I hear the unknown’s cackling

I got trapped in my bathroom last night. Again.

I don’t know how this happens. I remember going in, but my next coherent thought was kneeling on the rug, feeling the walls to determine the location of the door. I found the wall, but didn’t know which direction to move in. I remember finding the wood of the cabinet beneath the sink, but I wasn’t awake enough to know which direction to move. My brain slowly came to life, processing logical thoughts.

I refused to stop touching the wood of the cabinet because I knew that was important. As my hands reached the edge of the cabinet door, I pulled it open towards me. That let me know that the bathroom door was on my left. I lunged my hands for the door, hoping to find the knob. I spent a few more moments searching, but I found it. I went back to bed, too tired to comprehend the situation. My only thought was that I’d escaped again.

My bathroom continues its attempts to capture me, but I’ve been successful in avoiding its forever grasp so far. I will continue to fight defiantly!

Leadership lessons, no charge

The debate over what the U.S. and coalition forces should do about Iraq has turned into a discussion of Iraq as the Vietnam. I don’t think this idea holds up, as Tony Blair correctly explains in this article. The entire article is worth reading, but here’s the highlight:

Of course they use Iraq. It is vital to them. As each attack brings about American attempts to restore order, so they then characterise it as American brutality. As each piece of chaos menaces the very path toward peace and democracy along which most Iraqis want to travel, they use it to try to make the coalition lose heart, and bring about the retreat that is the fanatics’ victory.

They know it is a historic struggle. They know their victory would do far more than defeat America or Britain. It would defeat civilisation and democracy everywhere. They know it, but do we? The truth is, faced with this struggle, on which our own fate hangs, a significant part of Western opinion is sitting back, if not half-hoping we fail, certainly replete with schadenfreude at the difficulty we find.

Building further upon this, Andrew Sullivan posted his statement detailing how John Kerry should handle the current situation in Iraq. He opens his article with the following:

There’s no question that the violence in Iraq this past week has rattled Washington – and indeed Americans. A war that seems to pit U.S. marines against some of the people they are supposed to be liberating is not a narrative most Americans want to follow. Senator Ted Kennedy used the V-word: “We’re facing a quagmire in Iraq, just as we faced a quagmire in Vietnam.” Even the conservative TV host, Bill O’Reilly, opined of the silent majority of Shiites: “If these people won’t help us, we need to get out in an orderly matter.”

Whether or not someone supported the war, that doesn’t change the fact that we’re not leaving without success. In the land of fairies and always-answered prayers, we could withdraw and Iraq would still become a stable democacry. Unfortunately, this is the mess we’re in. It’s not going away, so we have to deal with, whether or not Bush should’ve gotten us into it.

Ultimately, the presidential debate becomes “Who should lead us in the continued war on terrorism?”

For me (besides the obvious conclusion that I’ll vote for John Kerry, short of him being caught with a dead body), this election is about finding a presidential leader. Bush has alienated the world with his bullying tough talk. Kerry hasn’t built any credibility in his ability to take a stance. This is bad for our future.

But the consolation is that, contrary to what people think, Kerry is not going to walk away from what Bush started. He can’t. As much as he may take every stance possible, he’s smart enough to understand the global implications of the current situation.

That leads to the question of what John Kerry would do. As Mr. Sullivan states:

This leaves, however, a fascinating dilemma for John Kerry. So far, his campaign has been dedicated to criticizing how the president got us into the Iraq war. Last Wednesday in a radio interview, he described the Iraq war as “one of the greatest failures of diplomacy and failures of judgment that I have seen in all the time that I’ve been in public life.” But what would he do if he were elected? So far, he has dismissed the notion that he would cut and run. And you can see why: If he were to pull a Zapatero, he would be destroyed in the election. But he has yet to articulate a compelling alternative to Bush’s call for resolve. Again, when asked last week what his own current policy would be, he responded: “Right now, what I would do differently is, I mean, look, I’m not the president, and I didn’t create this mess so I don’t want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven’t made.” That’s a non-answer. But a non-answer tells you a lot about what a real answer might be.

