talent cannot be learned. No matter how many hours I spend in the gym, or how many world-class coaches I work with, or how many years I spend practicing, my jump shot will never be as good as LeBron’s. His genetic make up makes him a superior basketball player than 99 percent of the world’s population. I, on the other hand, live among that 99 percent, not that small elite 1 percent.

There is proof that athletic ability is genetic and not a learned art. It has been said by medical experts that certain athletes are able to return from ligament surgery quicker than the rest of us because their bodies are so coordinated, that when the nerve endings in essence “rewire” themselves after surgery, it happens quicker in them than John Doe. John Doe (or Jane Doe) needs more time because his/her nervous system is not nearly as well tuned as that of an NFL player.

This might explain why soccer moms or baseball dads who punish their kids with hours of practice in hopes that they will become the next future hall of famer in their respective sport might be wasting their (and their kid’s) time. Making your little Billy practice fielding for three hours after school will not guarantee that he will become the next Derek Jeter.

Maybe this explains why so many “children of famous athletes” like Ken Griffey, Jr. (Ken Griffey, Sr.), Matt Hasselbeck (Don Hasselbeck), Lofa Tatupu (Mosi Tatupu), and the Manning brothers (Peyton and Eli have a famous father in Archie Manning) have made it big over the years. Talented athletes give birth (or father) to more talented athletes. Is this a miracle? No, it’s scientific.

Natural talent goes beyond physical abilities. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could write symphonies before most of us could do our times tables. He was blessed with a musical ear and an endless fountain of imagination that most of us do not possess. There is a reason why his music is still listened to and played today.

But could any Tom, Dick, or Harry replicate the musical achievements of a Mozart, or Beethoven, or George Gershwin? Probably not, unless our standard of excellence dramatically falls all of a sudden. I doubt that will happen any time soon.

And, of course, there is another category where some people are considered superior to others. It is a category that we notice everyday. We are reminded of it every time we walk into a grocery store. Children as young as 5 or 6 can be teased about it on the school yard. Today there are people who spend thousands of dollars to improve it.

Have you guessed what it is? If not, that’s okay. The category that gives certain people an edge over others is beauty. Physical looks. This has nothing to do with intellectual capabilities, hard work, or learning. Some people are born better looking than others. Yes, there are ways to enhance beauty (some strategies are as modest as the simple application of makeup to the more extreme road of plastic surgery), but either you got it, or you don’t.

Beauty and physical appearance do give people an unfair edge over their more homely friends. Good looking people are usually served quicker at restaurants. They might be more likely to beat out a speeding ticket. An employer might hire a beautiful person over a less attractive person; especially if the job requires dealing with the public (does Abercrombie & Fitch ring a bell to anyone?).

What about jobs that just require being beautiful? Modeling is an industry created specifically for the more aesthetically pleasing in our society. So has most anything in the entertainment and media business. It is no mystery that women are discriminated against in the businesses where being featured on camera is involved. Do you ever wonder why all “weather girls” are perky, pretty, and shapely?

Discrimination against less attractive people has been going on for centuries, as well as the backlash against it. People are upset because putting beauty on a pedestal only makes life difficult for the rest of us, not to mention more costly, time consuming, and frustrating. If girls as young as 10 or 12 are starting to use makeup, then we have a problem.

All this is to prove that there are factors in our society that go beyond race, gender, socio-economic status, and religion in deciding who is “superior” to others. This is not a uniquely American thing, either. This practice has been going on since time began. But all this seems more upsetting considering we live in a “free society” where anyone can achieve anything if they just try hard enough.

Which is not to say that we don’t live in a free country where self-determination is still the name of the game. It is to a certain extent, but we have to realize that no matter how you spin it, some people are “more equal” than others. Sound Orwellian to you? Not really. Sounds more realistic to me. These standards aren’t unconstitutional, of course, but they do seep into our every day behavior.

People with higher intelligence, natural talent, and beauty do have an advantage over everyone else. But is that necessarily a bad thing? What’s wrong with using your God-given gifts to your own advantage? Pragmatic self-interest never hurt anyone (just ask the infamous political scientist Niccolo Machiavelli). As the old saying goes, if you got it, flaunt it.

But our egalitarian mindset tells us that this is all wrong. Everyone should have an equal chance in life, regardless of what cards they were dealt with. Being dealt a “superior” hand should mean nothing in the long run. But it does, doesn’t it?

Maybe there is no answer to this. Maybe we are all born unequal and we should just accept it. Why bother to change something that is so deep rooted in our collective culture? Or can we change our culture and perspective regarding human worth? That is a question I leave to you.

