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Friday, September 30, 2005

New Review: Open Wide

ExampleThe following is a brief excerpt from a review posted on PopandPolitics.com:

Being the type of movie fan that would practically live in the theaters during the summer months or even see up to four movies in a weekend, it was quite interesting to read “Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became a National Obsession,” by Dade Hayes & Jonathan Bing.

“Open Wide,” published by Miramax Books/Hyperion, is the inside story of how a film gets produced and marketed to consumers. The reader is taken behind the scenes of a typical summer blockbuster release weekend to find out why by the time a film is released, we’re all simply ecstatic to overpay for tickets and stand in long lines in the dead of night with other movie geeks.

“Open Wide,” focuses on three major motion picture releases for the 2003 summer season. The movies competing for the July 4th market of expendable moviegoer income are “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde,” and the DreamWorks animated feature, “Sinbad.” Using these releases as the anchor for the narrative of the book, the reader learns about how armies of slick marketers shape and manipulate the consumer base well ahead of the release date so that their box office numbers will be smashed out of the park on opening weekend -- no matter how good or bad the actual movies are.

However, this book is not just about how and why the fans react as they do, but also about the acute neurosis of the Hollywood moguls and filmmakers that are only as good as their last gig. In Hollywood, you may be king for a day, but a fool for a lifetime if you take projects that fail to bring home big box office numbers (just ask John Travolta before Quentin Tarrantino resurrected his career in “Pulp Fiction”). Read More

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I Want a New Fuel Source

This Post is also available at The Blogger News Network

With apologies to Huey Lewis & the News:

“I Want a New Fuel Source, One that won’t make me broke, One that won’t make me crash my car, Or make me have a…stroke”

OK so not much rhymes with broke that would have made sense here and I’m not much of a poet.

All tomfoolery aside, the issue of renewable and clean energy for mass consumption is a serious issue indeed. Unfortunately, because of shortsightedness, greed and public malaise combined with mass Attention Deficit Disorder, we as a country are for the time being, in an abusive relationship with crude oil.

As of July 2005, the US imported on average10.256 million barrels per day of crude oil. The single biggest exporter to the US was Canada, oddly enough, not Saudi Arabia or Iraq (though they do come in at 2 and 6 respectively).

“The top five exporting countries accounted for 68 percent of United States crude oil imports in July and the top ten sources accounted for approximately 86 percent of all U.S. crude oil imports.” (Source)

On the domestic side, the US produces on average 5,419,000 Barrels per day. However, here’s the rub:

“The United States consumed an average of about 20.4 million bbl/d of oil during the first ten months of 2004, up from 20.0 million bbl/d in 2003. Of this, motor gasoline consumption was 9.0 million bbl/d (or 44% of the total), distillate fuel oil consumption was 4.1 million bbl/d (20%), jet fuel consumption was 1.6 million bbl/d (8%), and residual fuel oil consumption was 0.8 million bbl/d (4%)l. Total 2005 petroleum demand is projected to grow by just 1.4% (280,000 bbl/d), to an average 20.7 million bbl/d, in response to the combined effects of somewhat slower economic growth and relatively high crude oil and product prices. All the major products (except residual fuel oil) are expected to contribute to this growth. Motor gasoline demand is projected to increase 1.8%, to 9.22 million bbl/d. Jet fuel demand is projected to post a growth rate of 3.1% in 2005 to average 1.67 million barrels per day, still below 2000 jet fuel consumption but sharply up from post-9/11 lows it reached in 2002 and 2003. Distillate demand in 2005 is projected to grow only 1.5% year-over-year as industrial growth slows.” (Source)

In short, between automotive gasoline, jet fuel and other oil related products, US domestic consumption will continue to grow as supply itself or access to cheap product decreases. In either scenario, the price of fuel in the American marketplace will continue to escalate along with the cost of living as salaries and job opportunities dwindle.

These sorts of economic woes wouldn’t annoy me so much if they were unavoidable. For example, I don’t lament the lack of domestic jobs due to globalization and the rise of cheap labor in Asia because it couldn’t nor shouldn’t be stopped. It’s the natural effect of open global markets. However, this debacle regarding our shameful energy policy is fixable if not for politicians bought and paid for by oil lobbies and an unread population unwilling to pay attention and demand more of their duly elected public servants.

