Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Thou Dost Protest Much

When people overuse comparisons to Hitler to make a point, the validity of what they are saying is overshadowed by the misuse of the imagery. Hitler is Hitler. There are few people on earth who will ever earn that level of infamy. While some tactics may be Nazi-like and Hitler-esque, most evil people are in a class all their own. Like Ann Coulter. Ann Coulter is Ann Coulter.

That is why an article I read recently, comparing Wafa Sultan to Ann Coulter, really irritated me.

Wafa Sultan, if you do not know, is a Syrian woman who debated a freak holyroller on Al Jazeera back in February, upsetting the Muslim world with choice tidbits like "Islam cannot be reformed" and "Only Arab Muslims can read the Koran properly because you have to speak Arabic to know what it means — you cannot translate it." Under the protection of the United States of America, to where she immigrated in 1989, Ms. Sultan has become a hero for parroting criticisms of the religion that have landed thousands of others -- people with real courage -- in the jails or graves of nations ruled by America's allies. Although nothing she says is original or particularly courageous, she has dethroned Irshad Manji to become the supreme angry Muslim chick to interview on Fox News.

But she is not Ann Coulter. To compare Ms. Sultan to the grand Nazi satan-worshipping empress of America is too flattering to Ms. Coulter. Ms. Sultan is not saying anything that has not been said before. Indeed, 99 percent of what she says is true and the other one percent is up for debate. The same cannot be said of our darling Annie. It is true that Islam cannot be reformed. No religion can be. Take it or leave it. You either like it or you do not. If you do not like it, find another religion that suits you. Similarly, Arabs do think they own Islam because of the unique nuances of the Arabic language (even though they are the minority racial group) and there are few mosques that will place a seal of approval on a translation of the Quran. All true.

There is no universe in which Ms. Sultan's criticisms can be deemed the moral or intellectual equivalent of the sewage that spews from the lips of that serpentine whore who calls the 9/11 widows the "witches of New Brunswick"!

The following op-ed piece from Rabbi Stephen Julius Stein, about which the Muslim community is beaming, is heartwarming in its koombayah-peace-on-earth mantra, but the comparison between Sultan and Coulter and the underlying defensiveness about Judaism diminish its credibility:

Islam's Ann Coulter
The seductive and blinkered belligerence of Wafa Sultan.
By Stephen Julius Stein
STEPHEN JULIUS STEIN is a rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple,
where he also directs inter-religious programming.June 25, 2006

RECENTLY I WAS one of about 100 L.A. Jews invited to attend a fundraiser for a Jewish organization that seeks to counteract anti-Israel disinformation and propaganda. The guest speaker was Wafa Sultan, the Syrian American woman who in February gave a now legendary interview on Al Jazeera television, during which she said that "the Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations" and "I don't believe you can reform Islam."The audience warmly greeted Sultan, a psychiatrist who immigrated to Southern California in 1989.

One of Time magazine's 100 "pioneers and heroes," she said she was neither a Christian, Muslim nor Jew but a secular human being. "I have 1.3 billion patients," she quipped early in her remarks, referring to the global Muslim population. Sultan went on to condemn inhumane acts committed in God's name, to denounce Islamic martyrdom and to decry terror as a tool to subjugate communities. Those statements all made perfect sense.

Then this provocative voice said something odd: "Only Arab Muslims can read the Koran properly because you have to speak Arabic to know what it means — you cannot translate it." Any translation is, by definition, interpretation, and Arabic is no more difficult to accurately translate than Hebrew. In fact, the Hebrew of the Bible poses many more formidable translation problems than Arabic. Are Christians and Jews who cannot read it ill-equipped to live by its meanings?

Another surprising remark soon followed: "All Muslim women — even American ones, though they won't admit it — are living in a state of domination." Do they include my friend Nagwa Eletreby, a Boeing engineer and expert on cockpit controls, who did not seek her husband's permission to help me dress the Torah scroll? Or how about my friend Azima Abdel-Aziz, a New York University graduate who traveled to Israel with 15 Jews and 14 other Muslims — and left her husband at home? There is no subjugation in the homes of these and other American Muslim women I know. They are equal, fully contributing members of their families. The
more Sultan talked, the more evident it became that progress in the Muslim world was not her interest.

