Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Is History Linear Or Cyclical?

The answer you choose to this question defines your worldview in a way that, perhaps, you previously never considered.

If you believe history is linear, you join Karl Marx, Christian armageddonists and Shia Muslims. Marx believed that after feudalism comes capitalism and after capitalism comes communism -- in that order! Because the technology of capitalism is required to sustain communism, it is not possible to skip a step in the progress. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, Marx observed that "the development of class antagonism keeps even pace with the development of industry, the economic situation, as they find it, does not as yet offer to them the material conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat." No country on earth, regardless of its label, has ever been truly communist according to Marx's view of human development. If he is correct and history is linear, there is still time.

The Christian armageddonists see all conflict as setting the stage for the end of the days. Notwithstanding the popular concept of the Battle of Armageddon, the Bible makes no specific prediction for a war fought at Armageddon between two human armies precisely at Christ’s return. The Bible does say, however, that the armies of the East and West will be drawn to the infamous valley by lying demons. Lying demons you say? After the battle, life will be peachy and peace will reign.

Shia Muslims share with Christians a similar concept of a messiah. In Shia belief, there were 12 imams (rulers of the community) who came after the Prophet Mohamed. The 12th, however, was a child and there were grave fears of his assassination. Whether he was killed or died in hiding, the Shia believe that the 12th imam "disappeared", is still with us today, and will reappear as the mahdi (messiah) to usher in peace and prosperity in the world. I heard an interview the other day wherein the speaker said that the bombing of the al-askariya mosque in Iraq is supposed to trigger the return of the mahdi because that is the place he was last seen alive.

The common thread among the linear historians is the notion of fate - that there is a pre-ordained conclusion to the movie and everything happening in the world is propelling us toward that end.

Cyclical historians, in contrast, offer the "same shit, different pile" view of history. It's happened before and it is going to happen again. With respect to the cyclic nature of historical trends, philosophers maintain that every community is exposed to two opposite dangers -- ossification and dissolution -- as follows:
Civilizations start with a rigid belief system based on a dogma. If the dogma is relaxed, civilization may reach a point of balance between discipline and freedom, often its period of brilliant genius. This stage typically dissolves into anarchy. The anarchy leads to tyranny, justified by a new dogma.

If this framework is correct, where is America on the spectrum?

This question of the nature of history is relevant to current political discourse. It appears that the linear Nostredamus' of the world are framing the discussion, while the cyclical historians are shut out. The response to the Danish cartoons, many Americans believe, is evidence that Islam is evil, backwards, blah, blah. It is undisputable that Islam needs a reformation, but Christianity has been there before.

One with knowledge of history can envision the Muslim and Jewish leaders of Islamic Spain who ushered in an age of enlightenment looking down their noses at the backwards Christians. Words that begin with "al" are of Arabic origin, including algebra and alchemy. Muslims translated the works of Aristotle and Socrates and other Greek philosophers from the original languages to Arabic then to European tongues. This era was the golden rebirth of Judaic culture and the Hebrew language. All this while Christians were dying of starvation and slaughtering each other.

Does everyone get their turn at the crazy wheel or are the current times part of a grand plan with a pre-set conclusion?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Arabs and Birds

This cartoon was too funny not to post. It sums up all the hysterical paranoia the media is drumming up to keep the masses busy talking about nothing. Arabs are going to infiltrate the Dubai Ports World Company and use the company to get visas to come to the United States so they can bring bird flu-infected chickens with them. Gosh, I am so terrified. Hillary - save me!

Perhaps that will be next week's episode of 24.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Fighting Terrorism

Although it irritates me that Muslims must constantly prove their loyalty to America in a way that no other Americans are required to do, such is the status of being the shit-list minority. The following is an important story that the mainstream media, of course, are ignoring because it does not fit their fear-mongering, racce-baiting paradigm:

When suicide bombers blew up a London subway last year in an attack that British police suspect involved several local Muslims, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca began questioning what else he could do to help prevent homegrown terrorism here. So he called a man he thought could offer some answers: Maher Hathout, senior advisor to the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.

In 2004, the council launched a national terrorism prevention campaign, endorsed by more than 600 Islamic centers nationwide, featuring religious education against violence, partnerships with law enforcement and scrutiny of literature, sermons and sources of donations in mosques.

One call led to another, and today Baca and several Southern California Muslim leaders plan to unveil the result of more than six months of discussion: a Muslim-American Homeland Security Congress to consolidate, expand and publicize Islamic efforts against terrorism. The new organization plans to deepen ties with law enforcement, encourage more religious leaders to speak out against terrorism, form a youth council and reach out to alienated Muslims to prevent any drift toward extremism. "I don't think we can ever believe for one minute that the battle against terrorism can be won by secular society alone," Baca said this week. "Muslim Americans are in the position of playing the greatest role."