The fact of the matter is that we don’t have to have automobiles fueled by crude oil. There are viable alternatives that are available to the public in our markets as we speak.

For example, last year I believe it was Daryl Hannah who went on “The O’Reilly Factor” to promote Grassolean.com, one of the companies currently producing and marketing biodiesel automobile fuel.

According to their website, “Biodiesel is a vegetable oil based fuel that can be used as a replacement for petroleum diesel in any diesel engine with little or no modification to that engine. Biodiesel is rapidly gaining acceptance around the world, in large part, due to the its many health and environmental benefits, when compared to the effects of regular diesel.

The combustion engine has stood unrivalled as the primary source of power for industry and transportation. Continued use of these engines in the near and distant future is almost certain. Much like crude petroleum oil, crude vegetable oil can be processed into fuels. Unlike fossil fuel, "bio-fuel" can be grown year after year on the same land.”

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Friday, September 23, 2005

New Review: Countdown To Terror

ExampleThe following is a brief excerpt from a review posted on PopandPolitics.com:

Iran is the new Iraq -- just listen to the rhetoric coming out of Washington or browse the bevy of available titles in your local chain bookstore. Currently, there is a stampede of authors attempting to persuade the reading public that Iran is either going to blow the whole world up tomorrow or that they can be reasoned with and the only on-going threat to global security is George W. Bush. That’s the double-edged sword of the free American marketplace; there’s a place on the shelf for every opinion, regardless of how close to the truth it actually is.
There is enough spin and jingoism in the American marketplace to drag the average book consumer into a whirlpool of doubt and confusion. Almost every book I pick up seems to be well researched and highly footnoted, but one would be naïve to believe that these authors are above reproach when penning their individual message. They’ve all got a dog in the hunt somewhere so one has to take each of these titles with some degree of skepticism. And in the end, the reader is wholly subjected to the whims and fancies of the author’s narrative.

“Countdown to Terror: The Top-Secret Information That Could Prevent the Next Terrorist Attack on America…And How the CIA Has Ignored It,” by Congressman Curt Weldon, Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, is a different animal entirely. Apparently what Congressman Weldon has done here is compiled a litany of declassified intelligence from a source high up in the ranks of Iran and presented it for public consumption.

This isn’t a pile of documents and interviews re-written into a form of a narrative like a Bob Woodward book. This book is literally a stack of intelligence papers presented nearly unmolested in their original forms. Essentially, outside of some narrative explanations, an introduction, and a conclusion full of recommendations, it’s a series of faxes from a man code-named Ali bound together and published by Regnery.

Continued...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Ugly Ducklings Growing Approval

This Post is also available at The Blogger News Network

Since Israel was created in 1948, after UN Resolution 181 partitioned the territory of the British Mandate for Palestine into two states for Jews and Palestinian Arabs, Israel has been the ugly duckling of the international community. This has mostly been driven by a historical general hatred of the Jewish people. The creation of Israel on “Arab soil” has only exacerbated the world’s hatred of the Israeli’s. In the eyes of those who would rather see the Jews, “pushed into the sea,” the fact that they handily won the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, The 1967 Six-Day War, and of course the 1973 Yom Kippur War, so soon after first the Holocaust and then their recent establishment of a country, has only reinforced said peoples desire to bomb Israel back to the Biblical Age.

While it is common knowledge that the US has had diplomatic relations with Israel since its creation, China, Russia, The European Union, Turkey and many African nations such as South Africa also recognize Israel. By the same token, historically, Israel was not formally recognized or actively boycotted against by most if not all of the Arab League Countries. However, over time, other than Iran and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, most of the Middle Eastern countries have either abandoned the boycott or just don’t enforce it anymore.

Though the creation of Israel is the result of a UN Resolution, there is a considerable anti-Semitic component behind the policies pursued there and expressed without challenge. On most occasions the US will stick up for Israel, but not all the time and certainly with our close relationship to Saudi Arabia, the US has done its fair share of playing both sides to our own advantage.