Even more troubling, it was not what the Jewish audience wanted to hear about. Applause, even cheers, interrupted her calumnies. Judea Pearl, an attendee and father of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl, was one of the few voices of restraint and nuance heard that afternoon. In response to Sultan's assertion that the Koran contains only verses of evil and domination, Pearl said he understood the book also included "verses of peace" that proponents of Islam uphold as the religion's true intent. The Koran's verses on war and brutality, Pearl contended, were "cultural baggage," as are similar verses in the Torah. Unfortunately, his words were drowned out by the cheers for Sultan's full-court press against Islam and Muslims.

My disappointment in and disagreement with Sultan turned into dismay. She never alluded to any healthy, peaceful Islamic alternative. Why, for example, didn't this Southern California resident mention the groundbreaking efforts of the Islamic Center of Southern California, the leading exemplar of progressive Muslim American life in the United States? Why didn't she bring up the New Horizon School-Pasadena that the center started, the first Muslim American school honored by the U.S. Department of Education as a National Blue Ribbon School?

You might wonder why a rabbi is so uneasy about Sultan's assault on Muslims and Islam. Here's why: Contrary to practically every mosque in the U.S., the Islamic Center has a regulation in its charter barring funding from foreign countries. As a result, it is an American institution dedicated to propagating an American Muslim identity. Maher and Hassan Hathout are the philosophical and spiritual pillars of the mosque. They also have been partners of Wilshire Boulevard Temple rabbis and others throughout L.A. for decades. The Hathouts' mosque has twice endorsed pilgrimages to Israel and the Palestinian territories, its members traveling with fellow L.A.-area Jews and Christians. It invites Jews to pray with them, to make music with them, to celebrate Ramadan with them. This is the mosque whose day school teaches students about Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah alongside lessons in Arabic and the Koran. Recently, the Islamic Center joined the food pantry collective of Hope-Net, helping feed the hungry and homeless.

Make no mistake: I am not an Islamic apologist. But Sultan's over-the-top, indefensible remarks at the fundraiser, along with her failure to mention the important, continuing efforts of the Islamic Center, insulted all Muslims and Jews in L.A. and throughout the nation who are trying to bridge the cultural gap between the two groups. And that's one reason why I eventually walked out of the event.

Here's another: As I experienced the fervor sparked by Sultan's anti-Muslim tirade and stoked by a roomful of apparently unsuspecting Jews, I thought: What if down the street there was a roomful of Muslims listening to a self-loathing Jew, cheering
her on as she spoke of the evils inherent in the Torah, in which it is commanded that a child must be stoned to death if he insults his parents, in which Israelites are ordered by God to conquer cities and, in so doing, to kill all women and children — and this imagined Jew completely ignored all of what Judaism teaches afterward?

In a world far too often dominated by politicians imbued with religious fundamentalism of all flavors — Jewish, Christian, Muslim — we need the thoughtfulness, self-awareness and subtlety that comes from progressive religious expression. We have that in Judaism, in Christianity — and in Islam, right in our backyard. If only Sultan, applauded in many quarters yet miscast as a voice of reason and reform in Islam, were paying attention.

The questions Rabbi Stein raises reveal more about the weaknesses of both religions than about the validity of Ms. Sultan's statements. It is true that both books cannot be translated accurately; it is also true that both religions have a lot of violent, disgusting commands that are in no way displaced by a handful of commands not to covet your neighbors ass; and, if there was a "self-loathing Jew" pointing out the horrors of the Old Testament to a group of Muslims, her statements would be as valid as Ms. Sultan's. Because Judaism suffers from so many of the despicable defects that characterize Islam, the rabbi is at least intellectually honest enough to know that he must defend both if he is to redeem one. Thou dost protest much.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Broken Conveyor Belt

My dad swears up and down that Ruth Benedict's Patterns of Culture talks about society's conveyor belt. After several attempts to read the ground-breaking anthropology treatise, the detailed, intimate descriptions about the rituals of various "primitive" cultures bored me to death. Maybe the conveyor belt is in there, but I am never going to get through the entire book to confirm one way or another.

In any event, dad and I were discussing the state of American society, as we are prone to do while working on tax returns. The theory I advanced was the destructive nature of the stock market; the conflict between being a citizen and a shareholder; the uncertainty of collecting a pension the value of which is inexorably tied to the whims of a corporate czar. He disagreed. The problem with America today, he said, is that "the conveyor belt is broken."

"Look at Egypt", he went on. "Your mom and I left because it is corrupt, because no one there who earns anything does so because of his merit. He earns it because of his family name and connections. The conveyor belt only works in one direction. A chosen few are allowed on the conveyor belt to the top. Once they reach the top, they lock the gates tightly so no one can follow."