Muslim leaders said they were eager to use the new congress as a showcase for their anti-terrorism efforts, which many believe remain little known by most Americans. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, for instance, has routinely issued public condemnations of terrorism, collected more than 690,000 signatures in a petition campaign denouncing hatred in the name of Islam and coordinated a group of North American scholars to issue a fatwa, or religious edict, reiterating Islam's repudiation of religious extremism and violence against innocent people — including suicide bombings.

Yet Baca and Muslim leaders say there is little public awareness about such actions. In her various meetings with interfaith, educational and other community groups, "the common question is why Muslims haven't condemned terrorism," said Sireen Sawaf of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.But Sawaf and others say they hope the congress will help them do even more in the fight against terrorism — especially building greater trust among a broader swath of Muslims toward law enforcement." Muslims are not the problem, they are an essential part of the solution," Hathout said. Indeed, Baca said he hoped the community would serve as the "eyes and ears" of law enforcement to alert them to any potential criminal acts, a role many Muslims say is part of their civic and religious duty.

Baca said that extremism among Southern California Muslims was a "small but real" problem. He cited ongoing multi-agency investigations into local money laundering schemes, possibly to support Mideast terrorism; the indictment last year of four California Muslims for allegedly plotting attacks on U.S. military facilities and synagogues; and the expression of "extremist views" at some local mosques. At one Culver City mosque, for instance, Baca said he was given a Koran by the imam and invited to read from it during an interfaith service after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But he was approached by a man afterward who told him that non-Muslims such as him were forbidden to touch the Koran. "That's extremism at its worst," Baca said.

Several Muslim leaders, however, said they had not personally encountered anyone ever advocating violence in the name of Islam at any Southern California mosque. According to Hussam Ayloush of the American Islamic Council, imams in fact are becoming so concerned about inflammatory sentiments that some are banning political speech in mosques entirely — a move Ayloush disagrees with. Many community leaders said they were more worried about selective targeting of mosques for surveillance and of Muslims for immigration violations, according to

Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Shura Council of Southern California, an umbrella organization of more than 60 mosques. Syed said imams at two mosques had been deported on visa violations in recent years, and wondered why they were targeted. In addition, he said, his Islamic council was disturbed over reports from at least four or five Muslims who said they had been asked by law enforcement to monitor certain mosques, including the sermons of the imam. He declined to identify the mosques and said he has been unable to obtain information about why such targets were chosen and who approved them. Syed said he hoped that building deeper ties with law enforcement through the congress would help ease such concerns.

The new organization has a nine-member executive board. The congress will draw membership from mosque members, students, civil rights advocates, educators, religious scholars and others. An advisory council will include law enforcement officers, elected officials and business leaders. U.S. Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) has signed on. Baca said he hoped to take the idea of the congress across the country. "What I think this congress will achieve is another level of security for our country," he said. "Whoever is thinking of trying to infiltrate America is going to have a harder time."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


The President, who has made a career out of and salvaged his ratings with Arab and Muslim bashing, is now threatening to veto any legislation that would impede the sale of U.S. port management services from a British firm to a Dubai firm.

I want those who are questioning it to step up and explain why all of a sudden a Middle Eastern company is held to a different standard than a Great British company. I am trying to conduct foreign policy now by saying to the people of the world, 'We'll treat you fairly'.

All of a sudden holding Middle Easterners to a different standard? This isn't all of a sudden. Americans have been told time and time again by this administration that Arabs and Muslims are such a threat, both here and abroad, that

  • their phone calls should be tapped
  • they should be thrown into Abu Ghraib without any question about their guilt
  • they should be thrown into Guantanamo Bay with no chance of a trial just because the government tells us they are guilty of some unknown crime
  • mosques should be monitored for radiation
  • Arabs and Muslims should be restricted from certain high security clearance jobs
  • they shouldn't be allowed to fly, play paintball or videotape national monuments.

And the American public has bought this nonsense hook, line and sinker. It is no wonder they are finding it hard to accept that their God, GW Bush, would allow an Arab firm to manage the operations of key American ports. Bush and his junta have played the race/religion card throughout the Emperor's time on the throne and they now ask the fickle, uneducated masses who believed the lies to now accept the opposite. Bush is telling the Congress and America not to be racist against Arabs? Huh?

