On generational navel-gazing

I am exhausted by fluffy, navel-gazing “news” stories that purport to explain and encapsulate an entire generation of Americans. These mostly focus on “Generation Y” or “The Millennials” these days, but comparisons also abound to “Baby Boomers” and “the Greatest Generation.” Almost always they either hyperbolically praise or criticize , and do so with either minimal or no evidence. The critical pieces in particular are frequently written by people not of those generations, which adds a fun extra layer of “you damn kids need to be told what’s wrong with you.”

A perfect case in point is this piece from the Huffington Post: Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.

Let me paraphrase: a significant portion of Generation Y is arrogant, lazy, entitled and delusional; and thus are unhappy because they are arrogant, lazy, entitled and delusional, so stop it. Also, apparently all Generation Y-ers (or only the ones that count, I guess) are college-educated, middle or upper class, and (presumably) white.

Here’s the thing. People are complicated. Even just in the US, we live in widely varying social, economic and physical environments. We belong to different races and come from different cultures, often more than one of each. But even if you had two people who grew up in the same environment and came from the same cultural groups, that is no guarantee that they will behave identically, because people are complicated! To think one can take a group of diverse Americans who only share one attribute–they were born between two arbitrary dates– and somehow make meaningful inferences about that whole group, or a large portion of it, is ludicrous.

Let me put it another way.  Many Generation Y-ers may be arrogant, or lazy, or entitled, or delusional. Or all four. But so are many Generation X-ers. And Baby Boomers. And Greatest Generation-ers. Furthermore, there are members of all generations– Generation Y included– who are humble, hard-working, realistic and grounded. I’ve met them!

So can we stop with these pointless, stupid journalistic exercises please? All you are doing is manufacturing stereotypes.

Free speech and Koran burning

By now you’ve probably heard of Terry Jones, the preacher in Florida who put the Koran on trial, found it guilty, and “executed” it by burning a copy of the book. Subsequently, riots broke out in Afghanistan in which 16 people have been killed, including 7 U.N. employees. Now Americans, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, are starting to suggest that perhaps Mr. Jones should be prosecuted for his actions.

First things first: the preacher is an idiot. To protest the actions of radical, fundamentalist Muslims, he did something considered to be blasphemous to all Muslims. That’s like protesting the KKK by burning Bibles. He and his congregation are world-class twits for having done what they did.

But how can anybody be considering taking legal action against him? Seriously? How does this not fall squarely into the First Amendment? Freedom of speech extends to people who say things that we–perhaps vehemently–disagree with. Frankly that’s the very point of it.

Some have compared it to shouting “Fire!” in a crowded movie theater. I don’t see the comparison. The panic induced in a theater would result in harm even though the people involved would act (more or less) rationally: trying to get away from the perceived fire. In this case, 16 innocent people were killed because somebody burned a book thousands of miles away. I don’t care how blasphemous it is; that is not rational. To somehow suggest that Mr. Jones should be prosecuted because of what he said, no matter how stupid, is completely contrary to the principles this nation was founded on.

Dear pundits: please shut the &@#$ up.

I have never been more enraged by punditry than all of the criticism that has been leveled at the President about our intervention in Libya. It feels like pundits have produced  thousands of column inches and countless hours of television and radio coverage has been devoted to criticizing the President’s plan (in many cases by the  people who pressured the White House to set up a no fly zone  in the first place!). And yet none of the criticisms I have read or watched have provided a single practical, workable alternative.

Guess what? Every possible plan can be criticized one way or another. We do nothing– an abdication of our moral responsibility to prevent the slaughter of innocent civilians. We do a full-scale invasion to depose Gaddafi– a slap in the face to our overtaxed armed forces already fighting two foreign wars. We wait for UN approval– we’re subservient to the whims of the United Nations. We act unilaterally– we’re an out-of-control superpower wanting to impose our colonial ambitions on the world.

So rather than having the courage to advocate and defend an unpleasant plan of action, the pundit-verse is cowardly sniping at the adminstration’s plan. So to all the pundits out there– do us a favor, would you? Tell us YOUR plan, or else shut the &@#$ up!!

That pesky Constitution, always causing trouble

One thing has been bothering me about the debate over the new health care bill is that every discussion between lawmakers I’ve heard in the media goes something like this:

Opponent: “Forcing people to buy health insurance is unprecedented and violates the commerce clause of the Constitution.”

Supporter: “It will cover 30 million new people and make health care cheaper and all of my constituents want it.”

Am I missing something? I am really hopeful that the healthcare bill they’ve will result in better and cheaper access to health care, but shouldn’t somebody, y’know, make some sort of cogent argument that it is constitutional? And then tell me what it is?

