November 2009 - Posts
I haven't written a soccer post in a long time but I thought that with the holidays upon us, and this heartwarming story appearing, it made sense to do so.
I enjoy both American and English football. I never did play American football except in backyards and in PE the way we used to when I was a kid. While I wanted to be a great running back I just wasn't built for the job. (I wonder if there's a government program out there to help me cope?) Anyway, I did play soccer. And I got quite good at the game where my size and speed worked to my advantage. Though I will be an Auburn Tigers fan to the day I die my love for futbol has eclipsed that of football.
The games are very different, both to play and to watch. Both can be heart-stopping or intensely dull. And in both sports you have to watch three or four games to get a real sizzler. I prefer college football to professional and root for the best conference in the nation, the SEC. No.1 Florida, No. 2 Alabama, what more needs to be said? It's like that every year. In soccer I watch a good bit of English Premier League, German Bundesliga, and La Liga. Italian is a bit overly dramatic for my tastes (sort of like the Big12), South American soccer is frankly crass, and American MLS, while improving, still lags in execution.
Yes, the games are very different, but one thing about the sports and the leagues that will always be similar are the cellar teams. The doormats. Whether it is the NFL or the NCAA, the EPL or the Serie A, there are teams that just suck. The Detroit Lions come to mind. Back to back seasons of turf twisting revulsion. One of the things I prefer about European futbol is that the worst three teams get moved down to the next level, and the best three teams in the lower level get to move up. It makes for some exciting play as teams slated for dismissal try to claw their way out of the relegation zone. The Lions should have been gone last year. Or refunded the fans money.
Which brings up Wigan Athletic F.C. in the English Premier League. Unlike Detroit, Wigan doesn't suck. They aren't the best team but they beat Chelsea earlier in the year and they aren't in last place or even locked in a relegation battle. Wigan has some good players and a competent coach. They just don't have as much money as the Man-U's and Real Madrid's of the world. They usually put up a pretty good fight but last week were taken to task by Tottenham Hotspur to the tune of 9 to 1. That's 63 - 7 in football speak. And since scoring a goal is (generally) a good bit more difficult than a touchdown, it is really more like 100 - 0, since their goal was consolation at best. Granted, Jermain Dafoe had a good day; the guy just couldn't miss, netting 5 goals. but on a normal day, he'd have scored 2 or 3. And those other goals - how often does every free kick and shot hit the upper-ninety. No, it was just a wierd game. But that happens.
And following the crushing defeat, Wigan has done the noble thing. The players are refuding the fan's money. Out of their own pockets. Yes, you heard me right, faithful readers. The Wigan players are refunding the ticket price of the fans who travelled to Whiteheart Lane. They realize their performance was sub-par, that it was not entertainment in any identifiable form, and that without fans their club is meaningless. In short, they are making the only amends they can for behaving irresponsibly. And naturally they have vowed to put forth a more respectable effort against (red hot) Sunderland this coming Saturday. For those of you who may be wondering, this is the correct response for abject failure to perform.
Detroit? Wall Street? Are you listening? No I don't suppose you are.
Futbol Guru, www.not-a-lemming.com
Twilight Eclipse. We've all heard about it by now. The Vampire love story by Stephanie Meyer as retold on the silver screen, smashing all records with a take of over $140 million on its opening weekend. And not only is it wooing middle school girls in bows and lipgloss, but apparently their silicon-enhanced mothers are falling for the sexy blood-suckers. Indeed, a vertiable rash of fan sites run by older women, for older women, have bubbled up on the web. According to a USA Today article just one of these, Twilightmoms.com, has more than 34,000 members 21 and older.
While this is great for Stephanie Meyer, squeeling girls, and their moaning moms, at the same time it exposes the tip of an iceberg few of us see - an ominous shift in control of perhaps the most important industry in the western world. For as Aristotle observed twenty-three hundred years ago, and which has been validated over the ensuing centuries, when storytelling goes bad, the result is decadence.
Something dangerous has happened in American literature. I would like to say "is happening" but it isn't happening. It has already happened. Go to a bookstore. Visit the teen section. Count the number of books for girls. Then count the number of books for boys. You get a ratio something like 20:1 . Twenty books for girls for every one book for boys. Do a survey of literary agents. Over 90% are female. And most of them state specifically that they are looking for stories about women or girls. Unfortunately the few male agents are guys who wouldn't have lasted long in the locker rooms I grew up in - they're looking for chick-lit too. And there are virtually no male editors being hired by publishing houses. (One wonders if they are even applying for the jobs.) I went to a writing convention recently at which writers were given the opportunity to pitch their work to editors and agents (4 young women and 1 older guy). The first question asked by all of them: "Is the main character female?"
