Monthly Archives: September 2012

That Muslim Movie, Freedom of Speech, and Reality

I finally got around to watching the trailer to the infamous “Innocence of Muslims” movie (I don’t get the title). The filmmaker, apparently a scoundrel who deceived everyone involved, succeeded in making something as offensive as possible to Muslims. And cheesy, too. Junior-high calibre, at best.

I remember the controversy over Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ.” That was certainly offensive to my faith. But despite the deserved public uproar, it didn’t go beyond that–no storming of Scorcese’s home, no rioting, etc. In America, we’ve learned to respond to offensive free speech with more free speech. Call it “yelling at each other.”

But that’s in America, where we’ve had nearly 250 years of practice with the “free speech” concept. It won’t catch on anytime soon in Arab countries. So this movie raises questions of a practical nature which go beyond our cherished First Amendment. Practical in the “Don’t yell FIRE in a crowded theater” sense.

We’re at the intersection of several things:

  1. Freedom of speech.
  2. Religious tolerance/bigotry.
  3. Public safety.
  4. International relations.

We know that depicting or demeaning Muhammed–forbidden by Islam–can inflame Muslim passions and endanger Americans abroad. So…what do we do? Allow it? Censor it?

Put aside the issue of what caused the initial attacks in Egypt and Libya–the movie, or the 9/11 anniversary (it was the anniversary). At the present time, a week after those events, the issue is definitely the movie.

Obviously, the Muslim reaction is wrong, period. But this is the world we live in. It is what it is.

The pragmatic reality is that such movies CAN put people’s lives and property at risk–American diplomats, missionaries, tourists, businesspersons. Such is our world. Is that a price we’re willing to pay for our values? I’m guessing it is, because the alternative is censorship. Nobody ever said freedom was free.

There is ample room for discussion. I lean toward allowing junk like this movie, and suffering the consequences…but with nagging reservations. I might feel differently if I were an American living overseas. What say you?

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The Swimming Pool in the Sky

The Holiday Inn Shanghai built a glass-bottomed swimming pool on the 24th floor which protrudes over the edge of the building. So while swimming underwater, you can look down to the street far, far below.

Great, that’s all I need–to experience a vertigo attack while underwater.

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Show Me the Calories!

When Pam and I visited California last October, I noticed how restaurants always posted the number of calories in each food item on the menu. I really liked that. It definitely affected what I ordered. There were items I might have ordered but, upon seeing the calorie count, opted for something else. True, I was gonna buy an In and Out Burger no matter how many calories it had, because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about (and it was worth it). But for other foods, I appreciated knowing how it might affect my waistline.

This was a state law in California, as it is in some other states and cities (notably, New York City). Some people argue that it represents far too much intrusiveness by government, and there’s a point to be made there. Government defaults toward intrusiveness. But considering the healthcare costs of poor nutrition (diabetes, heart disease, etc.), some of which society inevitably picks up (with or without Obamacare), I approve of calorie counts.

Now I see that McDonald’s will begin including calorie counts in about 14,000 restaurants nationwide. For a while now, their website has posted a complete ingredient breakdown for all McDonald’s foods. Kudos to them. But now we’ll be able to see the calorie count while standing in the checkout line.

Not that McDonald’s has been the standard-bearer for healthy eating. That’s like recognizing Congress for its workplace politeness and sensitivity. McDonald’s knows, of course, that a national law is coming (no date has been set yet) when all larger chains must include calorie counts. So they are just getting out there ahead of the curve, trying to win low-cal brownie points. Yet, I applaude them.

The result may be that, the next time I go to McDonald’s, I look over the menu, note the calorie counts…and go right back out the door. Because I’m confronted with the glaring reality that everything I like isn’t good for me.

A mandated calorie count may also make restaurants more reluctant to introduce new high-calorie items. Imagine ad campaigns where restaurants brag about how FEW calories their foods have.

Now, if they could just include the salt content, too. As a person with Miniere’s disease, I carefully examine all food labels to check the sodium content, lest vertigo come knocking. This is crucial to my health. But you can’t include everything. A friend of mine is allergic to corn. You can’t ask restaurants to identify the amount of corn syrup and other derivatives used in every menu item. So, on a practical basis, I’m content just putting the calorie content. For everything else–you’re on your own. That seems reasonable.

Slate.com published a good article about this back in March 2011. However, the article mentioned several studies that show, in places where calorie counts were already mandatory, it hadn’t changed people’s eating habits. Especially in poor neighborhoods. People were consuming as many calories as before.