The flurry of contradictions this episode is producing would be comical if they weren't so pathetic. For years, the Republicans have been assuring the rest of us that the Emperor knows what he is doing; that we should take his word on anything and everything because he is such a wholesome, honest guy who cares about nothing more than the security of America. They even went so far to justify wiretapping Americans with cliches like, "we don't know what our leaders know and so we have to trust them." When the President violates civil liberties, we are supposed to trust him; when he oversteps executive authority, we are supposed to trust him; when he pisses on the Constitution and then uses it to wipe himself, it is for our own security. He is God and we should put our faith in him. When he agrees to sell a port management operation to an Arab firm, however, Congress must get a backbone and demand explanations.

Watching the Democrats jumping on the bigotry bandwagon in all this is equally amusing. In the excitement over a non-issue that distracts the masses from their otherwise drab lives, the supposed promoters of tolerance are now arguing that race should be a factor in determining who gets to own a port operations company. Out of nowhere, the Democrats have become "tough on security". Could it be an election year?

Never mind that at least 90 terminals at major U.S. ports are operated by foreign governments and businesses. The governments of China and Singapore own companies that hold terminal leases along the West Coast, Japanese businesses control dozens of terminals nationwide, and a Danish company runs nearly a dozen major ports on the East Coast.

For a great analysis of what is going on, check out the following article:

Has anyone forgotten that the Enron trial is going on? http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5199981

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Forgotten Christians

So many in America forget that the Palestinian community has a strong Christian contingent. Indeed, the holy rollers of the Republican party who profess to care for persecuted Christians around the world ignore the plight of their co-religionists time and time again. The following is an open letter from a reverend in Bethlehem to Hillary "I Worship The Devil" Clinton:

Greetings From Bethlehem

Greetings to you from Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the center of the world for billions of Christians in the 2000 years since the Word became flesh, and the home of a dwindling population of Palestinian Christians who, despite the continued pressures of living under Israeli policies of occupation and segregation, still hold onto their lands and dignity.

I was encouraged when I met your husband here in Bethlehem in 1999, during the preparations for the Bethlehem 2000 millennium celebrations. I was also encouraged when in 1998 you said that “it will be in the long-term interests of the Middle East for Palestine to be a state,” a conviction which is shared today by the entire international community, including many Israelis.

I was surprised last week when I saw your picture in Haaretz (Nov. 15, 2005), which was taken near the wall, just outside our town. I know that many Palestinians would have loved to welcome you in their homes in Bethlehem, but you did not come to visit us. Perhaps you simply did not have time to stop by and greet us, the people who would be the other half of any agreement which would allow Israel to live in security and peace. Or perhaps while you had Bethlehem in the background of the publicity photos, you had certain of your constituents in New York in the forefront of your mind. In one month’s time you will be singing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” I wonder how you will sing it this year, having declared your support for transforming our “little town” into a big, open-air prison, leaving no green space for our children to play or our olive trees to grow?

Your comment that the Wall “is not against the Palestinian people…[it] is against terrorists” is deeply offensive in its ignorance and glossy portrayal of the effects of Israeli policy in the West Bank. We would like you to know that the wall is affecting the daily life of every Palestinian person, not only in our town but throughout the West Bank. The wall is less about security than it is about colonizing land and controlling its indigenous population. It is designed to allow maximum expansion for Israeli settlements (which are unequivocally illegal under international law) and minimal space for Palestinian towns and villages to grow or even draw their livelihood. The wall is limiting Bethlehem to an area of about 6 square miles, while the settlements which surround us continue to expand on stolen Palestinian land.

After taking such a courageous standpoint in 1998, why are you suddenly abandoning international law, the consensus of the international community, Christian notions of justice and reconciliation, and the American values of freedom and dignity which you have sworn to uphold? Please do not try to gain political support at the expense of the Palestinian people.

We thank God for all of our American friends who visit us, work with us, support us, and help us build bridges, not walls. You will be hearing from some of them, those who are your constituents in New York, and we hope you will listen to what they have to say. We are not asking for your pity, but we do ask you to reconsider your position in support of the wall, which is illegal and violates our rights to land, jobs, family, free movement, dignity, and self-determination. These are American values, and we merely implore you to ensure that they are upheld here.

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Bethlehem

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is pastor of Bethlehem’s Christmas Lutheran Church and general director of The International Center of Bethlehem and Dar al-Kalima Academy. His books Bethlehem Besieged, I Am a Palestinian Christian and Bethlehem 2000 (co-authored with Fred Strickert) are available from the AET Book Club.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Are You Self-Actualized?

Continuing on the discussion of Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the highest level in the hierarchy is self-actualization. The phrase itself is generally defined as finding self-fulfillment and realizing one's potential.