Of Man and Drink

Posted October 16, 2009 by timtakechi
Categories: Society

Tags: , , , , ,
Alcohol and society have a fascinating relationship.

Alcohol and society have a fascinating relationship.

Alcohol is a funny thing. It costs a lot. You can’t drink too much of it. And if you are caught drinking too much of it while driving a motor vehicle, you are liable to get yourself into a mountain load of trouble.

So what’s the appeal?

The answer is pretty simple. Alcoholic drinks can be very tasty. Good beer, as opposed to cheap watered down garbage like Bud Light or Keystone Light, can be a delicious treat every once in a while. One cannot drink too much beer out of the danger of developing a “beer belly” as so many middle-aged folk suffer from. But nevertheless, a good quality brew during a tasty meal is very hard to beat.

But, there are of course downsides to every good thing. Consuming too much alcohol can be hazardous to your health in multiple ways. It can damage your liver, your brain, and your relationships with your loved ones. It can also lead to you losing your job, losing your insurance, and one too many trips to the hospital. The dangers are endless.

But this is not a blog post about the dangers of drinking and driving. There are plenty of other places to read about that. Hopefully this will be more worth your time. It is worth thinking about the complex, fascinating, and tumultuous relationship society has had with alcohol over the years, and continues to have today.

Alcohol was first created thousands of years ago as a way for human being to be able to drink a beverage that they knew would be free of toxins, germs, and other inconvenient impurities. In the times of Jesus of Nazareth, two thousand years ago, everyone drank wine because they did not have the water purification systems in place that we enjoy today. There were no Roman Empire desalination plants or water engineers whose jobs were to guarantee every citizen clean drinking water.

Instead, a distilled drink had to be the way to go. Of course, many believe the wine in Jesus’ time was no stronger than bitter grape juice, but that is beside the point. Drinking alcohol was trendy out of necessity, not because everyone in those days were wine connoisseurs. They weren’t French, were they?

Today, wine is stronger than it was in ages past. And so are the choices. Today alcohol is a choice drink, not the only beverage on the market. For most people, alcohol is a treat; a drink that one enjoys every so often, not all the time. No one has the money, tolerance, or ability to drink alcohol all the time everyday.

Despite the opening up of other beverage options, and despite the long history human beings have had with the drink, social problems involving alcohol still persists today. The United States government tried to shut down alcohol production during the Prohibition era. Temperance movements to curb excessive drinking were considered noble causes. Today we would accuse someone like that of being prudish, Puritanical, or sheltered.

But prohibition was eventually lifted. Too much bathtub gin and other forms of moonshine made banning alcohol both impractical and silly. Banning it will not make it go away. Governments have tried to discourage excessive drinking since the days of the Persian Empire. But the problems still comes back time and time again. People, as long as alcohol is available, will drink too much for whatever reasons they might have.

So public drunkenness and other societal dangers of inebriation are nothing new. And society has tried to crack down on these problems for just as long. But none of these efforts will make alcohol go away. Wine, beer, and liquor are here to stay.

But it is interesting to think about this relationship. Society loves it, but warns against loving it too much. Some countries, like the United States, have imposed age limits on consuming alcohol. Here, one must be 21 or over to buy alcohol. In some countries, there is no age limit. How do they survive?

Simple: they have fewer problems than we do. There are those who argue that age limits on alcohol create more problems than it prevents. Some people believe the drinking age should be 18, which is the same for purchasing tobacco, voting, and achieving “adult” status. If you’re old enough to join the military, pick up an M-16, and kill enemy combatants overseas, why can’t you be old enough to enjoy a Guinness with your friends?

Supposedly, counties with either no drinking age or a low drinking age have fewer problems than we do. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Either way, it is still an issue that politicians and citizens are debating. If the drinking age were lowered to 18, would you see fewer cases of alcohol poisoning on college campuses? Perhaps. Would you see more adults grow up to be more responsible with the drink if they had been able to purchase it at an earlier age? That is a possibility.

In addition to Alcoholics Anonymous, there’s MADD, or Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Their cause should be obvious. Look at television commercials for Captain Morgan or Smirnoff. They advertise their product by showing young sexy good looking people partying it up, and tell you to “drink responsibly.” This is all proof that despite the long and accepted presence of alcohol in our society, there still exists the taboo in our collective consciousness that too much is not a good thing.

It is even misleading to compare alcohol to tobacco. Though tobacco has decreased in popularity over the years due to revelations of lung cancer and other carcinogenic dangers, tobacco serves no other purpose other than the nicotine it provides to its users. There is a sort of “tobacco high” smokers get when they light up, but the addicting power of tobacco is very well known.