That kind of non-answer is understandable from a politician. But it’s obvious that the United States is in need of a leader, not another president governing by polls or ideology (Clinton and Bush, respectively). Mr. Sullivan, who is not running for president, imagined the perfect statement to fit the message John Kerry is trying to sell. He writes:

Thank you, Mr president, for your leadership in difficult times. You took some tough decisions in good faith. I disagree with you but I will not let our troops down and I will not abandon Iraq. But you, Mr president, are now part of the problem. You are too polarizing a figure to bring real peace to Iraq, and have bungled the post-liberation too badly. Your failure to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction has undermined your credibility as a war-leader. You are too unpopular to allow European governments and the U.N. to cooperate fully in the war. One of the advantages of a democracy is that we can pursue the same goals over time with different leaders and different strategies. I intend to win the war in Iraq because we cannot afford to lose it. But I also intend to bring our allies more centrally into the task, to increase troop levels in the country, to appoint Richard Holbrooke to oversee our cooperation with the incoming Iraqi government, and ask former president Bill Clinton to re-open peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. I will be tough on terror and tough on the causes of terror. I can complete what you started. In fact, I alone can complete what you started.

The ideas in that one paragraph say everything necessary. Unfortunately, I fear that we’d have to live in the land of fairies and always-answered prayers for those words to come from John Kerry.

It’s a simple game, really.

The Phillies are awful. We lost again today, in the home opener. I’m not giving up, but I sense impending disaster. When I wrote the script for the first 7 games of this season, it didn’t include 6 losses.

On Thursday, Danielle and I are going to Philadelphia to see the Phillies “play”. She’s never been to a Major League game, so I’d like it to be a good game for her. However, since I define a good game as a Phillies win, I’m a little worried. The new ballpark is nice, but losing sucks. I’ll have to buy her some cotton candy as a salve, but only if she buys me blinders and aspirin.

Even from DC, I can smell the “classic” Philadelphia smell surrounding the stadium complex. Sniff, sniff, sniff. As it wafts ungraciously into my nose, I’ve figured out the fragrance. It’s the scent of an in-progress 160-game losing streak.

Aren’t you glad I’m blogging again?

As if we needed further proof of the current spree of attacks on rights, now the Justice Department is going after pornography. According to the article, the goal isn’t to rid the country of porn that is clearly reprehensible, such as child pornography:

In this field office in Washington, 32 prosecutors, investigators and a handful of FBI agents are spending millions of dollars to bring anti-obscenity cases to courthouses across the country for the first time in 10 years. Nothing is off limits, they warn, even soft-core cable programs such as HBO’s long-running Real Sex or the adult movies widely offered in guestrooms of major hotel chains.

Department officials say they will send “ripples” through an industry that has proliferated on the Internet and grown into an estimated $10 billion-a-year colossus profiting Fortune 500 corporations such as Comcast, which offers hard-core movies on a pay-per-view channel.

The Justice Department recently hired Bruce Taylor, who was instrumental in a handful of convictions obtained over the past year and unsuccessfully represented the state in a 1981 case, Larry Flynt vs. Ohio.

This scares me. I believe that we are free to make, distribute, and view pornography if we wish, given that it involves consenting adults. That’s the basic idea of liberty. Yet, we have this:

Drew Oosterbaan, chief of the division in charge of obscenity prosecutions at the Justice Department, says officials are trying to send a message and halt an industry they see as growing increasingly “lawless.”

“We want to do everything we can to deter this conduct” by producers and consumers, Oosterbaan said. “Nothing is off the table as far as content.”

Deter this conduct? By consumers? Nothing is off the table as far as content? Where might this be heading…

Regarding the law that Attorney General Ashcroft and the Justice Department will use, there’s this:

The law itself rests on the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision in Miller vs. California, which held that something is “obscene” only if an average person applying contemporary community standards finds it patently offensive. But until now, it hasn’t been prosecuted at the federal level for more than 10 years.