Very true about Egypt. It is not a meritocracy. It is a corruptocracy. You can be the world's biggest imbecile and it does not matter. You can be a minister of government or the head of a corporation. The only questions that matter are who do you know and how much of your soul are you willing to sell. Merit shmerit.

"There was a time in America where the heads of big business were talented people with vision. But not anymore. Now we hear the stories of corrupt CEO's who bankrupt one corporation, leave with their golden parachutes and are hired to run another corporation into the ground. The conveyor belt takes them to the top, but it does not remove the incompetent and take them back down. You cannot have an efficient system when you have corrupt, untalented people at the helm of the ship. "

Dad has a point. The conveyor belt has to work in both directions. Up and down. Move the talent to the top and dump the stupids to the bottom. What we have now are untalented people who hold on to their positions at the top by obfuscation, fear-mongering and corruption. Instead of fixing problems, they hire PR companies to manage sentiment about the problem. Bandaids. There are no ideas, no vision.

We are ruled by our inferiors. They have locked the gates to make sure intelligent people are excluded and to protect themselves from being ejected. That is called tyranny.

The conveyor belt is broken.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Enough Already!

The blogosphere has been exhausting me lately. Petty partisan bickering has infected even the most intelligent blogs as otherwise highly intelligent people quibble over the innocence and noblesse of politicians. While arguments break out over whether the tides will rise 3 feet or 20 feet or whether the death of Zarqawi actually has any bearing on anything, America stagnates in its own idiocy.

Reading "A People's History Of The United States" by Howard Zinn did not help. It was an informative, incredibly important work that endeavors to tell the story of American history from the persepective of the people, not the rulers. It is a must read for anyone who cares about history and its impact on the present. The sentiment I was left with, however, was one of frustration. Since the founding of the nation, the uber-rich have divided the lower classes among class, religious and racial lines to keep them bickering among themselves while they are robbed and deprived of rights promised by the Constitution.

Nothing has changed. With all our technology, we are still bickering along class, religious and racial lines. The Republicans create echoingly hollow euphemisms in an attempt to mask it, but the result is the same. Democrats, like Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, create the illusion of giving a shit while, behind closed and not-so-closed doors, they accept donations from the same corporations who fund the Republicans. And I am supposed to think there is a difference?

Frankly, I am bored with the idiocy.

Democrat or Republican, 3 feet or 20 feet, we are in fucking trouble as a society and I do not want to hear any more partisan nonsense.

Each day, I spent an hour and a half with the masses each way to and from work. There are kind people I have met, familiar faces who take the same route and we chat daily about whatever is going on that day. Then there are the bottom-feeders who confirm why I am not a "liberal" and never will be one. It takes every ounce of energy not to tell the teenage mothers that if they opened books instead of their legs, their lives wouldn't be so difficult. A few days ago, the filter between my brain and mouth completely shut down as I listened to some fat chick beg the bus driver to drop her off half a block before the designated stop. I thought she was lost, so I said "hey, the stop isn't very far, you can see it right up ahead." She shot back at me with a snotty tone, "I know, but I didn't want to walk." Before I could catch myself, I replied "well, it's not like you couldn't use the exercise."

Yesterday and then again today, there were two different teenage boys, with the same uniform of thuggery - sagging oversized pants, T-shirts 100x too large and headphones on, mouthing the words of the foul, disgusting music they were listening to. For 20 minutes, those of us on the train who could not block it out listened to a young man repeat "what nigga, what, mutha fucka, bitch what" in a loop. That is what MLK and Malcolm X gave their lives for?

This is America and no amount of religion or compassionate conservatism is going to fix this illness. The following quotes from the humorous book "Affluenza" sum up America today and illustrate the hollowness of two parties who waste endangered brain cells debating whether the war in Iraq is good or great rather than addressing real issues plaguing this society:

More than ever, we have big houses and broken homes, high incomes and low morale, secured rights and diminished civility. We excel at making a living but often fail at making a life. We celebrate our prosperity but yearn for purpose. We cherish our freedoms but long for connection. In an age of plenty, we feel spiritual hunger.

Psychologist David Myers

People don't need enormous cars; they need respect. They don't need closets full of clothes; they need to feel attractive and they need excitement, variety and beauty. People don't need electronic entertainment; they need something worthwhile to do with their lives. People need identity, community, challenge, acknowledgment, love, joy. To try to fill these needs with material things is to set up an unquenchable appetite for false solutions to real and never-satisfied problems.