To define and explore the concept of self-actualization, Maslow chose a group of people, some of whom were historical figures and some of whom he knew, who he believed fit his vision of a self-actualized person. Included in the group were Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Adams, William James, Albert Schweitzer, Benedict Spinoza, and Alduous Huxley, plus 12 unnamed people who were alive at the time Maslow did his research. He then looked at their biographies, writings, the acts and words of those he knew personally, and so on. From these sources, he developed a list of qualities that seemed characteristic of these people, as opposed to the great mass of us.

Here they are.

1. Reality centered - they could differentiate what is fake and dishonest from what is real and genuine. They were problem-centered, meaning they treated life’s difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be railed at or surrendered to. And they had a different perception of means and ends. They felt that the ends don’t necessarily justify the means, that the means could be ends themselves, and that the means -- the journey -- was often more important than the ends.

2. Autonomy - the self-actualizers also had a different way of relating to others. First, they enjoyed solitude, and were comfortable being alone. They enjoyed deeper personal relations with a few close friends and family members, rather than more shallow relationships with many people. They enjoyed autonomy, a relative independence from physical and social needs. And they resisted enculturation, that is, they were not susceptible to social pressure to be "well adjusted" or to "fit in" -- they were, in fact, nonconformists in the best sense.

3. Sense of humor - they had an unhostile sense of humor, preferring to joke at their own expense, or at the human condition, and never directing their humor at others. They had a quality he called acceptance of self and others, by which he meant that these people would be more likely to take you as you are than try to change you into what they thought you should be. This same acceptance applied to their attitudes towards themselves: If some quality of theirs wasn’t harmful, they let it be, even enjoying it as a personal quirk. On the other hand, they were often strongly motivated to change negative qualities in themselves that could be changed.

4. Spontanaeity & Simplicity - they preferred being themselves rather than being pretentious or artificial. In fact, for all their nonconformity, he found that they tended to be conventional on the surface, just where less self-actualizing nonconformists tend to be the most dramatic.

5. Humility - they had a sense of humility and respect towards others -- something Maslow also called democratic values -- meaning that they were open to ethnic and individual variety, even treasuring it. They had a quality Maslow called human kinship or Gemeinschaftsgefühl -- social interest, compassion, humanity. And this was accompanied by strong ethics, which were spiritual but seldom conventionally religious in nature.

6. Appreciation - these people had a certain freshness of appreciation, an ability to see things, even ordinary things, with wonder. Along with this comes their ability to be creative, inventive, and original. And, finally, these people tended to have more peak experiences than the average person. A peak experience is one that takes you out of yourself, that makes you feel very tiny, or very large, to some extent one with life or nature or God. It gives you a feeling of being a part of the infinite and the eternal. These experiences tend to leave their mark on a person, change them for the better, and many people actively seek them out. They are also called mystical experiences, and are an important part of many religious and philosophical traditions.

Maslow did not think that self-actualizers are perfect, of course. There were several flaws or imperfections he discovered along the way as well: First, they often suffered considerable anxiety and guilt -- but realistic anxiety and guilt, rather than misplaced or neurotic versions. Some of them were absentminded and overly kind. And finally, some of them had unexpected moments of ruthlessness, surgical coldness, and loss of humor.

Two other points he makes about these self-actualizers: Their values were "natural" and seemed to flow effortlessly from their personalities. And they appeared to transcend many of the dichotomies others accept as being undeniable, such as the differences between the spiritual and the physical, the selfish and the unselfish, and the masculine and the feminine.


Looking at the pyramid hierarchy (picture in the last post), it is remarkable how many other needs have to be fulfilled before you can hit this stage. Makes you wonder if humanity will ever be able to reach this stage in any meaningful numbers. Maslow put the percentage of self-actualizers as two percent of the population. All the things the media demean us with, all the snake oil hysteria the religious folk try to sell us and the ease with which the masses accept it are frightening in the context of this hierarchy.

BOB - the highlighted sentence answers your earlier question. :-)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Maslow's Hierarchy

The great psychologist Abraham Maslow developed this hierarchy of needs based upon observations of monkeys. Simply put, he noticed that some needs take precedence over others. Iif you are hungry and thirsty, for example, you will tend to try to take care of the thirst first. Because you can do without food for weeks, but you can only do without water for a few days, thirst is a stronger need than hunger. Likewise, if you are very thirsty, but someone has put a choke hold on you and you can’t breath, which is more important?

Maslow took this idea and created his now famous hierarchy of needs. Beyond the details of air, water, food, and sex, he laid out five broader layers -- the physiological needs, the needs for safety and security, the needs for love and belonging, the needs for esteem, and the need to actualize the self, in that order.