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that girls are the ones doing the reading. And that boy books don't sell. And that the market is what the market is. Oh really? So boys aren't reading Lord of the Rings? Boys aren't reading the HALO books? Boys don't read Star Wars? Boys didn't read Harry Potter? With the exception of Twilight, which most boys don't care care for, the biggest sellers are the boy books. Or rather, books that appeal to both male and female whether young or old. So what is happening?
Modern publishing is run by agents. Agents are the gate keepers to the industry. Without an agent an aspiring author has no real hope. And most of the agents are women. Editors acquire books for publishing houses. And most of them are women, too. This wasn't true thrity years ago. Or even twenty years ago. And for the most part, both agents and editors only acquire books they 'like'. This is especially true of agents. In other words, despite the quality or subject, if an editor or agent doesn't 'like' a book, it is very unlikely that book, or the author who penned it, will ever see the light of day. Now I understand that books must fit the market, but in this case the market is being shaped and controlled entirely by the agents and editors to reflect what they 'like'. And what they 'like' is girl books. So when you waltz into a bookstore what you see more than any other thing are the literaty tastes of a few hundred women in New York City.
This is even more shocking in light of the fact that most of those girl books on the shelf are going to lose money. That's right. Most books don't make any money. (Neither do authors for that matter.) Same for the boy books. Most will lose money. The difference today over thirty years ago, is that agents and editors aren't willing to lose money on boy books anymore. Losing money on a girl book is forgivable by an editor who likes girl books. But losing money on a boy book by an editor who only likes girl books? The ultimate sin, and enough to see your job disappear. So it isn't even about money anymore.
Now I'm not saying that girl books are bad. Not at all. Books for females, about females, and by females, can be excellent works of literature and there are numerous literary masterpieces out there that attest to the brilliance of female writers and the magic of female charcters. I even applaud Stephanie Meyer and Twilight for what it is. The danger is the increasingly one-sided slant of modern literature as a result of sexism by industry professionals. For whatever reason the written word has the power to inspire, reflect, change, and shape culture like no other medium. Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight, Star Wars, and many others either began as books or have enjoyed widespread success as books. Their impact on society has been, and will continue to be, incalculable. And to starve half the population based on their gender is no less wrong than making blacks ride in the back of the bus. And just as institutionalized racism bred a host of social ills, institutionalized sexism will do the same thing. Count on it. Reading may be recreational, but anyone with the power to influence social behavior and cultural evolution has a responsibility beyond mere entertainment. And certainly beyond the bottom line. Gladiators were entertainment, too. And so are whore houses. Even pushers deal in entertainment. So if you are going to publish only what you like, you better be prepared for the consequences. If boys have nothing to read they will turn to other pastimes.
It is perhaps illuminating to note that while Twilight has done well at the box office it lags far, far behind the entertainment of choice for boys. While $140 mil is a pretty good haul it pales in comparison to the $550,000,000 raked in by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II just a week before. No other movie, book, or video game has come close on an opening weekend; not even Mr. Potter. And it should be noted as well that COD4-2 is three times the cost of a respectable hard-cover.
Boys will spend money on entertainment. But instead of reading they'll go for headshots. And as this increasingly violent choice is reflected back into society over the coming years you chicks in NYC will have the distinction of knowing that you helped bring it about. But at least you published what you 'like', huh?
Futbol Guru, www.not-a-lemming.com
We all know that Afghanistan has one of the most corrupt governments on the planet. This is mainly due to the fact that it has never paid to be honest in Afghanistan. Since before Alexander's failed campaign over 2,000 years ago, Afghanistan has been ruled by the fist. After 100 generations of brutality, watching your family starve on principle just doesn't make a lot of sense. Can we really blame them?
This is finally beginning to affect international policy in Afghanistan. For the last ten years, and the ten before that, and probably the ten before that, various aid organizations have been sending money to various agencies in Afghanistan to help the poor beleagured masses. A good example is the $70,000,000 sent by Saudi Arabia this year to help pilgrims make the Hajj - the yearly Muslim trek to Mecca. Unsurprisingly the Hajj Minister promptly helped himself to $20,000,000. And I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find that lower level functionaries, all the way down to the local level, stuck their hand in the till. That's how it works in Afghanistan.