Here’s the thing: 18 state attorneys general are filing a federal lawsuit challenging the bill. Somebody please tell me the defense in the case has a better argument than “Hooray Obamacare.”

Port authority

Most of the time, I disagree with the Bush administration. They
usually make decisions that baffle and anger and frustrate me. But, as
hard as it is to admit it, I must come to their defense about this
deal to give an United Arab Emirates company control over some port
operations at several U.S. ports.

Politicians of both parties, many of whom coincidentally will be
running for President in 2008, have crawled out of the woodwork to
criticize this deal. Rep. Sue Myrick (R, NC) had the
least literate response (PDF) to the deal

In regards to selling American ports to the United Arab
Emirates, not just NO– but HELL NO!

But her letter does reflect the basic idea that most of the other
slightly more eloquent critics of the plan have expressed. They’ve
sensed what they think is a rare opportunity to portray Bush as weak
on terrorism. Bush, for his part, has stuck with the deal and with the
Adminstration organization that authorized it, and (so.. painful.. to
write this…) I think he is right to do so.

First, as the administration has stated many times, the UAE company
won’t be in charge of port security. See, we have these people called
the U.S. Coast Guard, whom I’m pretty sure is an American
organization. Secondly, this UAE company would not be the first
foreign company in some capacity in American ports. NPR had a story
yesterday about one of the ports, located in New Jersey, that would be
affected by the deal. They reported that several foreign companies ran
various operations at the port, including one from Denmark and two
from China.

In other words, the UAE company wouldn’t be the first foreign
company at the port, but it would be the first
foreign company with “Arab” in its name. I’m trying to come up with
another word to describe all the criticism, but the only one I can
think of is this: racist.

An open letter to Virginia drivers

I love Virginia. Your state is beautiful, and you are friendly, welcoming people. I am proud to call the commonwealth my adopted home these past seven years. Yet there is one thing about this place I dread, and about this I must be direct. You, the drivers of Virginia, have no clue about how to drive on slippery winter roads.

Yesterday we had a full day’s worth of sleet and freezing rain. It bent trees, downed power lines, canceled schools– before a single drop of precipitation fell, somehow– and generally made everything miserable. So, when I awoke this morning, everything in sight was covered in slick sheets of ice. I am a native of a (slightly) colder climate, perhaps a little more accustomed to slippery roads than many of you, and while such conditions are annoying, I can handle them. Most of you, on the other hand, lose any remnants of common sense you might retain.

During my commute to work this morning, I saw nearly a dozen of you wildly stepping on your accelerators and spinning your wheels on the ice. My commute is less than ten minutes, so this is not an idle observation. Let’s be clear: if your wheels are not spinning at the same rate and in the same direction that your car is traveling, you are not in control of your car. The only things controlling your vehicle are the laws of gravity and friction, and I don’t think they care the slightest bit about your insurance deductible.

This is ice, people. You can’t just step on the gas as if it were the middle of July. God forbid, you might even have to shift into first gear and travel slowly (gasp!). And turn into the skid. And brake sooner. And not follow other drivers so closely… You know, have you thought about taking a sick day? The kids are out of school; maybe you can go build a snow fort in the back yard? How often do we get a chance to play in the snow in our busy lives? Come on, it’ll be fun. Just don’t go anywhere near your car, at least until I get to work.

“Fly the friendly skies” my ass

So United Airlines recently declared bankruptcy, which is not surprising given the generally poor fiscal state of most American air carriers. The company also recently decided that it had to default on $9 billion of pension obligations [washingtonpost.com– try bugmenot.com for a registration], which will affect 120,000 employees and retirees. I understand that when a company is in such severe financial straits, there comes a place where you have to take a step as drastic as that. If there isn’t the money, there isn’t the money. But I don’t understand what United’s CEO says later in the same article:

Last week, United Chief Executive Officer Glenn Tilton testified to the Senate Finance Committee about $4.5 million he is receiving from United to replace benefits he had accrued over a 32-year career at Texaco, his previous employer. Tilton said that the default will not affect the payment, and that he has $1.5 million left to collect. He said this does not represent a double standard because United promised him the money in his contract.

This guy is a jackass. Of the highest order. He’s a multi-millionaire. He runs a company whose 80-year-old retirees are now applying for jobs at Wal-Mart to make ends meet, and demonstrating by his actions that his own $4.5 million is more important than the retirement benefits of his employees. True, maybe a few million dollars wouldn’t stave off a pension default for long, but nonetheless it points quite clearly where his true loyalties lie.

I fly to Chicago for work on a fairly regular basis. Since O’Hare is a United hub, they are almost always the cheapest, and about two years back I got a frequent flyer account to take advantages of the regular trips. But now, I feel sick about this. I don’t know if I can patronize a company run by a man who acts like this, who insists on being overpaid even when his company is screwing over the people who were most loyal to it. I think I’m going to cut up my frequent flyer card and mail it to Mr. Tilton. This makes me so angry I’m having trouble finding the words.