However, the ugly duckling of the global community, Israel, as a result of the recent Gaza pullout, has been making some fairly positive headlines, especially with respect to the UN. According to several sources, including The Independent, “Israel is seeking to capitalise on what it sees as an increase in international contacts - including with Muslim countries - by seeking a place on the UN Security Council.

It has indicated that it wants to join other countries in being allocated a rotating place on the Security Council for the first time in the 57-year history of the state. The move follows contacts including an unprecedented meeting between the foreign ministers of Israel and Pakistan, which both countries said was partly in recognition of Israel's withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza.”

I fully support the Gaza pullout despite being very much pro-Israel. One of the many reasons I thought it was a good idea, no matter what happens to that area, is that within all reasonable arguments, pulling out of Gaza and firmly supporting an equal Palestinian state wipes the political crud off of Israel’s face. I know many pro-Israel hawks believe that the Palestinians can’t be trusted and this only exposes more Israeli’s to death and destruction but for lack of a better phrase, so what? Israel needs to be concerned with how it looks to the global community, not how the Palestinians will squander their latest chance at stability. There’s nothing stopping Israel from defending itself when it has to but in the meantime, the devils must be given their due. This gesture will and already has begun to reframe Israel’s image in the global community, for the better.

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Friday, September 16, 2005

Book review...

I recently purchased the book "Wrestlers are like seagulls, from McMahon to McMahon" the story of J.J. Dillon, by J.J. Dillon, Scott Teal and Philip Varriale, available from Crowbar Press, via J.J.'s website, www.jjdillon.com. There is a link on the site that transfer's you to Teal's site, where the book can be purchased. Before I review the book, I want compliment Teal and Dillon/Morrison with speedy and personalized service and Dillon put a very thoughtful autograph to me personally. The price of the book and shipping is available on the Dillon website.

I guess I should mention some of my personal thoughts on Dillon before I get into the nuts and bolts of the book. My earliest memories of J.J. is like most people, his run as the manager of the 4 Horseman in the NWA/Crockett territory. Like most people, I lost track of J.J. afterwards, until his appearance on WCW many years later as a figurehead commissioner. Some of WCW's better moments had interaction between Dillon and Chris Jericho (remember Jo Jo DeLeon???) and of course later with Lenny and Lodi. J.J. also made two brief appearances with TNA that come to mind. The J.J. Dillon character was always an unselfish character, always working hard to "get over" the wrestlers. Long before I read his book, I realized that the Dillon character was a "bumping heel", designed to get others over. Even in his runs as commissioner, he was still working to get talent over, not to get himself over. We see so little of unselfish performers like Dillon in today's modern wrestling, it is almost bizarre to think that characters like J.J. Dillon once existed.

Anyhow, the book itself is an interesting read. The book meticulously details the career of a relatively successful wrestler and manager, who was the top or near the top of the card his whole career. Early parts of the book describes how Dillon got his start in wrestling, his runs throughout the various territories. It has numerous funny road stories, as Dillon has always had a natural comedic talent to him. He tells funny and engaging stories at will. He briefly talks of his 3 1/2 year run with the 4 Horseman and tell the obligatory Ric Flair with no pants story (doesn't all wrestling books have pantsless Flair story???).

Upon accepting a non-television character role from Vince McMahon, J.J. goes into considerable detail on his 7 plus years he spent with what was then Titan Sports. Dillon was at Titan through many of Titan's greatest highs and lows. He touches on the sexual harassment trial involving Terry Garvin and Mel Phillips, he touches on the steroid scandal when Vince thought that Pat Patterson and Dillon would have to run the company while McMahon was in jail. Dillon also discusses the tail end of the Hogan/Warrior years and the beginning of the Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels years (including Jerry Jarrett's surprising role in Vince's decision to push Bret and Shawn). I will warn you, don't look for J.J. to name names or give a lot of dirt on what happened. Generally J.J. simply tells you what he seen, not his opinion or rumors or he out and out says he cannot comment on some matters due to fear of being legally tackled by WWE.