Tobacco can be used in moderation, but it usually not. When one gets addicted to it, it can be very difficult to quit. But alcohol is a substance that one can consume in moderation. Alcoholism is a problem that takes a little longer and requires more drinking than becoming hooked on cigarettes. But then again, I’ve never smoked before so I can’t really be certain about that.

But it fair to say that people have more conscious control over their alcohol use than tobacco. But that is neither here nor there.

What is relevant is that the relationship between humanity and alcohol is unprecedented compared to any other food or drink. Carbohydrates may have taken a brutal hit 8 or 10 years ago, but we will always eat our bread, potatoes, rice, and noodles. No where else in our drinking and eating world do we have a substance that is nearly as controversial as alcohol. Alcohol has led to premature deaths. Alcohol consumed by pregnant women can be damaging to their baby. You don’t hear about pregnant women cutting down on carbs, do you?

Alcohol is the one liquid, perhaps second to water and oil, that has made more governments upset and frustrated than anything else. Water and oil are by far the most discussed liquids in global politics. But regardless, who thought food could be such a controversial subject? If there is one subject where politics, religion, and society mix, it would be alcohol.

This is just a taste (no pun intended) of the complexities alcohol presents to our society. Love it, hate it, or die from it, it is here to stay for the long haul. Just thinking about the maddening relationship between society and distilled liquid should make your head spin.

Now there’s something worth talking about at cocktail parties.

Is It Time to Finally Pull the Plug on Afghanistan?

Posted October 8, 2009 by timtakechi
Categories: Foreign Policy, Politics

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal is only one of several voices President Obama is listening to.
U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal is only one of several voices President Obama is listening to.

Does anyone really understand what is happening in Afghanistan anymore? With President Obama in the midst of deciding what to do with this challenging, upsetting, and mind-numbing 8-year-old war, the American public should think hard about what this war has meant to us.

We invaded Afghanistan in December of 2001 in retaliation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Everyone knows this. We were not there for oil, to stop nuclear proliferation, or to topple an unpopular dictator. We were there for reasons of vengeance, pure and simple.

Of course, America justified the invasion by saying we were there to liberate the Afghan people from the Taliban regime; a group of Islamic fundamentalists who oppressed women, murdered anyone who did not adhere to their strict doctrine, and prevented any economic, political, or social progress from blooming. These people were bad news. And of course, it did not help that they harbored al Qaeda, the terrorist network who killed nearly 3,000 Americans one fateful September morning.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has publicly advocated for President Obama to send additional troops to stamp out the insurgency once and for all. Usually a military general does not publicly announce such opinions, but that is beside the point. That is one voice that our president is hearing. Other voices are calling for him to pull out of Afghanistan completely. What makes this perspective unusual is its bipartisanship nature. Critics both on the right and the left think America should do this. When you have a mixture of conservatives and liberals agreeing on a major political issue, that means something significant.

Then again, there are plenty of voices in the media who believe Obama should stay the course and hope the Afghan government can get their act together. The August 20th presidential election in Afghanistan was wrought with allegations of fraud. President Hamid Karzai won a disputed election that international critics are decrying. Allegedly, government forces arrested anti-Karzai protesters, beat supporters of Karzai’s main opponent (the aptly named Abdullah Abdullah), stuffed ballots, and generally intimidated anyone who stood in his way of winning reelection.

Do any of these tactics sound familiar? Oh yeah, they sound like tactics the Taliban would use had they been into pseudo-democracy. It sounds like despotism has not completely left Afghanistan, even after 8 years of war. This proves that some things never change.

But this should not come as a surprise to anyone. If you know anything about Afghanistan’s history, there has not been a stable government in power there in quite a while. From the Soviet occupation of the 1980s to the current U.S.-led occupation, foreign powers have come in and tried to install their rule on the Afghan people. And all of these efforts have failed. Will this spell doom for the United States and NATO? One can only hope not.

McChrystal might be right in wanting to send more troops. Candidate Obama promised to send nearly 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in order to stamp out the Taliban, bring the last remnants of al Qaeda to justice, and make sure that Central Asian country is never again a breeding ground for terrorism (or is it “man-made disasters?”). All of these are ambitious goals; but are they achievable?

Critics of George W. Bush (and God knows there are plenty of them out there) argue he did not do enough to secure Afghanistan from chaos after the initial invasion. There is a lot of credibility to that argument. Bush seemed too bent on invading Iraq than he did on finishing the job in the country where the 9/11 attacks were conceived and planned. It seems reasonable to believe that Bush should have poured all his military efforts to secure Afghanistan, prevent Pakistan from becoming a hide-out place for al Qaeda, and encourage the international community to assist in nation-building.