In one study, just over half of the people said they actually noticed the calorie information. (The same people, I assume, also walk in front of speeding cars.) Only 15% said it affected their choices. The latter 15% averaged 106 calories less than everyone else.

But hey–if only 15% of consumers use the calorie information, that’s a good start. Nothing is universal right off the bat.

I’m definitely, and proudly, in that 15%. And 15% of a population of 300 million–that’s 45 million people who pay attention. People who probably also–like me–examine food labels in grocery stores, and make buying decisions on that basis.

Changing eating habits won’t happen overnight. Educating people about the need to control caloric intake, and having the need actually sink into their skulls, will take a while. Perhaps the majority of folks will never catch on. But putting the information out there, in plain sight, is a good start. We can’t do much more than that. It ultimately comes down to people’s choices.

Unfortunately, it won’t suddenly make people start cooking more at home, or getting regular exercise. Sometimes it takes a heart attack to do that.

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Memo to Myself:

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What Would I have Done in Cairo?

What would I do?

I’m an ambassador in a city thousands of miles from home. I’m surrounded by angry, fanatical Muslims shouting things like “Death to America,” and I know they can easily breech our walls. I’m responsible for a bunch of staffers, who fear for their lives and are depending on me. The local police are doing nothing. We’re obviously cut off from help and totally on our own.

The very LEAST I might do is think of possible ways to calm the crowd down. Maybe tell the demonstrators, “You know that movie you’re upset about? We didn’t like it either. We didn’t have anything to do with it.”

And if someone wearing a suit in an air-conditioned room, surrounded by security agents, wants to tell me I’m apologizing for America, I could live with that.

What would you do?

[Note: I posted this on Facebook, and there has been quite a bit of interaction.]

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Days You’ll Always Remember

A couple days ago, Lester Holt on NBC began a story saying that everyone remembers where they were when they heard the verdict in the OJ Simpson murder trial. Okay, I didn’t know we were supposed to remember that one, too. A couple weeks ago, we were talking about how everyone remembers what they were doing when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Sorry, but I don’t remember in either case. We’ve got far too many of these “remember where you were” events. What else are we supposed to remember? John Lennon’s assassination? The Reagan shooting? Nixon’s resignation? Geraldo opening Al Capone’s vault? Steve Jobs returns to Apple?

For me, there are only three such events: the Kennedy assassination, the Challenger explosion, and 9/11. That’s enough. Don’t trivialize them by putting the OJ verdict in the same category.

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Your Vote Probably Doesn’t Count

Nearly every day, we hear the latest tracking poll showing the percentage of people who intend to vote for Romney or Obama. Today I heard one with 48% for Obama and 45% for Romney (the rest undecided). The percentages keep changing.

The thing is: IT DOESN’T MATTER. It’s like picking Harvard to win every football game, because their players have the highest IQ. Irrelevant. That’s not how games are decided.

America isn’t a popular democracy, where the person with the most votes wins. At least not in presidential elections. Majority vote prevails at every other level–city and county, state, US Representatives, Senators–but we use a whole different method for selecting a president. Doesn’t that seem odd? It’s like playing a full soccer game, and if it’s tied at the end, you switch and play a whole different game (the lame shootout, or kick-off, or whatever it’s called).

We have this electoral college thing, treating states on a winner-take-all basis. Most states are already considered in the bag for one candidate or the other (including my state, Indiana). Romney and Obama will focus on just a handful of states, and eventually just one or two states. We call them “battleground” or “swing” states.

I realize there are pros and cons to the electoral college, and it’ll never be changed. But I’d like to see the nationwide popular vote decide who wins the election. That way, EVERY vote would count, not just those in Ohio and Florida (or whatever the battleground states du jour are). And we’d get pummeled with the same spate of TV ads assaulting everyone else. (Okay, this is a distinct advantage of living in Indiana.)

For instance, California will go to Obama; a majority of Californians will vote for him, no matter what Romney does. But I’m sure there are huge pockets of moderates who could easily swing to Romney, and would make a difference in a popular-vote election. But Romney’s not going to go after them, because they don’t matter. He won’t waste his time on the millions of voters in California. Nor those in New York and Illinois.

Likewise for Obama in Texas, Arizona, South Carolina…and Indiana. There may be hundreds of thousands of voters he could swing his way, while still not carrying the state. In a popular election, those voters would still matter. Because a vote is a vote. But in our system, they don’t matter. A vote is NOT necessarily a vote. Only in certain states.