1. The physiological needs. These include the needs we have for oxygen, water, protein, salt, sugar, calcium, and other minerals and vitamins. They also include the need to maintain a pH balance (getting too acidic or base will kill you) and temperature (98.6 or near to it). Also, there’s the needs to be active, to rest, to sleep, to get rid of wastes (CO2, sweat, urine, and feces), to avoid pain, and to have sex.

Maslow believed, and research supports him, that these are in fact individual needs, and that a lack of, say, vitamin C, will lead to a very specific hunger for things which have in the past provided that vitamin C -- e.g. orange juice. I guess the cravings that some pregnant women have, and the way in which babies eat the most foul tasting baby food, support the idea anecdotally.

2. The safety and security needs. When the physiological needs are largely taken care of, this second layer of needs comes into play. You will become increasingly interested in finding safe circumstances, stability, protection. You might develop a need for structure, for order, some limits.

Looking at it negatively, you become concerned, not with needs like hunger and thirst, but with your fears and anxieties. In the ordinary American adult, this set of needs manifest themselves in the form of our urges to have a home in a safe neighborhood, job security and a nest egg, a good retirement plan and a bit of insurance.

3. The love and belonging needs. When physiological needs and safety needs are, by and large, taken care of, a third layer starts to show up. You begin to feel the need for friends, a sweetheart, children, affectionate relationships in general, even a sense of community. Looked at negatively, you become increasing susceptible to loneliness and social anxieties.
In our day-to-day life, we exhibit these needs in our desires to marry, have a family, be a part of a community, a member of a church, a brother in the fraternity, a part of a gang or a bowling club. It is also a part of what we look for in a career.

4. The esteem needs. Next, we begin to look for a little self-esteem. Maslow noted two versions of esteem needs, a lower one and a higher one. The lower one is the need for the respect of others, the need for status, fame, glory, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation, dignity, even dominance. The higher form involves the need for self-respect, including such feelings as confidence, competence, achievement, mastery, independence, and freedom. Note that this is the “higher” form because, unlike the respect of others, once you have self-respect, it’s a lot harder to lose.

The negative version of these needs is low self-esteem and inferiority complexes. Maslow felt that Adler was really onto something when he proposed that these were at the roots of many, if not most, of our psychological problems. In modern countries, most of us have what we need in regard to our physiological and safety needs. We, more often than not, have quite a bit of love and belonging, too. It’s a little respect that often seems so very hard to get.

He also talks about these levels in terms of homeostasis. Homeostasis is the principle by which your furnace thermostat operates: When it gets too cold, it switches the heat on; When it gets too hot, it switches the heat off. In the same way, your body, when it lacks a certain substance, develops a hunger for it; When it gets enough of it, then the hunger stops. Maslow simply extends the homeostatic principle to needs, such as safety, belonging, and esteem, that we don’t ordinarily think of in these terms.

Maslow sees all these needs as essentially survival needs. Even love and esteem are needed for the maintenance of health. He says we all have these needs built in to us genetically, like instincts. In fact, he calls them instinctoid -- instinct-like -- needs.

Under stressful conditions, or when survival is threatened, we can “regress” to a lower need level. When you great career falls flat, you might seek out a little attention. When your family ups and leaves you, it seems that love is again all you ever wanted. When you face chapter eleven after a long and happy life, you suddenly can’t think of anything except money.

These things can occur on a society-wide basis as well. When society suddenly flounders, people start clamoring for a strong leader to take over and make things right. When the bombs start falling, they look for safety. When the food stops coming into the stores, their needs become even more basic.


A comment from BombsOverBaghdad in the previous post reminded me of the relevance of Maslow's hierarchy. Whether we are discussing the cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed or any other issue that raises passions in others, it is quite a luxury to look down from our ivory towers and comment from above about what others should and should not find offensive and how they should respond. Indeed, if we have the time to blog and comment, we are probably somewhere in the top three levels of Maslow's hierarchy and most of us have probably never experienced deficits in the lower two levels growing up in this country.

The callousness with which we pass judgment over others in whose shoes we have never walked is reminiscent of Marie Antoinette's missive "let them eat cake". It is reminiscent of Barak Obama's discussion of why White America could not grasp that there are people in New Orleans who could not load up the SUV with a case of Perrier water and check into a hotel to wait out the storm.

If we have never experienced deficits in the basic two levels of needs, can we ever relate to those who have and those who do?