J.J. describes his leaving Titan Sports, when his role was Vince's right hand man. He then discusses his move to WCW and Turner Sports/Entertainment and his role (or lack thereof) in the soon to be sinking ship. J.J. does not really tell you anything you haven't heard before about WCW, other than giving the reader a first hand view of what happened, why it failed and why it would never succeed. It is just another chapter in the sad story of WCW. J.J. goes through considerable detail in describing the differences between McMahon and Bischoff and why WCW failed and why it would never succeed and why Vince is still in business and will be in business for many years to come.

I have described in the last couple of paragraphs of the book's dealings with wrestling, but this book is more than that. It is the story of a man who had three failed marriages and had three sets of kids. It is the story of a man had a constant struggle in his life, of living his dream, of doing what he loved and trying to maintain a normal life and being a family man while working in what has to be the most insane business in the world. The sections of the book where Dillon discusses his family is almost heartbreaking, I could not imagine standing in J.J.'s shoes, having to constantly make the choice between his job and family.

I think ultimately for Jim Morrison, this book is somewhat therapeutic and it is telling his family why he did what did and why the wrestling business was what he chose for a living. Jim Morrison is a smart, articulate and educated man, he chose wrestling, he did not have to be in the wrestling business. He did it because he loved it. The wrestling business did the same to J.J. Dillon as it has done to thousands of others. It ate him up, spit him out.

So, we are left with mid-60's Jim Morrison, a guy who has to carry a lunch can to work each day for the first time in his life and has to deal with three broken marriages and three sets of children all over the country. Should we feel sorry for him??? Of course not, for J.J. Dillon it was a wonderful ride, of highs and lows and I can guarantee, any of us would be blessed to walk in his shoes and to experience a life like he did. For all of us in dead end jobs, that we do because we get paid, Jim Morrison lived the dream, he did a job he loved, a job he was passionate about. A job that he got to see the world, he got to rub shoulders with the rich and famous and he got to make a good living doing it. J.J. Dillon isn't looking for pity, he isn't looking for respect, he simply wants to tell a story about a man who lived a dream...

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Inventor fuels car with dead cats

Just when you thought the world couldn't get any stranger...

"BERLIN, Germany (Reuters) -- A German inventor has angered animal rights activists with his answer to fighting the soaring cost of fuel -- dead cats.

Christian Koch, 55, from the eastern county of Saxony, told Bild newspaper that his organic diesel fuel -- a homemade blend of garbage, run-over cats and other ingredients -- is a proven alternative to normal consumer diesel.

"I drive my normal diesel-powered car with this mixture," Koch said. "I have gone 170,000 km (106,000 miles) without a problem."

The Web site of Koch's firm, "Alphakat GmbH", says his patented "KDV 500" machine can produce what he calls the "bio-diesel" fuel at about 23 euro cents (30 cents) a liter, which is about one-fifth the price at petrol stations now.

Koch said around 20 dead cats added into the mix could help produce enough fuel to fill up a 50-liter (11 gallon) tank.

But the president of the German Society for the Protection of Animals, Wolfgang Apel, said using dead cats for fuel was illegal.

"There's no danger for cats and dogs in Germany because this practice is outlawed in Germany," Apel told Bild on Wednesday in a story entitled "Can you really make fuel out of cats?"

"We're going to keep an eye on this case," Apel said."

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What War With Iran May Look Like

This Post is also available at The Blogger News Network

There's this conspiracy theory/whispered belief out there that says that Israel via the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), an influential pro-Israel group, is pressing the Pentagon to employ a strategy of regional transformation in the Middle East. AIPAC, in theory, feels that because most of the regimes in the Middle East are obviously anti-Israel, it would be beneficial to them to remove from power any and all hostile governments from the region. However, since most of the world tends to lean anti-Semitic, this plan requires subterfuge because stating outright that the War on Terror is really a war to defend Israel wouldn't play well in the sticks...or anywhere else for that matter.

There's some indication that even in the short run, invading Iraq has caused there to be significant pressure on certain "friendly" regimes to make at least ancillary changes in their approach to Israel. For example, according to Islam-Online, "Riyadh has promised, as part of a bilateral agreement signed with Washington on Friday, September 9, not to enforce aspects of the Arab League boycott of Israel that apply to US firms doing business with Israel, US Trade Representative Rob Portman said in a statement posted on his Web site.