But all that seems like a distant memory. The international community is rightfully hesitant to getting involved in Afghanistan because of all the instability that is going on over there. How are they to know that their money, effort, and manpower will not go to waste within 10 or so years? No one can know for sure. Just look at Somalia. How much money has the U.N. invested in that tiny African country? I don’t know for sure, but it’s more than what they are getting in return.

I am shifting my position on Afghanistan. I will continue to keep an open mind, but it might be time to pull the plug there. U.S. military casualties are soaring at record heights. More servicemen and women are being killed there than Iraq. Historians are calling Afghanistan a doomed mission, in line with Vietnam. The parallels between those two wars are striking. And of course, look at recent history. If the Soviets could not impose their will there, why can we?

But maybe imposing our freedom loving, secular democratic will is not possible. Afghanistan’s long and troubling history makes it almost impossible for real positive change to occur there anytime in the near future. The same goes with Iraq and Kosovo. Kosovo might be an independent country now, but they are far from secure. Trouble is brewing in that spot of the world as well.

President Obama says he wants clear, attainable, and achievable objectives spelled out before he makes a final decision. That is a smart move on his part. With millions of lives at stake, you do not want to rush into anything that you might regret later. Our military is exhausted from fighting two long bloody wars. If we’re going to expand the war in Afghanistan, we better have a clear strategy.

Obama is smart and I am sure he will make a smart decision. But then again, President Kennedy’s team was comprised of the Best and the Brightest, and look at what they did in Southeast Asia. So this means even the smartest people in the world can still make foolish decisions.

But then again, to be perfectly honest, maybe there is no clear cut best solution to fixing this mess. Maybe only time will tell. Perhaps this is one of those decisions where we have to make an executive decision, carry it out, and pray it goes well. It’s like being a quarterback in a football game: you just throw the ball and hope somebody catches it; preferably someone on your own team, of course.

So to answer the original question, does anyone really understand the ground situation in Afghanistan? It is quite possible even the Afghan government, as corrupt as they are, have no clue what will happen five years from now. Maybe that is why they are using so much violence to keep power. If they lose it, they could lose their country. Or maybe they are no better than the Taliban, who still hold significant power in neighboring Pakistan.

These are reasons why I am glad that I am not in a position to have to make these decisions. And I think I speak for plenty of other people as well.

The Summer of 2009 Was Never Short on Drama

Posted October 7, 2009 by timtakechi
Categories: Life, Politics

Tags: , ,

            Yes, I am aware that it has been forever since I last blogged. It’s not that I haven’t had the time. I’m currently between jobs. Sometimes I get burnt out writing all the time. If I got paid writing a blog, I’d definitely do it more often.

            A lot has happened this summer. Senator Ted Kennedy passed away. Healthcare has become the latest huge issue facing our country. Afghanistan is spinning out of control. Football season is now upon us. The list is endless.

            Much has been written about Obama’s push for insuring the uninsured. Should there be a public option? Should we even have universal healthcare? How are the systems in England and Canada really like? Are people lining up in the streets waiting to see a doctor (as Republicans would like you to believe), or is the system all rosy like Democrats would want you to think?

            I don’t really have a good answer to that, nor should I even attempt to answer that. I think it is safe to say that if you want to get good information about the healthcare debate, I am not the place to go for that. Check out other sources. They are much more informed than I am.

            I will admit that I have not paid attention to the healthcare debate as closely as I should. It seems like too much to handle. On one hand, it is wrong that millions of people are without health insurance in our country. We are a wealthy country (recession or no recession) and should have the capability to care for our poor.

            And a lot has been said about all those series of disastrous “town hall meetings” designed to let public officials and the public meet to discuss healthcare reform. And by discussion, I really mean shouting matches. Because that’s exactly what happened. Whatever happened to civility in our society? Maybe it never existed.

            As we move into fall and the upcoming winter, there will be a lot on our plate. The showdown over healthcare will happen sooner or later. President Obama will have to make a decision about how to move forward in Afghanistan. And whatever happened to Iraq? Should we stay, leave, or a little bit of both?

            All this is happening while I still look for a permanent job. Trust me, I have tried. But no matter how many jobs I apply for, there are at least twenty or thirty others who are just as, if not more qualified than I am. That makes for a difficult job hunting extravaganza.

            Nevertheless, I hope our government solves the issue of healthcare sooner than later. The longer this drags out, the wearier the public will become and the angrier our elected officials will be. If there is a way to provide health insurance to those who need it while not making too much of a significant dent in the national debt, I would be all for it. But until that happens, it looks as though leaders on both sides of the aisle will never come to an agreement that will make a genuine impact in our country.