The question is simple: who decides “community standards”? That leads to the next question I have: if my neighbors disagree with what I’m doing, but I’m not harming anyone, why do they get to decide that I can’t do it? When did the Constitution begin to grant the right for the majority to quiet the minority opinion? I don’t believe it does.

Freedom grants you the right to believe and behave as you wish, as long as you’re not harming others. The drawback is that I get the same rights. Freedom doesn’t imply freedom from mental anguish because of things you disagree with. The only way to “guarantee” that we get all Disney and no MTV (as FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps so eloquently put the family-oriented debate) is to turn America into a dictatorship.

Instead, I prefer this idea from Representative Ron Paul, which is brilliant. (I don’t know his views on pornography, so I’m not endorsing the connection that this quote represents his views on pornography. But it’s relevant for the my view of the concept of censorship – “content intrusion” for those of you playing the home version of The Political Hate Speech Drinking Game&trade.):

Since most Americans- I hope- are still for freedom of expression of political ideas and religious beliefs, no one claims that anyone who endorses freedom of speech therefore endorses the nutty philosophy and religious views that are expressed. We should all know that the 1st Amendment was not written to protect non-controversial mainstream speech, but rather the ideas and beliefs of what the majority see as controversial or fringe.

The temptation has always been great to legislatively restrict rudeness, prejudice, and minority views, and it’s easiest to start by attacking the clearly obnoxious expressions that most deem offensive. The real harm comes later. But “later” is now approaching.

The failure to understand that radio, TV, and movies more often than not reflect the peoples’ attitudes prompts this effort. It was never law that prohibited moral degradation in earlier times. It was the moral standards of the people who rejected the smut that we now see as routine entertainment. Merely writing laws and threatening huge fines will not improve the moral standards of the people. Laws like the proposed “Broadcast Indecency Act of 2004” merely address the symptom of a decaying society, while posing a greater threat to freedom of expression. Laws may attempt to silence the bigoted and the profane, but the hearts and minds of those individuals will not be changed. Societal standards will not be improved. Government has no control over these standards, and can only undermine liberty in its efforts to make individuals more moral or the economy fairer.

Proponents of using government authority to censor certain undesirable images and comments on the airwaves resort to the claim that the airways belong to all the people, and therefore it’s the government’s responsibility to protect them. The mistake of never having privatized the radio and TV airwaves does not justify ignoring the 1st Amendment mandate that “Congress shall make no law abridging freedom of speech.” When everyone owns something, in reality nobody owns it. Control then occurs merely by the whims of the politicians in power. From the very start, licensing of radio and TV frequencies invited government censorship that is no less threatening than that found in totalitarian societies.

We should not ignore the smut and trash that has invaded our society, but laws like this will not achieve the goals that many seek. If a moral society could be created by law, we would have had one a long time ago. The religious fundamentalists in control of other countries would have led the way. Instead, authoritarian violence reigns in those countries.

If it is not recognized that this is the wrong approach to improve the quality of the airways, a heavy price will be paid. The solution to decaying moral standards has to be voluntary, through setting examples in our families, churches, and communities- never by government coercion. It just doesn’t work.


Freedom is beautifully ugly

I’ve put this entry on hold for more than a week, but thanks to the FCC’s nonsense regarding Howard Stern, it’s now relevant. Here are my views on the National Association of Broadcaster’s Summit on Responsible Programming. This summit featured key speeches by FCC Chairman Michael Powell and FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps. I could offer a nice thesis on indecency and my Libertarian view, but I’ve explained that in many previous posts. Thus, I wish to take issue with parts of the speeches, offering my commentary on each segment I believe to be relevant to the current debate.

First up, comments by FCC Chairman Michael Powell:

Of particular significance, and concern, is that the debate re-energized the previously fading debate about the role of government in content-whether it be restricting offensive content, or promoting favored content and viewpoints. This increased comfort with content intrusion is part of what is on display in the furious debate about broadcast indecency and excessive violence.

Increased comfort with “content intrusion”? How can he say that and think it’s acceptable? It’s not. He’s framing the debate and hoping, with reasonable expectation, that people will agree. “Content intrusion” is called censorship. I could end my argument here and it would be sufficient.