Friday, February 10, 2006

More About The Cartoons

A family friend, who is Muslim, sent the following link to images of the Prophet Mohamed that have been created over the centuries: http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/

With the link, he asked the question "What Is The Big Deal About The Danish Cartoons"? After checking out this stuff, I am even more puzzled. There are some innocuous, even nice, paintings but there are some outlandish pieces that are WAY more offensive than what the Danes created.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

People Are Fundamentally Good

After a brief war with a moron on another blog for the better part of this week, God/the universe/karma/serendipity sent me a reminder that people are fundamentally good. Life's lessons come in strange packages, but they are always useful if you pay attention.

Crusing down the street in my trusty Ford Explorer, enjoying Kanye West's "Heard 'Em Say", I approached the intersection on a glorious 90 degree winter day in Los Angeles. The light was green and the post office, my destination, was a block away. As soon as I entered the intersection, however, tranquility came to an end. Out of nowhere, I saw a car in front of me trying to make a left. Although I slammed on my brakes, I knew that I could not avoid the impending collision. At almost full speed, I slammed into the rear passenger side of the car, ricocheted off, slammed into a light pole, bounced off and came to a stop.

It was so surreal, I took a breath and looked around to confirm the reality of what had just happened. But when I turned around to see where the other car was, I saw it driving away. I grabbed my purse and took off running in a futile attempt to chase the guy, but he was too far away. Returning to my car, I found crowds of people who asked if I was okay, offered to call the police and gave me their phone numbers with offers to be witnesses. One guy collected what turned out to be a pile of stuff that fell out of the other car at impact, including some receipts from auto parts. At least I had the year, make and model of the other car.

Having resigned myself to the fact that the other driver was gone and waiting for the police, a middle-aged guy hurriedly walked up to me and flashed his palm. He chased down the other driver and wrote the license plate number on his palm. Even now, I am still touched and impressed and amazed that a perfect stranger would do that for another human being. "It's nice to know there are still good people on this earth", I said to a few of the onlookers, and they nodded in agreement. Here we were - a group of perfect strangers trying to fix the situation. With the disposable camera I keep in my glove compartment for just these contingencies, I photographed my car, the scene, the skid marks, the nasty bruise on the light pole and the glass scattered across the intersection. That is the lawyer in me. Gotta get the evidence.

Going to the scenes of accidents has to be the most boring aspect of policing, so I felt kinda bad for asking the police to come. But such is the requirement for insurance, so I didn't feel too bad. By the time they showed up, most of the witnesses had returned to their lives, but had left their contact information for me. I explained what happened, showed the cop the pile of crap (hopefully evidence) that fell out of the other car, called Dad to find out which of his mechanic clients would handle my car and AAA to take my little tank to the car hospital. The cop asked me if I was okay and he commented that I was really calm for someone who had just been in a crazy accident. "Shit happens", I responded, "and with the guy gone, throwing a temper tantrum isn't going to change a thing." I was just happy that I was in one piece, amazed that my car proved itself to be one hell of a tank and touched by all the kindness of perfect strangers. Everything would be fine.

A few minutes later a tall guy with a heavy accent approached and asked if I was okay. He said he was the passenger in the other car and that the driver was on the way. Apparently, the driver of the other car is a recent immigrant, lived around the corner from the accident and, because he did not know better, he took his damaged car home. When the driver showed up, the cops gave him hell; yelled at him about the illegality of fleeing the scene and I felt sorry for him. When they were done, he approached me and apologized profusely. He could barely speak English, was obviously terrified by the cops and what would happen and felt really bad for causing the accident. It took guts to come back and I respected that.

I smiled, told him not to worry about it and, with half a laugh, asked "you wouldn't happen to have insurance would you?" Unfortunately not.

So, car's at the shop, I am in one piece, insurance claim has been filed, I'm now rolling in Dad's second car, which is great except for the lack of a CD player, and my faith in humanity is restored.


I have to give props to Ford. No more criticizing American cars. With two considerable impacts, the right front panel needs to be replaced and the right side of the hood is banged up. But the car still runs and would have been driveable if the bumper wasn't jammed into the right tire.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Kicking The Dog

Transference is a phenomenon in psychology characterized by unconscious redirection of feelings of one person to another. For instance, one could mistrust somebody because he resembles an ex-spouse in manners, voice or external appearance; or be overly compliant to someone who resembles a childhood friend. Everyone does it to some degree. The a-hole who curses at everyone in traffic for the most trivial traffic infractions, yet does not have the guts to tell his wife he hates her food.

It is what I call the "kick the dog" syndrome. Your boss yelled at you today and since you could not or would not respond, you came home and kicked the dog. The problem is, your wife's food still sucks, you still hate your boss and now you have made an enemy of your dog. Sucks to be you.