Tired of fueling the corruption, agencies such as the US Institute for Peace have been studying ways to combat this problem. One of the more effective strategies their Director for Pakistan and Afghanistan, Alex Thier, has identified, is bypassing the central government and going directly to local organizations. For instance, the National Solidarity Program (NSP), an Afghan agency that distributes foreign money to localities in Afghanistan, has been directly involved with aid programs to over 22,000 villages. But there is a more telling statistic and one that we as Americans can learn from. Using local labor and local decision making, the NSP has collaborated in the construction of hundreds of schools. In essense, local Afghan leadership and workers used foreign money to buld their own schools without the involvement of the central government. While this is a good thing, there is a shocking revelation that goes along with it. It is well known that the Taliban spends a lot of time burning down schools in Afghanistan. But of the hundreds of schools built by the NSP, only two have been destroyed by Taliban terrorists. Two.
This points out a fundamental trait of human social interaction. When people - not governments - have ownership, success follows. In the case cited above, local people who built their own school are going to see that it doesn't get destroyed. Conversely, Taliban actions against these schools would result in massive pushback against the Taliban. Put local people in charge and good things happen. This scenario isn't specific to Afghanistan but has been repeated the world over for thousands of years.
So why is the US Government trying to insert itself more and more deeply into state and local affairs? Every piece of evidence gathered over the last hundred years (or more) shows that tighter government control results in a shrinking middle class, an expanding lower class, and a fixed upper class. And why does this always happen? The reason is ridiculously simple: when people can get money for free, they do. And unchecked bureaucrats are the first to get their hand in the till. Following their example, lower level functionaries make sure they get their cut too. By the time the money is to be used for it's 'intended' purpose, there isn't enough left to do any good. So taxes are raised and even more money is allocated the next time around - with predictable results. Why does it keep happening? Because the 'intended' purpose isn't to fund local activities, the real purpose is to fund bureaucrats.
So let us civilized Americans take a lesson from those barbarians in the East. Even they've figured out that less government is better for everyone. Why should we think it would be any different here?
Futbol Guru, www.not-a-lemming
Yesterday's post was titled, Mr. Obama, Don't Build That Wall! A reader, Marty Yost, was kind enough to post a comment stating that he agreed with my assessment and was impressed with the analysis I applied to the problem. I appreciate the sentiment. I very much do. Laboring in anonymity is oppressive and stifling and acknowledgement makes the neurons fire like nothing else. Thank you Marty. And I also appreciate the challenge he laid before me. Good analysis is hard to come by. Good solutions are much harder. An order of magnitude more difficult. But that is what Mr. Yost asked. "Again I commend you for your analysis of where we are headed. Now, please show us a way out."
I will admit, as I did yesterday, that I am smart. My IQ is 150+ and I have the degrees and the job to prove it. In fact, I'm actually qualified to use the expression "It isn't Rocket Science" because I'm a rocket scientist. But when you say you are smart you go out on a limb because if you can't back it up you are no better than a bombastic fool. And once the fool is exposed, there is no going back. Fortunately, in this case, the solution to the problem isn't rocket science. In fact, it is fairly simple. Simple in principle. More difficult perhaps in practice. However, I fear that the simplicity of the solution will cause those who read this message to discount its power. People are always looking for complicated solutions to complicated problems when sometimes a set of very complex seeming symptoms has a root cause that is fairly simply. A few examples:
During the age of discovery seamen on ever longer journeys ran into an inexplicable problem. Their bodies began decaying the longer they were at sea. After years of study and complicated trial solutions it was discovered they needed to eat citrus fruits. The cure for scurvy couldn't have been more simple. Thomas Edison attempted ever more complex designs for his lightbulb filament including platinum, palladium, and other precious metals until he tried one of the simplest imaginable, carbon. 90% of pollutants from automobile engines are eliminated simply by using a $3 PCV valve. Brushing teeth nightly has virtually eliminated common dental problems in industrialized nations. Inadvertently changing a "+" to a "-" in a guidance algorithm will cause your missile to miss the target. Simple solutions to seemingly complex problems abound and this is no different.