Indeed, I am of the view that competitive pressures much more than consolidation are what account for more programming that tests the limits of indecency and violence. As audience continues to fragment and the number of choices multiplies, it is harder and harder to grab and hold a viewer or listener.

It’s harder, so broadcasters are following formulas. The “indecency” showing up on the public airwaves is a result of changing attitudes in America. Writers are expressing that acceptance. Broadcasters try to fight this.

Watch television or listen to the radio. Everything is the same, except for a few outliers on the fringe. Those fringe players are the talented ones. Howard Stern is not the norm. Jack Diamond is the norm. But Howard Stern is nationally syndicated because this is what people want to hear. There is a Jack Diamond in every city in America. They’re on the air because they’re not “filthy”. But listeners don’t come charging back for more. Family-oriented gets wacky programming. Talent-driven gets funny programming. I’ll take funny.

Currently, however, we are not talking about speech or conduct on the margin that has set off the current powder keg in the country. We see increasing – – -I might even say escalating – – – complaints from the public because increasingly it seems the media is not playing close to the line, but is outright leaping past the line and in fact daring the audience and daring the government to do anything about it. Some of the transcripts I have been forced to read reveal content that is pure trash, plain and simple, and few, other than staunch libertarians, could possibly stand up and defend it publicly.

Michael, please, put the hammer down. It’s hard work building your own cross. Stop for a moment and get some lemonade.

In other words, the debate is not best understood as one about what you can do or cannot do on radio or television. Rather, it is more about whether consumers can rely on reasonable expectations about the range of what they will see on a given program at a given time.

He’s lying. If he believed this, he wouldn’t be going after Howard Stern. Every listener who tunes in Howard Stern knows exactly what type of program will air. If he believed this, he’d be fighting for time-delays on live broadcasts instead of tougher legislation.

It is not Janet’s nudity that is decried. It is the fact that “by god it was the Superbowl!” the largest prime television event of the year. An event for friends and family. People do not want to feel that they can be struck by lightning, or hit by a truck at any moment. Similarly, they do not like the sense they have no safe expectation of what they might see or hear during a given program-precisely the formula some are using to grab headlines. By the nature of your medium, consumers expect more of you than most.

And now he’s trying to reduce Janet Jackson to familiarity. He’s attempting to further frame the debate in his favor. And I fail to see the connection between naked breasts and being struck by lightning or being hit by a truck. And I do expect more of broadcasters, as opposed to worrying about nuclear proliferation, world hunger, and global warming. Naked breasts are a serious danger to civilization.

And, last but not least, the law says so.

I know he didn’t say this. It’s not possible, even though “Because I said so” is a great argument. Slavery was “the law”. No female suffrage was “the law”. Does this make it right?

It is your “publicness” that also invites strong governmental oversight and interest. The ability to limit these intrusions and protect your commercial viability depends heavily on policing yourselves. I think this industry must set a higher standard commensurate with its privilege as public trustees and with its own traditions. Setting your own standards is your best defense.

In this vein, I want to strongly encourage you to develop and adopt a new voluntary code to guide your actions in the same spirit you have in years past. I believe you can create such best practices and guidelines, consistent with the law. It would be in your interest to do so.

Seriously? This is a stupid idea. It’s the same as being forced to cut your own switch. (If you’re not from the South, you may need that explained to you.) If broadcasters knew what was safe and what was “illegal”, this debate wouldn’t be happening. Their point is that if you don’t like their rules, you’re going to tell them to go back and try again. Why waste time, Chairman Powell? What are you afraid of?

Finally, I have heard some of you call for an FCC rulemaking to create more “clarity” as to what is prohibited. I want to warn you that this is unwise. You do not want to ask the government to write a “Red Book” of Dos and Don’ts. I understand the complaint about knowing where the line is, but heavier government entanglement through a “Dirty Conduct Code” will not only chill speech, it may deep freeze it. It might be an ice age that would last a very long time.