The kingdom has also pledged to abide by WTO rules in its trade with all 148 members of the WTO, including Israel, he added.

"As a result of negotiations on its accession to the WTO, we will see greater openness, further development of the rule of law, and political and economic reform in Saudi Arabia".

The agreement, signed without public fanfare in Washington, paves the way for Saudi Arabia to join the WTO by the end of 2005.

The United States was the last WTO member to reach a bilateral market access deal with Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia is one of the four largest world economies outside the WTO and is the only Gulf country that is not member of the world organization."

Though the article goes on the state that AIPAC isn't satisfied with this development, I still contend that the Saudi's wouldn't have even bothered with this much of an olive branch if US soldiers weren't currently blowing up bits and pieces of their Gulf neighbor, Iraq. But small changes and long drawn out diplomacy using economic partnerships as a carrot isn't really what the Pentagon is allegedly after.

If the whispers and the conspiracy theories are true then what AIPAC and the Pentagon really want is for all volatile and hostile regimes to be forcefully removed from the Middle East/Central Asia and be replaced by those who be more amicable to Israel and more importantly, sell the US cheap and dependable oil. Phase 1 of this plan seems to have been carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan, for better or for worse depending on whom you ask. As I've written many times before, the signs seems to pointing toward Iran as the next logical domino that the US would like to topple.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

My Reflections on the Anniversary of 9/11

I was working in Brooklyn when Islamic terrorists, mostly from Saudi Arabia, used airplanes as missiles and destroyed the World Trade Center. I was 25 years old at the time. I had just started working as foster care social worker a few months prior and was set to begin work on my Masters degree. My office in downtown Brooklyn was a few blocks down from a pier that overlooked the financial district of Manhattan island. That morning my biggest concern was trying to get to work on time as had a tendency to be late most mornings. Little did I know that in just a few hours my co-workers, mostly middle-aged black women, and friends would be looking for me to give answers about why these alleged strangers were attacking our city. I didn't have many answers that day.

I was on the pier watching flames shoot from the Towers. I tried to make sense of it all to those around me who cried helplessly as the world they thought they knew seemed to be unraveling around them. I stood amongst Americans of all stripes while they frantically tried to get information from their handheld radios. Every minute brought another grim detail. Every detail brought more tears around me. I stood and watched in silence. What could I say, I didn't know anything. All I could do was comfort those around me.

The first Tower exploded. Glass flew in what seemed like a million different directions. I felt the boom of the explosion across the East River, from the relative safety of Brooklyn. There is not a day that goes by that I don't hear that sound or see that explosion. Every day that tower falls in my mind.

I was just a kid really. I had just moved back in with my parents after three years of living on my own attempting to be a screenwriter in Hollywood. I knew nothing of world events to speak of. My knowledge of politics was limited to what I could recall from spoken word albums by former Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra. I voted Green in the 2000 election because Nader seemed like the only candidate worth getting out of bed to vote for.

I was lucky I knew that much. I certainly didn't know who Osama Bin Laden was so when people turned to ask me, "why?" I simply answered, "I don't know." I swore I would find out though. I swore to anyone that would listen that I would come up with some answers.

When it was over and I took the long, overly crowded Long Island Rail Road home, a wave of thoughts hit me all at once. I started thinking about why we were attacked and once more, why I didn't know anything about it in the first place. For all my punk-rock attitude and swagger, I never once bothered to keep an eye on the government that was supposed to be protecting me from just this sort of act of war. In the years we were being hit by Al Qaeda on a seemingly regular basis, I read Star Wars books, played video games, watched endless movies and bought death metal records. There was no excuse for it. I was an adult and I should have known better.

Since September 11th I've made it my business to read as much as I can about world affairs and history. I started this blog as a way to feel like I was contributing something to the national conversation. If the Islamic terrorists are successful in attacking us again, and I'm sure they will be, I need to be able to answer those around me. I need to be able to answer the question, "why?” If every American collectively forgets about 9/11 or even the Iraq War, and I'm the only person left who remembers, then so be it. I'll never forget and I'll never stop learning.