Donella Meadows, Beyond The Limits

Sunday, June 18, 2006

My Husband Rocks

When I bought a BMW a few months ago, I knew that I should expect to pay an arm and a leg for maintenance once the original warranty expired. Mitigating that concern was my husband's promise that he would handle at least part of the basic maintenance to keep the expenses down. So I bought the car and I love it.

The original warranty expired two months ago and last week the "Engine Oil Level Low" light came up. I made an appointment with the local BMW dealer (South Bay BMW) to get what turned out to be a $325 oil change and an aggravating waste of my Saturday dealing with their bullshit.

Although we had a 10:00 a.m. appointment, it took an hour for a service advisor to write down "oil change" on a piece of paper. We did not leave the dealership until 11:00 a.m. and the phone call from the service representative came two hours later. With a serious tone, he told me that the oil "service" was done but the technician found several items of concern on my car. "The brake fluid is black sludge, we need to bleed the brakes, the brakes have 20 percent remaining and the rotors need to be changed, the belts are cracked and dry and could snap and you know what happens when a belt snaps". My head was starting to spin. He went on, "the car needs fuel service, the bushings are worn...."

That was it. I understood everything he said until he got to bushings. "Excuse me, I am going to put my husband on the phone."

Hubby began a series of "uh huh, ok, uh huh, yes, I understand." Then he began the questions, "are you telling me that a 4-year-old BMW wears that badly?", "it only has 46,000 miles", how much is labor?", "how much would all of that cost"?

Both of us nearly had a heart attack when he said $2,950! I was already pissed off about wasting an hour to be serviced, but that did it. The service rep said that the parts would be $900 and the labor would be the remaining $2,000. Given that labor is $150 per hour, it was 1:00 p.m. and the dealership closed at 5:00 p.m., how does $600 turn into $2,000? Hubby said "I am coming down to the dealership right now. I want to meet with the mechanic and see everything wrong with the car."

Did I mention that my husband is an aerospace engineer who designs rocket engine components and used to design turbochargers for engines and restores cars as a hobby?

The service rep greeted us friendly enough and walked us into the service bay (which was impressively clean by the way). Along the way, he explained why certain of the needed repairs could not be done at home because they require sophisticated tools, blah, blah, blah. This asshole has not seen our garage.

Piece by piece, Hubby followed the mechanic's flashlight around the car. The "black sludge" of the brake fluid looked like apple juice, a shade darker than what new brake fluid looks like. Those cracked and dry belts were no more cracked or dry than a belt that has been used for a little while - unless the belt is frayed, there is no great cause for alarm. The bushings, one of the things that service rep said you need a hydraulic press to replace, were accessible by hand and, at worst, would need a C-clamp, which we have at home.

It made me so happy when Hubby said "there isn't anything of immediate concern on here and anything that needs to be replaced, I can do myself. Please put the car back together and we will buy the parts."

I can only assume that the dealer gets away with these antics becase most people in my middle class suburban, latte-drinking utopian neighborhood do not understand enough to question what the representative said or would be too embarassed to question the cost out of fear of appearing poor. Either way, we are never going back to South Bay BMW, we saved $2,000 (we bought the $900 in parts) and my husband rocks.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Only A Nobody Walks In LA

The warning from my friend was unequivocal - do not make eye contact with anyone. Keep your head in your book and do not look up. The consequences of failing to heed this advice can be dire - a crazy will interpret your gaze, no matter how brief, as an invitation to exchange views on the world and you will be drawn into endless discussions about nothing.

While this advice has gotten me quite far in Howard Zinn's "A People's History Of The United States", I also got on the wrong train the other day because I wasn't paying attention to the stops. Doh! That cost me at least half an hour.

I live in an area of Los Angeles known as the South Bay, which is a utopian, beach-side suburban bubble of middle class SUV drivers who take their cafe lattes with nonfat milk and run on the beach pushing strollers every morning. Work, however, recently was relocated to Mars and the traffic between Mars and the South Bay is horrendous.

So, when my job told me they were relocating to Mars and invited me to come back now that we have shows in production again, I had two choices - find a way to take public transportation or find another job. This was a tough choice, however, as I am a native of this beautiful, yet insane, city and we natives undergo strict indoctrination about the disgrace of taking public transportation. As part of the indoctrination program, the 80's band Missing Persons sang the timeless classic "Walking In LA", the chorus of which goes

Walking in LA
Walking in LA
Only a Nobody Walks In LA

I had lengthy discussions with friends. Consulted maps. Checked the timetables. Weighed the costs. And found three compelling reasons to fight the indoctrination. 1) I hate traffic. 2) I am a cheapskate and 3) I refuse to fund another $600 million retirement for Exxon Mobil's CEO.