That is the money quote. Nope, they’re not interested in taking away your rights. Nope, not at all. Chairman Powell, you can talk all the big talk you want, but it’s obvious that you don’t want to write a “Red Book” because you know a court will strike it down as unconstitutional.

I will conclude, as I once concluded a speech on the First Amendment several years ago: “We should think twice before allowing the government the discretion to filter information to us as they see fit, for the King always takes his ransom.”

I was wrong. That’s the money quote.

Next up, comments by FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps:

We are here because millions of Americans have made it convincingly clear that they no longer will tolerate media’s race to the bottom when it comes to indecency on the people’s airwaves.

Prove it. One listener in Fort Lauderdale doesn’t speak for America. Until you set up a corresponding system that allows citizens to voice their approval of “indecent” material, you’ll only hear the slanted voice of complaints. That’s not fair government.

Every day when I boot up my FCC computer, every time I visit a town or city anywhere across this country of ours, I hear the people’s concern: we are fed up, they say, with the patently offensive programming coming our way so much of the time. I saw the people’s anger all last year when Commissioner Adelstein and I took to the road in our media ownership forums, and I saw it again over the past few months as all the Commissioners were in Charlotte, North Carolina and San Antonio, Texas for hearings on localism-people from all walks of life and every political persuasion lined up to express their frustration-their anger-with the sex, violence and profanity that pervades so much of our media. We even had kids stand up and say how fed up they are with the programming coming their way.

Define “patently offensive”. And when did it become acceptable for Charlotte and San Antonio to speak for America?

About the only place where the Super Bowl had a galvanizing effect was here in Washington, particularly at the FCC, where the tired old arguments I have been hearing for the past three years were finally laid to rest-I think. “If people don’t like what they’re seeing, they can just turn it off,” I was told. Are we supposed to just turn off the all-American Super Bowl?

My response is simple: Yes, turn off the Super Bowl. I know it will be difficult, since you’ll have to unwrap yourself from the flag, but I think you can manage it. Watching the Super Bowl is your right. It is not your right to dictate what should be on the Super Bowl. If you get to make that argument, then I’m making the rule that the Redskins get to play in the Super Bowl every year. Am I supposed to watch the all-American Super Bowl without my favorite team? I think not, Mr. Copps.

I believe that, as a society, we have a responsibility to protect children from content that is inappropriate for them. And when it comes to the broadcast media, the Federal Communications Commission has the statutory obligation-the legal mandate-to protect children from indecent, profane and obscene programming.

I’m sure my brother is thrilled that you feel you can protect his son better than he can. I believe he’ll expect you to pay child support if you intend to raise his child, though. Oh, but I forgot, he’s a man, so he’s an irresponsible, inadequate parent. Forgive me. Please.

But while you meet and discuss and move toward I hope resolute new industry policies on indecency, I am going to be pressing my colleagues to get on with the job of enforcing the statute, using all the ammunition already in our armory and also putting to immediate use any additional arrows that Congress may provide for our quiver.

Perfect. While Chairman Powell is suggesting the industry right it’s own rules of conduct, you don’t wish to wait for that. You just want to enforce, enforce, enforce. Allow me to ask this silly question: which rules are you enforcing?

Let me urge you also to cast your net widely as you develop a program. A grassroots issue merits-indeed compels-grassroots input. If this was an “inside-the-Beltway” issue, we wouldn’t be here today. Open your doors, let the sun shine in, reach out and talk to those who you want to see and hear your programs. You’ll have a better product by far if you do this.

Commissioner Copps should be honest and say what type of programming he demands. Broadcasters have been “opening their doors and letting the sun shine in” with some silly little invention called the Nielsen Ratings. It tells broadcasters what people are watching. Which determines what programming earns money from advertisers. Which determines what continues to get on the air. And who decides what defines “better product” in your mind? What if broadcasters do this and the people say “We want smut!”? What then?

It’s clear that both men have an agenda. I’m more concerned about Chairman Powell because he’s trying to shape this debate with subtlety. Commissioner Copps is trying to bludgeon the issue, which will never achieve his desired result. However, both are attacking free speech rights and that’s unacceptable.