Presumption of innocence

Well, it apparently doesn’t say we’re “innocent until proven guilty” in the Constitution. It does have this cute little bit about not being “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law”, but hey, what does that mean? In 1895, the Supreme Court decided to step in and clarify the issue a little more:

The principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law. [156 U.S. 432, 454] It is stated as unquestioned in the textbooks, and has been referred to as a matter of course in the decisions of this court and in the courts of the several states. […] Concluding, then, that the presumption of innocence is evidence in favor of the accused, introduced by the law in his behalf, let us consider what is ‘reasonable doubt.’ It is, of necessity, the condition of mind produced by the proof resulting from the evidence in the cause. It is the result of the proof, not the proof itself, whereas the presumption of innocence is one of the instruments of proof, going to bring about the proof from which reasonable doubt arises; thus one is a cause, the other an effect. To say that the one is the equivalent of the other is therefore to say that legal evidence can be excluded from the jury, and that such exclusion may be cured by instructing them correctly in regard to the method by which they are required to reach their conclusion upon the proof actually before them; in other words, that the exclusion of an important element of proof can be justified by correctly instructing as to the proof admitted. The evolution of the principle of the presumption of innocence, and its resultant, the doctrine of reasonable doubt, make more apparent the correctness of these views, and indicate the necessity of enforcing the one in order that the other may continue to exist.

Damn activist judges. 🙂

La la la… I can’t hear you…

So apparently three people were asked to leave a Bush town hall meeting in Denver a few weeks ago [Washington Post, try bugmenot for a free registration]. They did or said nothing disruptive, but were nonetheless “forcibly” ejected because one of them had a bumper sticker on their car that read “No Blood for Oil”. When asked about it, Press Secretary Scott McClellan said that the White House did “welcome a diversity of views at events”, but:

If they want to disrupt the event, then I think that, obviously, they’re going to be asked to leave the event. There is plenty of opportunity for them to express their views outside of events; there are protest areas.

Emphasis mine. Later in the same briefing, McClellan stated “If they’re standing up and disrupting an event, like I said, they’re going to be asked to leave.” But that’s not what he said. He said that if they want to disrupt the event, and that’s a very big distinction. If people are interrupting and disrupting and disregarding civil discourse, well, then there’s something to be said for asking them to leave. But these folks didn’t do anything. They just sat there, and they were asked to leave, because the organizers thought they were going to be disruptive. Isn’t there something in the Constitution about “innocent until proven guilty”? Did I just hallucinate that?

Also, in what way exactly does that “welcome a diversity of views”? It seems to me that when President Bush comes out to speak directly with the American people, situations somehow are arranged so that he ends up speaking only to people who already agree with him. And those aren’t conversations, but pep rallies. I think somebody at the White House needs to look up the words “welcome” and “diversity”, because they apparently don’t know what they mean.

I love my father very much, but he and I disagree on many political issues. Once, when I was complaining about this very issue, he said something to the effect of “why do I need to hear what the other side has to say if I already know what it is?”. At the time, I accepted the point, but the more I thought about it, the more troubled I got. That’s exactly the problem right now, all around the country. We as a nation don’t listen to each other (though I think Dad and I do). We get our news from different sources, sources that emphasize what we want to hear. We disregard or ignore what our opponents have to say, under the pretense that we’ve already heard it. What happened to consensus building? What happened to compromise, to finding middle ground? Why do we automatically assume that people who disagree with us are unreasonable?

Where the heck are your pants?

So I was walking through the grocery store today, and I ran across one of those fitness magazines. It had a picture of a thin, busty, blond-haired woman wearing what I assumed was one of those harnesses that Himalayan explorers wear so that they don’t fall off of mountains. Of course, mountaineers also wear things like parkas and, well, pants, while this woman had nothing else but what the good Lord (and likely a whole platoon of plastic surgeons) gave her. I must confess my eyes lingered a moment (forgive me), but what also caught my attention was written in large type over the magazine’s title: “For Women!”.

It is not a new observation that most modern magazines, targeted for either sex, feature pictures of scantily-clad women, presumably because men like them and women want to be them. While in recent years we men have made significant steps to close the unhealthy-body-image gap (did you know there’s now skin moisturizer for men? Seriously, if I wanted to moisturize I’d go to the friggin’ pool), women still bear the brunt of societal pressure to live up to some impossibly high standard of beauty. It’s a little disturbing that since we all, men and women, are collectively obsessed with these kind of images of female “beauty”, we need extra instructions to determine which magazines are for whom.