This is the Arab/Muslim world in a nutshell.

The despotic leaders who are heavily armed by the United States tolerate absolutely no criticism whatsoever. People are frustrated by high unemployment, filthy environments, crowded living areas, oppressive corruption, a rigid tribal class system that keeps the rich rich and the poor really really poor and so many other things. The cultures share the common trait of rigid authoritarian hierarchies, both within the personal and public spheres. And there is nowhere to vent. That is, until some no-name newspaper in Denmark prints an offensive cartoon of the prophet Mohamed and the dictators see a good opportunity for their people to blow off some steam and to direct it outside their country.

This entire overblown incident is not a debate between religious tolerance and free speech. It has nothing to do with Islam. It has nothing to do with European racism. It is a sympton of the ticking time bomb that are the Arab and Muslim worlds. You can only oppress people so long until they explode. It's like a teapot. If you don't remove the lid once it starts boiling, the entire kettle is going to explode and destroy your kitchen.

My recent trip to Egypt was both enlightening and disturbing. In a discussion with one of my cousins, we were talking about the horrid state of affairs in the country and she told me that the standard blame game is to blame America. Although I am no apologist for the U.S. and its disastrous foreign policy in the region, I told her that I cannot accept that America could be the cause of everything wrong in Egypt. Where is the personal responsibility? But that is the government line. It has to be since it is a crime to defame the country. Seriously, it is and critics of the government have been thrown in jail for it. So, keep quiet, blame America and Israel, and accept no personal responsibility whatsoever because to say sorry or admit a mistake is to show weakness. And that is quite typical in Arab culture in general.

This is the problem. Read anything in psychology about character-disordered people who cannot accept that they ever do anything wrong. Read about transference among passive aggressive people and you will understand why Muslims are making a big stink about nothing. Yes, the cartoon was offensive, yes it's insensitive, but if you keep denying that the Holocaust happened, why should anyone respect your sensitivities?

Show respect to others and they will return it to you.

Save The Constitution, Save America

America does not respect the Constitution anymore. The President and his supporters think it is okay to spy on citizens, the Congress passed a law that puts the federal government squarely in the middle of education (an historically state right) and and now the States are joining the party in spitting on the Constitution.

"New Hampshire plans to join a growing list of Eastern states signing deals for discount heating oil from Venezuela. The fuel is reserved for low-income residents who are struggling with high fuel costs."

The Tenth Amendment states that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." In other words, if the Constitution does not bestow a particular right upon the federal government, it is fair game for the States to regulate. But, alas, the Constitution is quite clear about trade with Venezuela. Article 1, Section 8 explicitly grants Congress the power to "regulate Commerce with foreign Nations". End of discussion.

Let us check the legal scorecard. The First Amendment is hanging by a thread. The Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments shot dead by the PATRIOT Act. The fed, and now the States, have rendered the Tenth Amendment irrelevant with the No Child Left Behind Act and trade deals with Venezuela. And the President has pretty much done away with any checks and balances. Indeed, there is is a bill before the House of Representatives that seeks to repeal the 22nd Amendment. If you have no idea which amendment that is, it is the one that prohibits our Emperor from running for a third term.

I suppose none of this is a big surprise. When parents set rules, but do not follow them, they raise children who do not take rules seriously. Our President does not value the Constitution, the Congress has abused it without shame and now the States have been left with the distinct belief that the Constitution does not bind them either. The more our leaders ignore the Constitution, the less important it becomes to everyone.

In case anyone forgot, without a Constitution, there is no America.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Weekend Humor

George Carlin's List of Rules for 2006. Happy weekend.

New Rule : Stop giving me that pop-up ad for classmates.com! There's a reason you don't talk to people for 25 years -- because you don't particularly like them! Besides, I already know what the captain of the football team is doing these days: mowing my lawn.

New Rule: Don't eat anything that's served to you out a window unless you're a seagull. People are acting all shocked that a human finger was found in a bowl of Wendy's chili. Hey, it cost less than a dollar. What did you expect it to contain? Trout?

New Rule: Stop saying that teenage boys who have sex with their hot, blonde teachers are permanently damaged. I have a better description for these kids: lucky bastards.

New Rule: If you need to shave and you still collect baseball cards, you're a dope. If you're a kid, the cards are keepsakes of your idols. If you're a grown man , they're pictures of men.

New Rule: Ladies, leave your eyebrows alone. Here's how much men care about your eyebrows: do you have two of them? Okay, we're done.