Over the years, 700+ proposals have been introduced to reform or end the electoral college (a term which doesn’t appear in the Constitution itself), but none have gone anywhere. Polls consistently show that a wide majority of people favor abolishing the electoral college (75% in 1981). It’s an archaic system, which may have fit the world of the late 1700s, but it’s time to go. Plus, the electoral college is death to third parties. Ross Perot won 19% of the votes in 1992, but received NO electoral votes because he wasn’t strong enough in any single state. I’d love to see a third party candidate who actually stands a snowball’s chance.

Here in Indiana, we moderates can basically sit this one out, again. The state is firmly in the Romney column, and neither Romney nor Obama are going to waste time or money coming for a visit. We are taken for granted. And I hate that.

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The Romney Campaign Steals Ideas from Obama

The Obama page (left) and the Romney page (click to enlarge)

I wonder where the idea for the Paul Ryan banner came from?

On September 2, Zac Moffatt is digital director for Miss Romney’s presidential campaign. On September 2, he bragged on Mashable.com,

I think our online ad team is superior to theirs. It’s where we pride ourselves as a campaign to be cutting edge…. We think it’s one of our greatest strengths…I always feel that hubris of the Obama campaign is they look down on Republicans because they think we don’t understand how digital works.”

Which is interesting. Because they’ve been copying the Obama campaign.

In March, the Obama campaign put up a “quick donate” page. The Romney campaign put up its own such page in late August–and it’s almost identical to the Obama page. They even used some of the same text, including a punctuation error (a comma outside a quote mark).

Obama wording:
After you’ve saved your credit card and phone number in your BarackObama.com account, you can use your cell phone to make a donation. All you need to do is text the amount you want to give. If you text us “10″, we’ll charge your saved credit card $10. It’s never been easier to donate.

Romney wording:
After you’ve saved your credit card and phone number in your MyMitt account, you can use your cell phone to make a donation. All you need to do is text the amount you want to give. If you text us “10″, we’ll charge your saved credit card $10. It’s never been easier to donate.

The Obama site’s “Terms of Use” states that the website “including, without limitation, OFA’s logo, and all designs, text…are the proprietary property of OFA or its licensors or users and are protected by U.S. and international copyright laws.”

Another example of the Romney campaign stealing from the Obama campaign involves banners created for the separate campaigns.

So yes, they built it. Kind of like the Chinese build it–by copying someone else.

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Would I have Gotten a Tattoo?

If I was a teenager today, would I want a tattoo? Possibly.

I don’t remember my high school classmates in the 1970s getting tattoos (a large, multi-ethnic school in Tulare, California). It just wasn’t a thing back then. But we still had ways to be “cool,” and I suppose tattoos, today, are evidence of “cool.”

I was not immune to peer pressure. I wanted to be cool (and fell oh so short). So maybe, if growing up today, I would pester my parents for permission to get a tattoo (and pout when they said no).

Tattoos are very common at my church. It doesn’t bother me. I have no inclination to be either judgmental or admiring. But I have zero interest in getting a tattoo. Maybe because a person can possess only so much “cool,” and I’m at capacity. Yeah, that’s my story.

I found these stats:

  • 20% of Americans have a tattoo. Most of them, of course, have multiple tattoos.
  • Tattoos are more prevalent in the west, where 26% sport a tattoo.
  • Adults aged 30-39 are more likely to have a tattoo than age groups either older or younger.
  • Only 5% of persons 65+ have a tattoo.
  • Women are slightly more likely than men, for the first time since this question was first asked, to have a tattoo (now 23% versus 19%).
  • 86% of persons with a tattoo say they have never regretted getting one.
  • 30% say a tattoo makes them feel more sexy.

Among those without tattoos:

  • 45% say that people with tattoos are less attractive, and 39% say they are less sexy.
  • 25% say that people with tattoos are less intelligent (27%), healthy (25%) or spiritual (25%).
  • 50% say people with tattoos are more rebellious.
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Wrapping Up the DNC Convention

So, the conventions are over. Now we can settle back in our easy chairs and bask in an inundation of vicious attack ads for the next two months. Oh yes, one of life’s simple pleasures, and we only get to enjoy it every four years.

And while you’re at it, send a few robo-calls my way, along with people conducting fake political surveys which are just a prelude to leaving me with a plug for their candidate. So much to look forward to in the next two months.

Okay, Obama’s speech: eh. Nothing special, though it’s mostly a matter of comparing Obama with himself, his previous speeches. Some very good zingers, but nothing new from a policy standpoint. A vision for America, but mostly devoid of specifics. In other words, pretty much like all those Republican speeches last week. But as Joe Scarborough pointed out this morning, President Obama says nothing with far more eloquence than Mitt Romney says nothing.