            Or maybe they will. And the president can sign it into law. We’ll see.

Want a Change Next Summer? Try Theatre Camp!

Posted September 28, 2009 by timtakechi
Categories: Life

Tags: , , ,

When summer vacation arrives every May (or June), parents everywhere scramble to think about ways to kick their kids out of the house. With no more school, homework, or classes to attend, no self-respecting mother or father would want to torture themselves with having to take care of their kids during the whole day for three months out of the year.

Hence, the popularity of summer camp comes to light. Kids need something to do during the summers. They aren’t old enough to get a job (but then again, in this economy, who can find a job?) and can’t really take care of themselves. Paying a babysitter to watch over little Suzy and Billy can get costly after a while. So why not dump them off to an organized camp that takes the burden of having to entertain them all day off your shoulders?

The choices for which summer camp to send Suzy and Billy to are plentiful. There are a vast array of options ranging from traditional sports to hiking, craft making, water skiing, pottery, glass blowing, religious themed gatherings (think “Jesus Camp”), nature exploring, and anything related to the performing arts.

Sports are, of course, a typical cliché of summer camp lore. Sports like baseball, soccer, football, basketball, and hockey are good ways to train your kids with skills in physical athleticism, teamwork, and hard work. And what parents wouldn’t want their kids to learn a little bit of that? Besides, they might grow up to become the next LeBron James.

But sports doesn’t really allow you to express any form of creativity. There are those who argue that sports is an art, but those arguments run pretty thin after a while. How many times can you hit a baseball and make it look cool? Home runs do look spectacular at first, but seeing a hitter casually job around the bases is just so boring. Baseball is a great sport, but it’s limiting in what it can teach someone to become.

That goes for all sports, to an extent. The ultimate goal of any athlete is to become the best that they can be. They want to win and win as often as they can. That’s basically it. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it can get a bit monotonous. Any endeavor where there’s hard and fast rules doesn’t really allow you to explore any creative outlet.

But enough about bashing sports. I say this because I never played sports when I was little. I wasn’t very good at catching a ball and still can’t really do anything too amazing. But where kids these days should really consider spending their summer is at theatre camp.

Theatre camp? Yes, a summer camp dedicated to the dramatic arts. Sounds nerdy, but it is. There’s an old joke that kids who can’t catch a football are then signed up for band camp because sitting around and playing an instrument takes no athletic prowess at all. There might be some truth in that joke.

But theatre camp is something that I actually did when I was little. As kids, myself and many others would spend our summers indoors practicing our lines, going over our blocking, and learning the basics of the theatrical arts. As a result, I think we’ve developed better social, verbal, and professional skills then kids who learned how to hit a ball all day.

Theatre is a team sport. There are many components that go into putting on a production. There are actors, directors, producers, lighting designers, set designers, set builders, a stage manager, grips, assistants, a prop master (or mistress), a costume master (or mistress), a costume builder, makeup artists, special effects designers, light board/soundboard operators, house manager, playwright, photographer/graphic designer, box office manager, and many other jobs. Putting on a show, obviously, takes more than one person. And these are roles that children are learning at these camps.

Granted, most kids are learning the acting portion of the theatrical process, but as they get older, they start to realize that they are only one part in a very large machine. Very much like how we all function in society. In order for society to operate, we need doctors, lawyers, writers, accountants, teachers, students, caretakers, storeowners, architects, transporters, entertainers, politicians, and every other kind of job imaginable (reality TV star does not count).

Besides, kids get to learn that they can become part of something that is bigger than themselves. Too often we get caught up in individual achievements and forget that people could not live without other people. I’ve worked at summer theatre camps as a director and have seen first hand how kids learn that it is not always about them. It is about the group. It is about the big picture. We need to teach our kids more of these lessons.

So before you consider sending your child off to band camp or water rafting camp next time summer rolls around, consider this: are there alternatives to just the same old sack of potatoes? Or are we stuck with hoping that if our kids learn how to dribble a basketball for three months it would help them later lead productive adult lives? Take a chance and sign up little Billy or Suzy to be in a musical, or a Shakespearean production, or a mime troupe.

Know what? They may actually like it. Imagine that.

Walter Cronkite’s Death Reminds Us of What Television Journalism Used to Be

Posted July 21, 2009 by timtakechi
Categories: Media, News

Tags: , , , , , ,

I never watched Walter Cronkite when he was on television. I was never really a big TV guy. Sure, I watched some when I was little, but there came a time when I decided that there were better things to do in life other than sit in front of a box.