Freedom requires honesty

National security adviser Condoleezza Rice spoke to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States . She had some interesting insights, which I’ll recap here, with my opinion added. From her opening remarks:

The terrorists were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them. For more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient. Historically, democratic societies have been slow to react to gathering threats, tending instead to wait to confront threats until they are too dangerous to ignore or until it is too late.

I’ve harped on it before, but freedom isn’t free. There are intangible costs associated with it, but I don’t think we wish to give up on democracy to possibly prevent more terrorism. Living in fear doesn’t work.

To her credit, Dr. Rice implied this idea. I’m not convinced that the president and administration is committed to this ideal, but I have cause for hope. However, I disagree with this next comment, concerning President Bush’s leadership since September 11th, 2001:

[H]e has done this in a way that is consistent with protecting America’s cherished civil liberties and with preserving our character as a free and open society.

I’ve written voluminously about that concept, with regard to subjects not related to September 11th, 2001. My views on this are simple: argue what you will about President Bush’s leadership in “protecting America’s cherished civil liberties and with preserving our character as a free and open society”, his actions are, at best, contradictory. At worst, this statement is false. I’m not going to comment further.

Moving on to Dr. Rice’s testimony, many of her answers portray the fact that the issues facing the president and his administration don’t lend themselves to an obvious prioritization. He must make choices, as educated as possible. It’s not always successful, but that doesn’t mean he’s a bad president. Consider this:

One doesn’t have the luxury of dealing only with one issue if you are the United States of America. There are many urgent and important issues.

But we all had a strong sense that this was a very crucial issue. The question was, what do you then do about it?

And the decision that we made was to, first of all, have no drop- off in what the Clinton administration was doing, because clearly they had done a lot of work to deal with this very important priority.

And so we kept the counterterrorism team on board. We knew that George Tenet was there. We had the comfort of knowing that Louis Freeh was there.

Assuming this testimony is the truth, this begins to enlighten us about the thought process involved before September 11th. Intelligence gathering is confusing. The answers aren’t always obvious. The key is being smart with the information available at the time. The primary valuable hindsight task is to fix the intelligence/structural weaknesses that did not prevent the attacks. Assigning blame should happen, but only if an egregious failure to act makes assigning blame an obvious option.

As Dr. Rice reveals in her response to Governor James R. Thompson’s questioning about the attack on the U.S.S. Cole:

Governor Thompson: The Cole – why didn’t the Bush administration respond to the Cole?

Dr. Rice: I think Secretary Rumsfeld has perhaps said it best.

We really thought that the Cole incident was passed, that you didn’t want to respond tit-for-tat. As I’ve said, there is strategic response and tactical response.

And just responding to another attack in an insufficient way we thought would actually probably embolden the terrorists. They had been emboldened by everything else that had been done to them. And that the best course was to look ahead to a more aggressive strategy against them.

I still believe to this day that the Al Qaida were prepared for a response to the Cole and that, as some of the intelligence suggested, bin Laden was intending to show that he yet survived another one, and that it might have been counterproductive.

That makes sense to me. For an example, see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every attack gets an immediate revenge response. Where is the solution in there? I know that’s over-simplifying the issue, but the point is still relevant. The thought process within the Clinton and Bush administrations was logical and potentially correct.

However, despite my positive response to Dr. Rice’s testimony, my fundamental issue with the Bush administration is displayed by Bob Kerrey’s comments during the questioning:

Let me say, I think you would have come in there if you said, We screwed up. We made a lot of mistakes. You obviously don’t want to use the M-word in here. And I would say fine, it’s game, set, match. I understand that.

When faced with questioning about what happened, President Bush and the administration circled the wagons. They didn’t want any debate. The president has a war on terrorism to fight, which isn’t finished. But that’s a justification for beginning the debate, not ending it. He’s committed America to a long fight against radical, violent thinking. This is worthy, but not to be undertaken in secret.