So I am a nobody now. I take the train and a bus or two to get to work and I love it. For an hour and some change (depending on which trains and buses I catch), I get to read, hide in a bubble and, if I can monitor the stops without making eye contact, have peace and quiet for myself. I show up to work relaxed and get home relaxed.

Although I mistakenly made eye contact with the chatterbug on the morning bus the other day and suffered through his endless babbling the entire ride to downtown LA, it reminded me of how isolating our cars are. If I went from my suburbia to work and back, I would never have occasion to encounter all sorts of people who do not live in my ivory tower; all the people for whom taking the bus is not a luxury, but a necessity because they can't afford to drive; the teenagers with their babies, the beggar duo who catch the redline with me in downtown and who switch up the stops at which they will spend their day "working"; the crazies who desperately need medical treatment.

The car is one of the most isolating inventions of modern times, second only to the computer. Try giving it up for a day. You would be amazed by how many people you meet; how many people look "scary" from afar and end up being polite and giving you a seat; how many kind people there are who share a laugh with you at the fact you got on the wrong train. We are all connected, for better or for worse, and if we are going to improve our society, it is time to reconnect to everyone whose fates are intimately intertwined with our own.

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."
Mahatma Gandhi

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Grasshoppers In The Rainforest

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Really Unsettling

The creepiest thing ever from the practice of law. I spent the better part of yesterday negotiating with the agent of a director we want to use for a show. She was sick and at the hospital (wouldn't say why), but she insisted on getting the deal negotiated and closed. We hammered out the terms until 8:00 last night and I e-mailed her the final version of the contract, which apparently her husband printed out and reviewed with her.

I just found out she died at midnight.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Cowardice Of The Conservative

Scott McPherson's article by this title reminds me of why Republicans hate Libertarians nearly as much as they hate "libruls" -

Conservatives are an interesting bunch. In a desperate attempt to differentiate themselves from liberals, they like to mock folks on the Left while talking as if they themselves were in agreement with libertarians. “I just vote Republican because they’re the lesser of two evils” is a common excuse for their continued support of that party and its philosophy (for lack of a better word).

But when you scratch below the surface of the typical conservative you find someone whose principles are about as far from libertarian as the leftist principles he condemns. As a friend of mine once said, “Conservatives like to talk about ‘limited government’ – they just never say what they want it limited to.”

In short, conservatives are typically cowards who don’t have the courage of their alleged convictions. For example, take the issue of immigration, a hot topic this election year for Republicans. Unable to stand on principle against big government, most conservatives have decided instead to pick on an easy target, one guaranteed to rally their base: immigrants.

When you explain the moral issue at stake, i.e., the right to immigrate and our country’s history of open borders, the typical conservative avoids taking a stand by attempting to muddle the issue. “You’re right,” he’ll say, “but what about the welfare state? As long as immigrants can come here and live off welfare we can’t have open borders.”

For the libertarian, this isn’t an issue at all. Abolishing the welfare state is a number-one priority for principled libertarians. If there is in fact a problem with immigrants’ using too much welfare (though the conservative is silent on the issue of native-born
folks’ using welfare, but we’ll get to that shortly) then that problem can be easily fixed: turn off the spigot of taxpayer funds and those who wish to loaf rather than work will stop coming here. Period.

This is particularly interesting because, when it suits them, conservatives are big
anti-welfare-state types. The Republican Revolution of 1994 was characterized by rhetoric in favor of reversing the nation’s welfarist trend, and Republicans condescendingly sneered at liberals for their support of the welfare state, thinking themselves so far above the redistribution of wealth. But having in (short) time retreated from that issue with complete indignity (George W. Bush is the biggest social spender since Lyndon Johnson), conservatives instead prefer to use it as an excuse to promote some “big-government” programs of their own – and keep voters on their side – and kick around the people they like the least: immigrants.

Last fall I had the pleasure of participating in an informal debate with a representative of the Center for Immigration Studies, a conservative think-tank based in Washington, D.C. Every argument he made hinged on immigrants’ ability to abuse the welfare state. When I pressed him long enough on the immorality of the welfare state itself – regardless of who was using it – he threw his hands up in despair and addressed the audience at large: “Who here thinks we’ll ever get rid of the welfare state?”