The irony of this whole affair is that regardless of what the right-wing pundits keep squawking on about, we're really not any safer than we were before 9/11. Our system is failing us and has been since shortly after the event itself.

I didn't intend to write this piece. I was inspired when I read this from Iranfocus.com, "Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been following closely the way the United States government has been handling Hurricane Katrina, and drawing strategic conclusions from it.

In remarks that appeared on Ansar-e Hezbollah website on Sunday, a top official of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said the devastating hurricane had exposed America’s vulnerabilities.

“The mismanagement and the mishandling of the acute psychological problems brought about by Hurricane Katrina clearly showed that others can, at any given time, create a devastated war-zone in any part of the U.S.”, Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, the official spokesman of the IRGC, said.

“If the U.S. attacks Iran, each of America’s states will face a crisis the size of Katrina”, he said, referring to the massive hurricane which hit the southern coast of the United States. “The smallest mistake by America in this regard will result in every single state in that country turning into a disaster zone”.

“How could the White House, which is impotent in the face of a storm and a natural disaster, enter a military conflict with the powerful Islamic Republic of Iran, particularly with the precious experience that we gained in the eight-year war with Iraq?” he said."

Indeed. There it is in a nutshell. Mother Nature has peeled back the curtain on a regime in Washington more concerned with staying in power and overall cronyism than it is in doing the job of upholding American security. They are no more interested in winning this War on Terror than they are in ceasing our dependence on oil. If anyone in Washington were even remotely serious about the War on Terror, Riyadh and Tehran would be parking lots right now and Cindy Sheehan would be haranguing Bush about when he's bringing the boys home from Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Don't get me wrong; the Democrats are no better and if they were in power now I'd be saying the same thing. In the immortal words of Lewis Black, "The only difference between a Democrat and a Republican is that a Democrat sucks and a Republic blows."

We as a country have distanced ourselves from the gravity of the danger that is still threatening us. We have forgotten what 9/11 means and the first people to forget were our elected officials on both sides of the aisle. As long as our two-party system puts power ahead of security then we will remain exposed to the bevy of danger lurking in the sands of the Arab desert.

On Katrina, the mainstream media has been echoing the phrase, "playing the blame game," for the past week or so. I'm in agreement with one of my fellow friends and writers when he says, "...I want to punch someone whenever I hear the words “blame game.” “On Katrina, the War in Iraq, 9/11 and whatever else is on the horizon, if you want to cast blame, first blame yourself. It's our jobs as Americans to keep an eye on our elected officials to make sure they aren't doing their jobs like African strongmen. We aren't doing that. Those of us that do pay attention would rather fight each other over our respective ideologies.

Look, when it comes to social issues like abortion or even economic issues like free trade, I tend to lean conservative. However, when terrorists threaten to end or convert Western Civilization I'm an American first. Those of you who are loyal to your political party first rather than your country as a whole are complicit in this administrations or any others utter failure to do their jobs correctly.

The elected officials are awful too but we allow them to be so. We do not pay attention long enough to demand better intelligence that would stop another 9/11 from happening. As I see it, there's enough blame to go around. AS a matter of fact, if there's one thing binds us all together is that we are all guilty of not keeping our eyes on any of the balls. Apparently, the Revolutionary Guard of Iran has figured that out as well.

So as I reflect on September 11th, I still feel the hanger and the disappointment I felt as I saw the first Tower collapse into oblivion. I think about my life and how I've tried to cope with that day.

I'm not a professional writer. I'm still a social worker who works hard to make ends meet. I try to be there for my family and for my fiancé when they need me, which requires a weekly 4-hour drive from Miami to Tampa. By Sunday I'm ready to hide under whatever bed happens to be in the vicinity. Yet I still read book after book relevant to what's going on in today's global village. I attack my computer night after night looking for articles and offering my opinions because I think in some small way it helps. I'm moved from a profound sense of duty, which may just be hubris but what the hell, I don't know what more I can do. All I know is that I do it because I feel I have to. There's a small segment of us paying attention and yet look at what our elected officials have allowed to happen. Imagine what our country would like if people like myself gave up paying attention as well.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

New Review: China Inc.