Everyone knows that mistakes were made leading up to September 11th. I believe (hope?) the majority of people are smart enough to know that no one person or administration can be blamed for this. We didn’t know. But we could’ve. Until President Bush is prepared to act presidential and speaks honestly with the American people, his credibility will suffer. In an election year, that’s not wise.

Let freedom ring?

Perhaps Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia should speak with President Bush. At a speech, Justice Scalia spoke of the Constitution:

“The Constitution of the United States is extraordinary and amazing. People just don’t revere it like they used to,” Scalia told a full auditorium of high school students, officials, religious leaders.

Interesting words by an extreme conservative. I agree with his statement, but I suspect we don’t agree on how to apply our reverance.

Papa I know you’re going to upset

Thanks to a link from Wil Wheaton, I discovered Andrew Sullivan‘s blog. He’s a conservative, so I don’t always agree with him, but I find myself agreeing more than I would’ve expected. Whether I agree or not, his views are intelligent and logical. In reading his blog, I came across an article he wrote for the January 26, 2004 issue of Time. It’s called “Nanny-In-Chief: Bush versus Freedom”.

I’ve written extensively about my displeasure with President Bush and his presidency. There are instances where I believe he is attacked unjustly, or at least for the wrong reasons, but Andrew Sullivan’s article is a brilliant synopsis of President Bush’s agenda and its flaws. Consider:

There’s barely a speech by president Bush that doesn’t cite the glories of human freedom. It’s God’s gift to mankind, he believes. And in some ways, this president has clearly expanded it: the people of Afghanistan and Iraq now enjoy liberties unimaginable only a few years ago. But there’s a strange exception to this Bush doctrine: it ends when you reach America’s shores. Within the United States, the Bush administration has shown an unusually hostile attitude toward the exercise of personal freedom. When your individual choices conflict with what the Bush people think is good for you, they’ve been only too happy to intervene. The government, Bush clearly believes, has a right to be involved in many personal decisions individuals make – punishing some, encouraging others, nudging and prodding the public to live the good life as the president understands it. The nanny-state, much loved by Democrats, is now thriving under Republicans.

I recently heard Bill O’Reilly say that America has the decision of which view of personal liberty to support and promote: secular or morality-based. Obviously, he wants a moral minimum for the country, while I believe that a secular view, based on separation of church and state, is best. Anarchy will not result from either, but freedom is extended to everyone under my ideal.

Mr. Sullivan continues with this:

The president is proud of his big government moralism. As he put it in his first State of the Union, “Values are important, so we have tripled funding for character education to teach our children not only reading and writing, but right from wrong.” Sounds inoffensive enough. But who exactly determines what is right and what is wrong? Churches? Synagogues? Parents? Teachers? Nah. The federal government.

Again, President Bush is attempting to have the federal government parent our children. Parents don’t know enough or may not believe the right things, so Congress and the President (but not the activist judges) will do the job properly. This is wrong.

While Mr. Sullivan’s article loses compelling force near the end, he finishes with a succinct flourish.

There has always been a tension in conservatism between those who favor more liberty and those who want more morality. But what’s indisputable is that Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” is a move toward the latter – the use of the government to impose and subsidize certain morals over others. He is fusing big government liberalism with religious right moralism. It’s the nanny-state with more cash. Your cash, that is. And their morals.

That’s not a fair trade for me. Others may disagree, but it gets back to the dual edge of freedom. You get freedom, but so do I. Anything short of that isn’t freedom.

Corey Hart sang it best

I came across this USA Today article about entrepreneurs and the influence received from their mothers. The article focuses on a new documentary, Lemonade Stories. Here’s the description of the documentary:

Introducing Lemonade Stories, a film by Mary Mazzio about extraordinary entrepreneurs and their mothers. This film focuses on how mothers have contributed to the entrepreneurial spirit of their sons and daughters, as well as the influence these mothers have had on their children in terms of instilling a responsibility to give back to the community.