We are where we are today because of greed. For a more thorough assessment please see my post entitled Killing Conservatism. But simply stated, for the purposes of this discussion, there will always be evil people and good people. We expect the evil people to be greedy, but when the good people become greedy too, then all is lost. This is not a religious or spiritual argument but simply one of human nature. When people become greedy they turn inwards and society fails. The first and most destructive manifestation of this is the promotion of unqualified people over qualified people. Bureaucracy and nepotism.
The answer then is plain to see, but before it can be revealed please note that when you ask, "How do we fix it?" that this is a loaded question. It depends on who you ask. There are plenty of people on the left who say that we need to do exactly what we are doing. That we are headed the right direction. So it can be said that while we are failing, they are succeeding. What are they doing to succeed? They are doing exactly what we need to do if we want to succeed. Who is Barack Obama? Who is this man? He is a nobody from nowhere. In the eyes of many he is worse than a black man because he is a mix. He wasn't born into money. He wasn't born into connections. He didn't have the advantage of a father. He wasn't particularly successful in the private sector. But he is the President of the United States! Do you not see the answer? It is there right in front of you! And that is why we don't see it. It is so easy.
Barack Obama is President because he is enormously talented. He is a very smart man. A very smart man. And a great speaker and writer. He knows how to get people motivated. And he has persistence and drive. Even if you don't like him you have to admit that what he has accomplished is nothing short of miraculous - but he didn't do it on his own. And this is the crux of the matter. If the Democrats had not been open to new blood John McCain would have faced Hillary Clinton in the election and Barack Obama would still be a Community Organizer in Chicago. There are plenty of conservatives every bit as talented as Mr. Obama, but the Republicans are not open to new blood. We will not help one another because we have become greedy and self-centered.
You want to fix this nation Marty? Here's how: Help someone else. Yes. It is that simple. Help someone else. Conservatives are worse at helping others than any group I've ever seen. They all seem to think they did it on their own and so everyone else should too. Well for one, no, you didn't do it on your own. And for two, no, others shouldn't be expected to either.
Here's another example. Do my words make sense? Do I write well? I offered to write a blog and help in the campaign for Wayne Parker who was running for Congress in North Alabama after Bud Cramer retired in 2006. I was going to do it for free. It was the best chance to sieze that seat in 20 years. Wayne had run twice before and lost both times. So what did he do? He went and got the same bunch of priveleged frat-boys that had lost him the other two elections, said the same vapid crap in the same vapid way, and lost again. I'm a nobody from nowhere and he had no real interest in that. Now we have a liberal Democrat incumbent. And you can bet this is happening nationwide.
THAT is why we are getting our asses kicked and THAT is how we can take this nation back. You want to fix it, Marty? Do we all want to fix it? Then we have got to stop thinking about ourselves and start promoting talented conservatives. Talk about them. Pass their blogs and messages on to others. Build community. With the internet it has never been easier. Stop protecting our turf. Encourage the mouthpieces to do the same, because the mouthpieces protect their turf more fiercely than any others. Their chief mission is to direct customers to their own content. Directing customers to other sources is the last thing they're going to do. Greed has blinded them to the enormous positive influence they could provide. Influential conservatives must identify talented, hungry conservatives and help them grow. And that would be my message to the Republicans as well - seek out new blood. Why the Hell are we still talking about Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney? No, the new blood probably isn't wealthy like them, or famous, but that is the very reason the new blood is strong. And hot. And if the new blood is forever stifled by pathological self-promoters that blood will die, the cause will wither, and we'll become just like Eastern Europe behind that horrible Wall. And who then will come and mount a fifty-year siege to save us? The Chinese?
It's not rocket science. It's human nature.
This week we are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of one of the 20th Century's most shining moments - the Fall of the Berlin Wall. A barrier that represented far more than an edifice of concrete and steel. The Berlin Wall represented a rift across Europe and a major ideological divide between East and West. And as long as that wall remained, so loomed the specter of war. And when it fell, though it signaled the beginning of much work, it also spelled a major victory for the democracies of the West.
The Berlin Wall separated not just familes in a city but an entire nation. And as I mentioned in the preceeding paragraph, it also represented, in a much broader sense, an ideological gulf. A gulf in how cultures had decided to treat the human condition. The Soviets on the east side of that wall were led by the Russians and the philosophy of Marx which claimed it could elevate the common man to his rightful place in society while punishing the greed of the wealthy. In this philosophy the State was represented by the Communist Party which viewed human rights as secondary to the needs and aspirations of the State. In the Soviet Union humans were granted rights at the whim of the State.