But with the recent passing of Mr. Cronkite (and really, who isn’t dying these days?), I am reminded of a time when TV journalism wasn’t just confined to 24 hour cable news shows. There once was a time, not too long ago, when basic television programs on stations like NBC, CBS, and ABC provided all the information people needed to get through their day. Today, networks like CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC hog all the spotlight.

Mr. Cronkite was known as “The Most Trusted Man in America” because he delivered the news as straightforward and accurately as people needed it. He told us what we needed to know about our nation, our elected leaders, and the decision makers around the world. He let us know what happened during the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam War, moon landing, the civil rights movement, and other momentous occasions in U.S. history.

I regret that I never watched him in action. I am a little skeptical about TV journalism as it is, but to see someone whom people actually trusted would have been a treat. It would be pointless to talk on and on about all his accomplishments and career highlights. I am not as up-to-speed on Mr. Cronkite’s career as other people are, so I should not attempt to make this blog entry a eulogy.

Instead, it should be worth mentioning how it is a TV journalist can be known as “The Most Trusted Man in America.” Today we think of TV journalists as “reporters” who only think about ratings, making money, and upsetting politicians. Anyone who has seen screaming heads on cable TV or “journalists” using valuable air time to cover useless trash like celebrity gossip probably has a low view of television news. But anyone who has seen a journalist like Cronkite or Edward R. Murrow in action might think differently.

Trust is developed when we know the other person is not trying to deceive, manipulate, or use us for any purpose. We know their intentions are good, right, and honorable. We have no reason to question their motives or think twice about what they’re doing or saying to us. Trust is when we don’t have to doubt what is told us and we can truly believe what we’re hearing. Apparently, Cronkite developed that kind of trust with the American people. And with his passing, we have lost yet another voice that we can have faith in.

A trusted journalist is what we need, not just for today, but for all eternity. We need to trust the people whom we get our news from. We need to trust that they are telling us the truth, are accurate about all their facts, and are not trying to mislead us in any form or fashion. Some of today’s more sell-out reporters care more about ratings than they do about serving the people. I don’t need to name names. We all know who they are.

But then again, journalism is a for-profit business. One cannot deny that fact. Newspapers, magazines, TV programs, radio shows, and websites need money in order to survive. Newspapers are closing because they aren’t making money in an era of Internet news. TV news programs are relying more on covering Michael Jackson’s death than anything else because that’s what people are talking about.

This of course, brings about an interesting question: do TV stations cover stories like celebrity news because they think people want it, or do people want it because it’s given to them? I think this is more of a vicious cycle than anything else. Both parties are to blame. So when we see newscasters giving their opinion on matters, when no journalist should ever do that, we don’t think anything of it. Journalists pandering to our interests have become the norm.

Is anyone bothered that anchors like Keith Olbermann or Sean Hannity tell us their opinion when delivering the news? Probably not. But I am. I think it gives people the impression that not only should the media tell us what to think, but they should tell us how to think about it. They should tell us that Obama’s healthcare plan is an ambitious but challenging endeavor, or that Bush’s Afghanistan policies were doomed to fail. They don’t trust us to come up with these conclusions on our own. They need to tell us like the children that they think we are.

And with commentary comes biases, and with biases comes that horrible word “agenda.” The so-called media “agenda” is a concept developed by media watchdogs and critics to put blame on the media for creating a conspiracy to brainwash us to think a certain way. There is supposedly both a right winged and left winged media agenda to turn America into a fascist socialist terrorist nation. Is this true? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

But getting back to the late Walter Cronkite, I don’t think there are too many people who believe he had a preconceived and planned “agenda” to brainwash Americans to buy into government (or anti-government), corporate, or political propaganda. He just told us what was going on without considering what special interest groups would think. He wanted to inform us, not persuade us to think a certain way.

Some say these values are missing in today’s journalism. I think that is true to a certain extent. This is definitely a fair accusation in the mainstream American media, but not in all corners of the news reporting world. There are journalists out there who stand for telling the truth and informing us on what is important in our world. We just need to find them. They’re out there, trust me.

For now, it might be fair to say that a man of Cronkite’s statue might never be seen again in TV news. His death, while tragic and sad in its own right, does not signal an end to an era. His era of straight talk news seemed to have died years ago.

Will Cronkite be sorely missed? Perhaps. But what he stood for will be missed even more.

Sins of Foreign Policy Are Always Clearer in Hindsight

Posted July 11, 2009 by timtakechi
Categories: Politics

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Robert S. McNamara remains one of the most controversial political figures in U.S. history.