ExampleThe following is a brief excerpt from a review posted on PopandPolitics.com:

Even in a society such as ours that clings to isolationism like it's precious oxygen, it is near impossible to ignore the juggernaut that is China. With its population a billion strong and its relatively recent turn toward economic liberalization, China lies in every facet of American consumerism.
This intimate tie to China can best be seen in a trip through Wal-Mart. Pick up any article of clothing at random and you’ll find that you are holding a garment made by the hands of a low-paid unskilled laborer from any number of China’s increasingly growing provinces and cities. Now walk over to the cheaply priced DVD players and you’ll see the same thing. And that’s just the unskilled labor force; every year China adds more engineers and scientists to the global economy. They will displace you. In fact, they have already.

Former floor trader, member of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and all around business commentator, Ted C. Fishman, has written a guide to understanding the new China. His book entitled, “China Inc. -- How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World,” is a thorough resource for the average American who is slow to catch on to the fact that we will live in an increasingly connected and interdependent global economy. This powerful message is brought to light by the simple, yet graphic front cover: a United States flag pin with "China" stamped on the back. When the typical manufacturing employee loses their job here, Fishman explains in detail that it’s probably because of China and there’s no stopping it.

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Three Countries Blocked All Efforts To Stop The Corruption

This Post is also available at The Blogger News Network

The latest Volcker report says that the UN can't conduct massive multi-million dollar programs such as the UN Oil-For-Food program because from the Security Council on down, the agency is rife with corruption. While the UN does do some good things and ostensibly it is a good place for countries to work out grievances without having to start wars (as conducted by their militaries, as opposed to using terrorists as a proxy), it is plain to see that the UN has fallen far from it's intended purpose. These days it acts as a collective lobbying effort to humiliate both Israel and the United States. What's more, it gives a form for countries that are not strong enough to economically and militarily challenge the US, like France, undeserved equality. China and Russia are a slightly different story.

I've said many times that I thought going into Iraq was strategically the right thing to do if we wanted to put ample pressure on the Iranian mullahs. What this latest installment of the Volcker report clearly shows is that there was no will on the part of the UN Security Council to contain Hussein's Iraq and most likely, as evidenced by the below article, the UNSC was on it's way to lifting the sanctions from Iraq entirely.

Did his regime have WMD's? All reports currently say no but some, like Curt Weldon and Yosseff Bodansky, believe that some WMD were moved to Syria well before the war started and then recently moved to Lebanon. I have no idea if that is true but if it were, then lifting the sanctions would have proved the UN more impotent in dealing with rogue regimes. Even if you believe that no matter what was going on Iraq, we should have never invaded, which is valid, because of rampant abuse and corruption the UN didn't give any viable alternatives. They essentially offered the advice, "Don't invade Iraq, it'll cost us too much dough!" That's not exactly a good reason to let a dictator who financially supports Palestinian terrorists against Israel, stay in power, WMD's or not.

The Oil-For-Food program has already been proven to be a farce. It was a Trojan horse for the purposes of eventually removing sanctions and allowing a despotic overtly anti-Israeli regime to stay in place. Granted I one could say that about almost all of the Middle Eastern countries but they are not all one in the same and do deserve to be treated differently depending on a variety of factors.

For those of you out there in the US and world who feel that American hegemony is worse than international terrorism and look to the UN to be the flashpoint for counter-balance, you have to ask yourself a hard question. How important is containing US "cowboy" actions across the world to you if you won't do even the minimum to cut back corruption in your own institutions? Speaking from the hawk-conservative point of view, why should any of us take you seriously about any matter of international importance when it's coming from a place of rampant corruption and cynicism? No country can honestly take the UN seriously so long as it continues to act like corrupted labor union or mob family. To take the UN seriously would be like seeking clinical therapy from a paranoid schizophrenic.

Here's the story:

Russia, China and France sabotaged UN Security Council efforts to crack down on Saddam Hussein's manipulation of the oil-for-food programme, the Volcker report says.