New Rule: There's no such thing as flavored water. There's a whole aisle of this crap at the supermarket. It's water, but without that watery taste. Sorry, but flavored water is called a soft drink. You want flavored water? Pour some scotch over ice and let it melt. That's your flavored water.

New Rule: Stop f***ing with old people. Target is introducing a redesigned pill bottle that's square, with a bigger label. And the top is now the bottom. And by the time grandpa figures out how to open it, his ass will be in the morgue. Congratulations, Target, you just solved the Social Security crisis.

New Rule: The more complicated the Starbucks order, the bigger the asshole. If you walk into a Starbucks and order a "decaf grande half-soy, half-low fat, iced vanilla, double-shot, gingerbread cappuccino, extra dry, light ice, with one Sweet-n'-Low and one NutraSweet," ooh, you're a huge asshole.

New Rule: I'm not the cashier! By the time I look up from sliding my card, entering my PIN number, pressing "Enter," verifying the amount, deciding, no, I don't want cash back, and pressing "Enter" again, the kid who is supposed to be ringing me up is standing there eating my Almond Joy.

New Rule: Just because your tattoo has Chinese characters in it doesn't make you spiritual. It's right above the crack of your ass. And it translates to "beef with broccoli." The last time you did anything spiritual, you were praying to God you weren't pregnant. You're not spiritual. You're just high.

New Rule: Competitive eating isn't a sport. It's one of the seven deadly sins. ESPN recently televised the US Open of Competitive Eating because watching those athletes at the poker table was just too damned exciting. What's next, competitive farting? Oh wait. They're already doing that. It's called "The Howard Stern Show."

New Rule: I don't need a bigger mega M&M. If I'm extra hungry for M&Ms, I'll go nuts and eat two.

New Rule: If you're going to insist on making movies based on crappy, old television shows, then you have to give everyone in the Cineplex a remote so we can see what's playing on the other screens. Let's remember the reason something was a television show in the first place is that the idea wasn't good enough to be a movie.

New Rule: No more gift registries. You know, it used to be just for weddings. Now it's for babies and new homes and graduations from rehab. Picking out the stuff you want and having other people buy it for you isn't gift giving, it's the white people version of looting.

New Rule: And this one is long overdue: No more bathroom attendants. After I zip up, some guy is offering me a towel and a mint like I just had sex with George Michael. I can't even tell if he's supposed to be there, or just some freak with a fetish. I don't want to be on your webcam, dude. I just want to wash my hands.

New Rule: When I ask how old your toddler is, I don't need to know in months. "27 Months." "He's two," will do just fine. He's not a cheese. And I didn't really care in the first place.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Internal Welfare Service

I am back from a quick visit with the family and, since I am still off work, I am helping out my dad with his practice. He is a Certified Public Accountant so, as I am sure you can imagine, things are pretty hectic these days. Dad handles the complex stuff and I prepare the individual tax returns for his review.

Tax I was one of my favorite classes in law school, but I walked away from it with the distinct opinion that the Tax Code is a welfare plan for the rich. Now that I am seeing it firsthand in practice, my earlier beliefs are confirmed.

Two returns I prepared yesterday illustrate my point. One client makes over $100K per year, owns rental property and has a kid in college. Another client is a young 20's student who makes $6K per year from the odd jobs she works during her time off from college. The former will get a generous refund and the latter owes more money to the government.

How is this possible?

When the government gives you a deduction or a credit for something that not every other taxpayer gets, then it is subsidizing your lifestyle. For example, families get tax credits for their kids and for tuition paid on student loans. But, if you have no kids and you pay no tuition on a student loan, your taxes subsidize someone else's choices to have those things.

Because the well-to-do client gets deductions for all the "expenses" of operating rental property, the income earned from the rents essentially ends up untaxable. It's a wash. The government encourages property owners to operate at a "loss" by giving them welfare, i.e. deductions, to compensate for that loss. Because the well-to-do client has kids, he gets welfare (called a "tax credit") to subsidize his choice to have a family. The other client? Well, she does not own rental property. She does not have kids. So she owes money to the government from the whopping $6K she made last year.

It is shameful. Why should a single person be penalized for not having kids? Why should someone get welfare for having children? That was their choice and they should bear the responsibility for funding it. Why am I subsidizing someone's rental property? If they are wealthy enough to own rental property, they do not need my help.

Republicans spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about welfare and other "socialist" practices in America but, if they were really sincere about it, they would lead the charge to abolish the Tax Code. No deductions, no credits, no more welfare. As the inane cliche goes, "freedom isn't free", but the rich aren't paying for it. They are too busy collecting welfare.