Things are always easier in hindsight. Ask George W. Bush. Ask FDR. Ask John F. Kennedy. Ask former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. Decisions that seemed so right at the time can later be proven to be so gravely wrong. And you’ll never figure this out until it’s all over. What a shame.

McNamara’s recent death has brought about a rebirth of decades-old debates about foreign policy, the Cold War, and the disastrous American adventure in Vietnam. One cannot help but to think about Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney when McNamara’s name is mentioned. All three men were hated in their day. They misled the American people, lied to them, and told them their decisions would protect them from evil. One lie followed another.

The Kennedy White House believed in the “Domino Theory,” a theoretical prediction that if one nation were to fall to Communism, their neighbors would do the same. If South Vietnam were to fall under Soviet influence; Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan would soon follow. Then Greece, France, West Germany, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan. Then eventually the whole Western world. Then us.

Historians have debated whether the Domino Theory was a plausible reality or just a product of irrational fear of losing American hegemony. And even if all of Southeast Asia were to fall to Communism, what would happen then? Would tyranny, poverty, despotism, and institutionalized atheism overcome our way of life? Would our national security come into serious jeopardy? All these possibilities were considered by the Kennedy administration.

But it is unfair to paint Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, McNamara, and Dean Rusk as the only ones who thought this way. The infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy thought the infiltration of Communism onto American soil wasn’t just a theory, but reality. His Communist witch hunts of the 1950s destroyed many people’s lives and blinded us to believing that the enemies were at our gates, when such fears proved to be nothing but just that: fear.

Much talk has come up about how such smart, intelligent, and enlightened men like Kennedy, McNamara, and Rusk got us so close to nuclear war and later architected a war in Vietnam that would take the lives of 58,000 U.S. troops and close to 2 million Vietnamese. People have argued that they were nothing but a bunch of liberal fascists, much like how Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice are considered right winged fascists.

But maybe all these accusations are a little off. Consider the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that I believe played a very significant role in beginning the Vietnam War. For thirteen days in October of 1962, the Soviet Union and United States went on the brink of total annihilation. Thanks to “mutual assured destruction,” or MAD for short, both sides had the ability and will to completely obliterate the other side. If one side launched their missiles and destroyed most of their enemy’s homeland, that side had the ability to return the favor. Thanks to B-52 bombers and nuclear submarines, this can happen.

Then Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev didn’t think Kennedy had the guts to kill more people than Adolph Hitler. Hitler had a whole war to slaughter millions. Kennedy just had one simple phone call to make. I hope you shudder when you think about this.

Kennedy later estimated that there was a 33%, or a one in three, chance of nuclear war breaking out at that moment. Rusk believed the odds were much lower. Either way, it was close. The presence of nuclear weapons in Cuba was intolerable. Fidel Castro could not have been trusted to not use them. The Soviets didn’t like our missiles in Turkey, a country just in their backyard. We compromised, mutually agreed to remove our missiles from both sites, and total annihilation was averted. Whew.

But we should not forget the impact of the Cuban Missile Crisis on the thinking of McNamara and Lyndon Johnson, who would later become president after Kennedy’s assassination. If the Domino Theory were to actually happen and all of East Asia were to fall to the Communist bloc, who is to say all of Asia wouldn’t become nuclear? Who is to say mass slaughter like what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime wouldn’t become the norm? No one could know for sure.

Let’s now wind the clock ahead forty years and think about 9/11 and the “War on Terror.” Think of the Cuban Missile Crisis as the catastrophic 9/11 that never happened. Political analysts have said that our country has changed its opinion on national defense and foreign policy ever since the Sept. 11 attacks. That might be true to some extent. Bush administration officials have defended their questionable practices of torture, invading two Middle Eastern countries, and domestic spying that these measures are necessary to protect our country from our enemies. Similar measures were done in the 1960s and 70s (and during World War II, the so-called “Good War”) under similar justifications.

I am in no way excusing Bush and his team for approving of torture, the horrors at Guantanamo Bay, and invading Iraq. These were decisions that were motivated by anger, greed, revenge, and pride. But then again, we said the same about Nixon when he increased bombing campaigns over North Vietnam and Cambodia. We said this when President Johnson increased our troop presence in a war that was “unwinnable.” Times might change, but mistakes do not.