Now that I think about this concept, I can’t wait to see the film. I have many of the characteristics mentioned in the USA Today article. Whether or not I’ll have success in my new business is undetermined, but I am an entrepreneur. As the article points out in a quote from Earl Graves, Sr., the founder of Black Enterprise magazine: “You have to have a junkyard-dog mentality.” I have that and I got it from my mom.

Whenever I switched projects at my previous employer, I sought projects that would provide me with opportunities to move my career in the best direction for my interests. This often conflicted with management’s idea of what I should do next. I seldom got what I wanted, but I always got more than I would have if I’d kept quiet and been a “company guy”. At one point, I had a manager ask me why I “couldn’t just go along.” It’s the way I’ve always been. It’s in my blood.

During graduate school, I was the Administrative Chairman of SEED. As the Admin Chair, I was part of the 4-member Executive Committee responsible for leading the organization. In every vote, we needed a majority. Don’t ask me why the founders never included a tiebreaker in the by-laws, but that’s the way it was. For our team, that wasn’t a problem because the vote on virtually every issue was 3-1. I was always the dissenter in those 3-1 votes.

One of our tasks was recruiting and “hiring” new members, when necessary. (Students didn’t receive payment or class credit, but the experience was invaluable.) In trying to move SEED from the culture of a club to that of a professional organization, we implemented higher standards for our members. At one point during the academic year, we had to recruit a replacement for a member who didn’t fulfill his duties. When deciding upon his replacement, we had two finalists. Everyone wanted one individual, except for me. I voted against the candidate, which makes no difference, since we had a majority. (To my friend Charles’ credit, he let the debate continue for 2 hours to hear my side.)

I’d believed that he wouldn’t perform well in the role. Without a concrete reason other than a hunch, I knew it was the wrong decision. His resume was impressive on the surface, but I sensed something. I’m not a genius at HR matters, but I’ve learned to trust my intuition, especially when it’s as strong as it was. So I fought. And fought. And lost.

We brought the new guy into the team. He eased into his role, then proceeded to perform as I’d predicted for the remainder of the year. We’d made the wrong decision, but we were better prepared to deal with the situation because I refused to give in.

I’m the ideal dissenter. Like my mom, I’d rather stand up for what’s right than go along to avoid a fight. It’s more troublesome, but I can’t accept less. As Michael Faber writes about Mrs. Emmeline Fox not being the leader of the Rescue Society in The Crimson Petal and the White, “Not that she ever would be: she was born to be a dissenter within a larger certainty, she knows that.”

I can live with that, but in not submitting to conformity, I became an entrepreneur. Thanks mom.

Standing on greener grass

I like to pretend that I have a large cache of faithful readers. In reality, I appreciate both of you, so I’m going to offer a brief summary of what’s gone on lately in my life that has caused me to be away from blogging. There’s a lot more than I can reasonably explain on my lunch hour, so I promise to give more details when time permits. With that warning, here goes…

I didn’t blog much in mid-March because I resigned from my job. My last day was March 19th and I didn’t have time to spare as I concluded the tasks I’d been working on and transitioned my responsibilities leading up to that Friday.

As ready as I was to leave, I had to leave on good terms. I’d been with that company for nearly 6 years, ever since graduating from graduate school in ’98. I had a history and reputation that I didn’t want to tarnish. Besides, I didn’t leave the industry (software consulting) and my specialty is a small community in the federal government. It was inevitable that a few bridges would burn because I broke my “loyalty”, but I tried to be professional about it. I didn’t leave my employer, as much as I chased my new opportunity.

As of yesterday, I’m self-employed. This is a huge step for me because I’ve wanted to do this for many years. I’m no longer on the traditional company treadmill of chasing the ever-elusive carrot. Instead of ignoring my career goals and ambitions to please a boss, I determine which path I take. My only requirement is to deliver to my client(s).

There are, of course, greater challenges involved, such as job security and tax burdens, but the reward is worth the effort. Ignoring the monetary aspects, I’ve moved from beggar to builder. And that’s where I want to be.

I’ll reveal more as time permits, but it’ll be a few days/weeks before I get back into a regular pattern of blogging. I miss it, so I promise I haven’t disappeared. Thanks.