They worked effectively to assist the Iraq dictatorship, which, according to numerous Iraqi witnesses, had decided to give contract preferences to "companies from countries perceived as sympathetic to the lifting of [UN] sanctions, most prominently some members of the Security Council."

Speaking yesterday, Mr Volcker said there "was no doubt that there were difficulties with the Security Council, hampering action on some reports of smuggling and kickbacks".

The report names China, Russia and France as the main obstacles to a more effective system. Britain and the US repeatedly proposed changes, only to be blocked by the pro-Iraqi trio. The report says there was no sustained effort by the Security Council to tackle claims of corruption or the milking of the programme by Saddam.

It also reveals how Russian companies, by far the biggest beneficiaries of Iraq oil contracts, took huge packages of cash to Iraq's Moscow embassy by way of kickbacks.

In one 18-month period alone, Russian businessmen handed the Iraqis $52 million.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Thinking Toolbox by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn

I wasn’t sure what to expect when opted to read and review, “The Thinking Toolbox: 35 lessons that will build your Reasoning Skills,” by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn. I had taken and enjoyed Logic 101 when I was in college so I thought reading a book that was designed to improve my “reasoning skills,” would be an interesting venture. Even though the book is really intended for children ages 13 and over, I still found it entertaining, even if a bit rudimentary.

The book is broken up into 35 lessons that feature and introduction, some examples and then some activities relative to the preceding lesson. There is also an entire section dedicated to further puzzles and games dedicated to improving ones reasoning skills. Appropriate pictures that further illustrate the main point of each lesson pleasantly accompany each lesson. Ostensibly this is a fun and interesting children’s textbook dedicated to the art of clear and thoughtful analysis.

Some of the lessons include but are on limited to (1) When it is dumb to argue, (2) Using the scientific method, (3) Five rules of brainstorming, (4) Who has a reason to lie? (5) How to analyze opposing viewpoints, (6) How to analyze evidence and sources, (7) How to list reasons why you believe something, and many other as well.

One of the features of the guide is that it presents a “Christian view of logic.” I was somewhat skeptical of this at first because I wasn’t sure what the authors definition of a “Christian view of logic,” exactly was and how that would affect the narrative of book. As it turns out, if the back cover didn’t explicitly alert the reader to this idea, it wouldn’t occur to you at all that you were being exposed to said, “Christian view of logic.” The authors make it patently clear how one should conduct themselves within the confines of civil discourse and debate. The themes of the lessons are patience, an emphasis on good communication and tolerance of ulterior points of view. These are consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ and just make good common sense.

I do not have children at this time but I do work with disadvantaged and abused children on a daily basis as a family therapist. I believed strongly enough in the books overall message that I decided to bring to a session with a family that has found strength and solidarity in the Christian church. The family, who tend to be open to new ideas and willing to put forth the effort to make positive changes in their family dynamic, were very interested in the book and accepted it as a gift from me. It ended up being the impetus to a wonderful session that centered on how the husband and wife could better improve their communication and find a better sense of understanding of each other. In this sense, it served a very practical purpose. I would submit that, “The Thinking Toolbox,” could be used in a classroom or among family members as a way of exercising better communication skills and also generating positive discussion, as had happened during my session.

The children of the home found it especially appealing as well. While I as an educated adult found many of the lessons to be common sense, the children who took a gander at the book while in session began to acquire and framework for the art of discourse and communication that had previously escaped them. On of the children were simply mesmerized by the lessons and excitedly quoted from the book as he found new words to label thoughts that often went garbled in previous family or school discussions.

Though this guide came from a Christian publishing house, there’s nothing particularly or overtly religious about it. It is as I explained above, simply a guide to building better reasoning skills based on the premise of tolerance and clarity. I believe those themes are universal enough to warrant readership by the religious and secular alike.

If you have children or work with them and they are savvy and patient enough for you to do interesting activities with, I would highly recommend, “The Thinking Toolbox: Thirty-Five Lessons That Will Build Your Reasoning Skills,” by Nathaniel and Hans Bluedorn.

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