But this is all easy to say in hindsight. They say hindsight is 20/20 because we know the outcomes and can accurately judge the wisdom of our decisions. But let us consider the fact that we were this close to total destruction in October 1962. Let us consider that from the comfort of our armchairs in the safety of our living rooms, politics and history seem like a piece of cake. Decisions are simple. Don’t escalate the Vietnam War. Don’t bomb Cambodia. Don’t support Saddam Hussein in his fight against Iran. Don’t approve of the Patriot Act. Don’t allow U.S. interrogators to use waterboarding to get information out of terror suspects. These decisions might seem easy and very straightforward 40 years after the fact, but they did not at the moment.

Robert S. McNamara came from a business background, as he was in charge of the Ford Motor Company before becoming Secretary of Defense. In his world, he was a number cruncher. His world was based on facts, figures, theories, and already proven models of success. That is how the business world operates. In foreign policy, there are also rules. We had just defeated fascism in Europe and the Pacific and were now moving on to defeat the Soviet empire. If it worked before, why can’t it work again?

That is why McNamara thought sending hundreds of thousands of more troops to Vietnam would win the war. That is how we defeated Hitler. The D-Day invasion was a large ground assault that aimed at pushing back our enemies till they gave up. Nixon thought bombing the Viet Cong would force them to surrender. That much ridiculed strategy made sense in Japan, when heavy bombing campaigns, ending in the atomic blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, broke their will to fight and made them accept unconditional surrender. Nixon and Johnson thought if it worked in the 1940s, why couldn’t it work in the 1960s?

Bush might have thought the same when he invaded Iraq in 2003. He probably figured it would be a short war and that military occupation wouldn’t be such a big deal. We occupied West Germany and Japan after WWII and look at where they are now. They are now first world democracies. Iraq could have a similar future if they would just get their act together.

President Obama is being criticized by his own supporters of not doing enough to reverse Bush-era policies relating to anti-terrorism. Instead of drawing back our forces in the Middle East, he is increasing them by sending 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan. The scheduled June 30 pullout of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities was a timetable agreed to by Bush, not Obama. Had McCain won the election, that pullout would have still happened.

Obama has not been the anti-war president that many of his peace loving liberal supporters have hoped for. He will completely withdraw from Iraq on the Iraqi government’s terms, not his own. He will increase our troop strength in Afghanistan, a country that is becoming very weary of our continued presence there. Meanwhile, back at home, people are getting tired of war. We voted for Obama to change things, not for them to remain the same. I suppose that’s how politics work. They make promises, and they later break them.

But Obama isn’t completely breaking his lofty campaign promises. He is shutting down Guantanamo Bay, but it’s moving a lot slower than some people expected. He promised to shut down military tribunals of terrorist suspects, but he has recently re-approved of them. What does this all mean? Simply put, the world is a lot simpler from the campaign trail. Once you get to the White House, read those daily memos, listen to important people in the Joint Chiefs, Pentagon, CIA, and State Department, the world becomes a little more complex. Just ask Kennedy, or McNamara, or even Bill Clinton.

Our current president is realizing that the world is a little more difficult to handle than he had previously thought. He criticized Bush for making bad decisions that further endangered the American people, but now he realizes that you can’t solve the world’s problems with a push of a button. You have to make tough decisions. Even decisions that are unpopular.

I am not saying that Bush did the right thing to protect us from further terrorist attacks. I am not saying that Robert S. McNamara shouldn’t be critiqued for getting us involved in Vietnam when we had no business of being there. Nor am I saying that Henry Kissinger’s “Realpolitik” Cold War strategy was a good idea. Killing others to save others is never that easy of a concept. We should never consider a war to be our only option to solve our problems. We should be more pragmatic in our approach and realize that our actions do have consequences, despite what we may think at the time.

But, regardless, we should not stick our nose at them and believe we wouldn’t make the same choices if we were in their position. If you had a 50-50 chance of destroying your country and other people’s countries, if falling dominoes were more of a reality than a theory, if your country were just attacked by 19 hijackers, your perspective would change. You wouldn’t look at the world the same way. If you had the weight of the world on your shoulders, those so-called “easy decisions” to do the right thing suddenly becomes much more difficult.

This is not to say that people cannot make the right choice. What one can say is that we should be careful to play the accusatory card before really understanding the circumstances behind the decisions made by important people. We should judge their actions, but we should do it in a spirit of humility, perceptiveness, and intelligence. Without that, we become full of “retrospective snobbery,” where we feel free to condemn the sins of the past before thinking about whether we would truly have done things differently.

We may never get the chance to start a war, but we can certainly talk about what we would do if we could. But we should do this remembering that all actions, both horrible and honorable, are a product of its time. And those of us with the gift of knowing how the future unfolds should always keep in mind that years from now, maybe after we’re dead, our actions will be judged by later generations. If we weren’t too kind to our predecessors, who is to say ours will be kind to us?