So the jig was up: Conservatives aren’t prepared to take on the unpopular issue of abolishing the welfare state, so immigrants have to take a bashing. That’s unprincipled and cowardly.

Conservatives and the drug war.

Another popular issue for conservatives is the drug war. Despite their small-government rhetoric anyone with a lick of sense can see the billions of dollars expended, the militarization of law-enforcement agencies, and the plethora of anti-drug laws enacted largely at the behest of conservative thinkers, as the Republicans’
Achilles’ heel. For all their talk about freedom and limited government, they like a big government around to pick on those drug-users – who are probably just liberals anyway, well except maybe for Rush Limbaugh.

So we return to our earlier argument: The drug war is an immoral use of government power to try to make peaceful and otherwise law-abiding people behave in a way that the politicians can approve of. “You’re right,” the conservative will say, “but what about the welfare state? If drugs are legal then drug-users will destroy
themselves and their families and taxpayers will end up footing the bill.” (As if alcohol, which conservatives consume with a clear conscience, weren’t responsible for a disproportionate amount of pain and misery!)

“Wait a minute!” the libertarian says. “I thought you conservatives were for abolishing the welfare state. If we get rid of welfare then drug users can’t make their bad decisions a burden on society.” “That’s true,” the conservative says, “but it’s politically unpopular to talk about getting rid of the welfare state.”

The truth is, keeping the welfare state around a while longer makes it easy for conservatives to avoid tackling difficult issues and standing up for unpopular causes, all the while kicking around people they don’t like. Meanwhile, another group of peaceful people take a bashing because conservatives are unprincipled and cowardly.

Conservatives and public schooling

A third example is public “education.” Conservatives know that public schools are a
tragic and moral failure. They see the unthinking products of this institution and react with horror. “See,” they say, “government isn’t the solution – government is the problem!” (Conservatives love to quote Ronald Reagan.)

What is their solution? Vouchers.

That’s right. When they see generation after generation of America’s young marched off to the equivalent of the government indoctrination camps found in Cuba or the former Soviet Union, Republicans are so incensed that they demand that parents… have a choice of which camp their child will go to!

Worse, the few private camps (I say private schools still qualify as government-controlled camps because they must, by law, conform to government “standards”) that exist will become virtually indistinguishable from government camps once subsidized attendance becomes widespread enough. (See Wickard v. Filburn, 1943: “It is hardly lack of due process for the Government to regulate that which it subsidizes.”)

Conservative commentators rail continually against the failure of public education, yet when the libertarian asks, “Why don’t we abolish all publicly funded educational institutions?” the conservative answers, “We would, but those evil Democrats would have a field day denouncing us.” Translation: “We don’t have the courage to stand by our alleged convictions.” Principle or expediency?


This is the truth of the matter: Conservatives talk a good game about the need to rein in government spending, abolish particular programs, and downsize the number of bureaucrats, but at the end of the day they truly believe that a big government
would probably work just fine if only they were in charge. No doubt it would be an uphill battle for conservatives to change their big government ways and embrace the libertarian vision of a free society.

We libertarians know quite well how difficult it is to make the case for free markets, private property, and limited government. Yet a principled approach to life requires doing the right thing, even when it’s not popular. Whether they’re too cowardly to stand by their principles or they don’t actually hold such views in the first place is irrelevant. When a Republican tells you he just votes for the “lesser of two evils,” don’t believe him – he doesn’t see his side as evil at all.

Saturday, June 03, 2006


I returned to work this week and it has been way busier than expected. The next installment from the Belize trip is our day trip to the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, located across the border in Guatemala.

Located in El Peten just a few hours through the jungle from Belize, Tikal is the most impressive and magnificent Mayan ruin in Central America. Believed to have been one of the most powerful cities in the ancient Mayan world, Tikal was inhabited between roughly 800 B.C. and 900 A.D., and was home to 100,000 people at its height. Today, a wildlife preserve covering 220 square miles of lush rainforest surrounds the ruins, and visitors commonly see monkeys and several species of tropical birds that inhabit the trees around the ancient city.

The city and surrounding areas are believed to have spanned an area of 23 square miles. The temples are mainly constructed out of limestone, which was very important for construction because it also provided lime for stucco and plaster. The temples used to be covered in rich color patterns and some temples were even painted completely red.

An official foreign expedition to Tikal was not made until 1848, although the locals probably always knew about the site. Tikal is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and archaeological studies continue.

Pyramids represent the sacred mountains, from which it was believed that maize came.