We had music practice Thursday night and then needed to get cat food for the kids, lest they be unbearable, so we didn’t get home until 9:30–just in time for Joe Biden’s speech. So I basically heard just two speeches last night–Biden, and Obama. I missed Jennifer Granholm’s apparent freak-out, and caught some clips of some good lines from John Kerry. But that’s all.

For me, watching only two speeches, the highlight was definitely Joe Biden. They say he’s great out on the stump, mixing it up with people. He’s a real “man of the people” in the best political sense. None of the others–Obama, Ryan, and certainly not Romney–can connect with people like Biden does.

Biden’s speech told stories, basically two of them–rescuing General Motors, and killing Bin Laden. Then he brought those stories together, and honed both his attack on Romney and his praise for Obama. No shortage of hyperbole, obviously, but it was effective. The only other good storytelling I heard came from the wives, Ann Romney and Michelle Obama, as they talked about their husbands. Ann was especially effective in that way, I thought.

Now, humor me as I do some grading of the various speeches. I am, as you know, Infallible and Omniscient. Besides, I think I’m pretty much in line with what our All Knowing and Wise Pundits are saying.

Julian Castro vs. Marco Rubio. Pretty much a wash–both were excellent–but I’ll give Rubio the edge.

Michelle Obama vs. Ann Romney. Both were very good, highlights of their conventions. But Michelle Obama gave the best speech of either convention. IMHO. My goodness, how far she has come since those early sordid conservative portrayals of her an as “angry black woman.”

Elizabeth Warren vs. Condoleeza Rice. I missed both speeches, but from what I’ve heard, Condi was superb.

Obama video vs. Romney video. Hands-down, Romney’s. Unfortunately, they used that video earlier in the evening, when few people probably saw it. Instead, the Reps introduced Romney with…Clint Eastwood. Serious mistake.

Joe Biden vs. Paul Ryan. Easily Biden. Even if Ryan hadn’t included so many easily-checked lies and distortions, damaging his credibility as the fact checkers savaged him, my vote would still go to Biden. Of the four persons running for office, he gave my favorite speech.

Bill Clinton vs. Chris Christie. I really like Chris Christie, but was severely disappointed with his speech. It was very self-serving, and didn’t help Romney at all. Clinton, on the other hand, did something you seldom see in political speeches: he didn’t talk down to his audience. Rather, he tackled the details of complex subjects, trying to explain truly wonky stuff. I’m not saying he presented everything accurately. But he didn’t just utter punch lines and talking points. He took a high view of his audience, and I appreciated that. Although I liked Michelle Obama’s speech better, I think Clinton’s speech will be the one that will be remembered (maybe the only one from either convention). Besides, Clinton is obviously a rock star among Dems.

____ vs. Clint Eastwood. The Dems had no counterpart for Clint Eastwood. Good move.

Obama vs. Romney. I was genuinely impressed with Romney’s speech, and thought he did well…for Romney. Meanwhile, I didn’t think Obama’s speech was anything special…for Obama. Different measuring sticks. I might be inclined to give the edge to Romney, except for two things. One: the Eastwood introduction, which totally overshadowed Romney’s speech. Two: the omission of any mention of the troops and Afghanistan, which will haunt him throughout the election. Obama’s speech basically did no harm; there was nothing there (that I saw) that the Republicans can use against him.

DNC vs. RNC. I thought most everything about the Democratic convention was done better. The stage crafting, and the on-messaging of the speakers, was impressive. I generally liked the RNC videos better. Every keynote speaker (that I heard) at the DNC was superb. At the RNC, on the other hand, Chris Christie was a disappointment, there was the Clint Eastwood fiasco, and the only thing people are saying about Romney’s speech is that he didn’t talk about the military. Big blunders.

The biggest blunder at the DNC was that idiotic platform vote. Leaving “God” and “Jerusalem” out of the platform could have haunted Obama throughout the rest of the campaign, just as Romney’s omission of the military will be continually thrown in his face. But I’m still amused that the Democrats had a chance to fix their platform blunder–albeit in a thoroughly clunky and dishonest way, in front of the entire nation–because Republicans immediately and indignantly pointed out the error. If they had just held their tongues for a couple days, they would have had a couple of mighty weapons to use in the remaining two months.

There were lots of speeches earlier in the evenings, and I enjoyed pretty much all of the ones I heard. Unfortunately, unless you were watching C-Span, you would have missed many of them, because the cable networks felt it was much more important for you to hear shallow banter and talking points from their On TV Every Single Day Ad Nauseum pundits.

So that’s how I saw it. Just sitting here on a lazy Friday morning typing stuff off the top of my head.

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