Opposing this philosophy, The West, spearheaded by the United States, was armed with a much different view of human rights that was backed up by a unique Constitution. In America's Constitution it is the State that derives its power from the People and there is no sanctioned Party. The west, for the first time in history, viewed human rights as the center of our world view, codified in the precepts of freedom and liberty, and indeed superceding the wishes of the State. The State, in fact, was granted power from the people. These two governments had evolved along much different paths and by 1989 had arrived at vastly different places.
The Soviets, in their attempt to place the entire service and manufacturing sectors under the authority of their government in the hopes of being 'fair', had reached an unsustainable level of corruption and inefficiency. While their government promised retirement and health care to every citizen, both were services in name only. The fastest way to die in the Soviet Union was to check yourself into a state hospital - the only legitimate hospitals in the country. And pensioners had become paupers, living out their 'golden' years in crumbling tenements, entirely reliant on increasingly slim government subsidies. The only people with access to useful services were Communist Party members who used technically illegal private hospitals and doctors. And with their hands in the government coffer Party officials skimmed enough funds to fuel private Swiss accounts that ensured their golden years would indeed be golden.
In contrast, across the sea In America, hard work was being rewarded with stability and security. Wise investment resulted, over time, in net return. Those with the energy and tenacity to pursue the American dream nearly always found it. Sure, there was no free lunch, but Americans knew that a free lunch wasn't worth eating. There was, and remains, a poor class with little desire to work. And as a reward for their laziness they received little. Those putting in the time and energy were not punished for their achievements but rose to the middle and upper classes. Perks for fortitude were comfortable retirement, quality health care, and security. It was understood by many and for the most part, backed up by laws, that if you didn't work, you were going to pay the price. The result was a vibrant growing nation whose philosophy spread to the far corners of the globe and elevated those nations it touched with booming economies and strong middle classes.
And those behind the wall could only look across and dream. Little did they know that their dreams would soon become reality, and with the fall of the Wall in 1989 their own economies exploded. Nations like Poland, Germany (East), Hungary, The Czech Republic, and others have experienced unprecedented growth and affluence in the last 20 years. Sure, their people don't have the promise of free retirement and health care, but at least they now have the opportunity to pursue these goals since the promise was never anything more than a cruel lie. The fall of that Wall, more than any other event in history, proves the wisdom of the Founding Fathers and their vision of limited government.
So why, 20 years later, is the United States, brick by brick, rebuilding that Wall? The ideologies of the East proved the greatest social failure of all time. Never had so many people been so oppressed and deprived for so long, relative to their neighbors, throughout all of recorded history! And the very country that paved the way for the destruction of that heinous barrier is now adopting the ideologies that smothered those trapped behind it. If anything proves that health care, retirement, manufacturing, banking, and economic planning have no business in government, the Berlin Wall is it. Yet the United States, after spending trillions of dollars to first halt the expansion of that Wall, and then ultimately see its destruction, is step by irrevocable step, taking over health care, retirement, manufacturing, banking, and economic planning! We are building that Wall. And the two major political parties, neither of which is endorsed in our Constitution, are making it happen. The Democrats (aided by their willing accomplices in the media) through direct action and the Republicans (aided by their willing accomplices in the upper class) through direct inaction. And once that Wall is in place, as the one in Berlin showed us, it is incredibly difficult to dismantle and often comes at great pain and only after generations of oppression.
Will we as Americans be the next generation of oppressors? Will we make the Soviet mistake even while those crushed by that terror, and those who corrected it are still alive? Many of whom are still in power? Will we doom ten generations of Americans to misery and corruption? Or is the mass suicide of the lemmings unavoidable? Lemmings, lacking a written word, a spoken language, and a culture, can be forgiven for their gullibility. Even if a lemming manages to survive being herded over a cliff by an overeager film maker, it can't warn its kin of the danger the next time around. But humans. Humans have no excuse. And should we decide to codify this path in law, not even our children - much less history - will remember us kindly. "You had a golden age and you threw it away." That's not me. Is it you?
Futbol Guru - www.not-a-lemming.com
"Any man who will trade liberty for security deserves neither." - Benjamin Franklin