Sunday, September 16, 2007

I Hate That Word!


Hate. Hate. Hate.

Everywhere I go I hear "I hate this" or "I hate that". From kids, it's I hate broccoli, I hate liver and onions, and I hate
school. From Democrats, it's I hate Bush. From conservatives, it's I hate pansy ass liberals. Got an actor you don't like, well, if someone mentions his name, do you go, I hate that person? I hate the freeways, I hate my job, I hate my boss, I hate my ex-wife, I hate the weather, I hate, I hate, I hate...

It's enough to make me want to scream, Stop!

It seems like we live in a hate filled the society. And no one seems to be immune. Talk to someone long enough and eventually you'll get to something they hate and get a very passionate about.

I know a very well-intentioned priest who, by and large, is a very nice person. In church she will preach upon "loving thy neighbors as ourselves" and then after church will speak in derogatory fashion about anyone who labels themselves as a conservative. The priest is politically prejudiced, but if I called that person prejudiced against conservatives to her face she would argue vehemently against it!

Here's a little test. One day, during your entire waking hours, listen for the word hate. Not just outside the home, but in your family as well. Include your wife/partner/kids/relatives at home, pay attention to what they say. What do you hear in the carpool/bus ride/radio? What about at work? Listen to your coworkers and management, as well as customers if you have them. If you listen to talk radio, notice how often it comes up? When you get home, and watch TV/cable, note how often do you hear it?

Listen to your friends. Listen to your self. I guarantee you that you will lose track of how many times you hear it.

When you question a person about their use of the word hate, usually they will eventually admit that they don't really hate something, they just don't like it. However, they will argue that they don't see anything wrong with using the word hate. The trouble is, what happens when you/they really hate someone, like terrorism? Or war? Or cruelty? Or evil in the world?

The human mind, through language, operates using symbolism. We attach word/symbols to ideas, peoples, and things. It helps us sort out what we like and we don't like, what we trust and don't trust. If I hate broccoli and I hate terrorists have I denigrated terrorists to the level of broccoli or is broccoli so bad that I must expunge it from the earth?

I have a daughter and every time she uses the word hate I ask her, do you really hate it or is it that you just don't like it? And she always sheepishly admits that she really doesn't hate it, but that she just doesn't want to eat it. That I can understand! *chuckle*

I try to do the same with my own words. If I catch myself saying I hate something, I tried to quickly correct and say, no, I'm sorry, I just don't like it.

It's the only way we are going to stop the misuse of this word and the emotions and feelings that come with it, to diminish its use in our vocabulary and our society.

There is something else wrong with the word as well. When we use it against a group of people or a particular type of person, it is the first step to dehumanizing that group or person. If I hate someone or a group it's much easier to feel no pity for them and their situation. And when you dehumanize them and cease to pity them it is much easier to incarcerate them, expel them from society, or even execute them.

One simple word. A word that stirs up emotions and passions. An overused word that makes it easier for us to treat others with contempt and disrespect. Quite frankly, there is enough contempt and disrespect in the world as it is without trying to create more of it.

I was born on the tail end of the baby boomer generation. As I was growing up I heard a lot of talk about love and peace. Admirable things. The world needs more love and peace. Alas, the only way we're going to be able to make room for love and peace is if we begin by trying to eliminate hate and war first.

One parting comment (laced with a bit of irony). I had a discussion about the overuse of the word hate with a friend not too long ago. We were in complete agreement by the end of the conversation. So much so, that in parting he made it emphatically clear that he hated hate.

I'd cry if it weren't so funny!


Monday, September 10, 2007

Prejudice isn't dead (it's just hard to kill)

Nope, prejudice isn't dead. This is a post that I am sure will annoy everyone who reads it because truth hurts. Nobody likes to hear that they may not be perfect. No one likes their carefully constructed universe to be upended by those that point out that the emperor has no clothes.

First, let's separate prejudice from racism. There are those that like to confuse the two. I won't bore you with the definitions, but if you need to refresh yourself, here: prejudice and racist.

Okay, have we read up and gotten our terms straight before we delve into this and you start yelling at me? Good, let's start getting that burr under the saddle!

Racial prejudice

If a white man doesn't like a black man simply because he is black and the white man alters his behavior towards the black man because of it, he is prejudiced.

See, that wasn't so hard!

If a black man doesn't like a white man simply because he is white and the black man alters his behavior towards the white man because of it, he is prejudiced, too.

Now, at this point people are going to start grumbling and there will be comments like, how could a black man possibly be prejudiced? By strict definition, many are. My friends are pretty evenly split between black and white and, while white people who still have lingering traces of prejudice within them tend to keep their mouth shut about such things, I have been at gatherings and in conversations with black friends where it's "white man" this and "white man" that and "what you expect from him, he's white". Hate to break it to you folks, but that is prejudice, plain and simple.

All the protestation you can muster won't change the truth of it. Trouble is, certain people just don't want to hear the truth and they think that by denying it that it somehow validates their position. It doesn't work for the White House and I'm not accepting it from you either.

Here's one I bet you haven't thought of. If a black and a white man don't like a Mexican simply because he's a Mexican and/or maybe taking away a potential job from a black or white American or they simply look down upon them because they can't speak the language or do work that the black or a white man wouldn't be caught dead doing and then treat them differently because of it, then the white and the black man are prejudiceed against Mexicans. I am picking a lot of that up lately when I listen to people. It's funny to see white and black people agreeing about another group of people that they don't like. Funny/sad that is.

Meanwhile, men are still looking down upon women. Women still make stereotypical remarks about men. Straight people snicker at gays and gays deride "breeders". Muslims and Jews hold each other in great disrespect. Democrats hate Republicans and Republicans loathe Democrats.

Am I belaboring the obvious? Yep! Why? Because sometimes you have to rub people's noses in their faults before they finally decide they look like idiots for behaving like real jerks.

Ending prejudice starts with each one of us. Yes, the other guys responsible, too, but you or I can't change the way they think or behave. We can change ourselves. The end of prejudice doesn't lie in getting people to quit being prejudiced, although it will help. The end of prejudice lies with each of us, what we do and how we behave and, just as important, how we raise our children. If I change and you change and my kids change and we lead by setting an example and one by one we get our friends to change, eventually things will get better.

Change your self and help change the world..

These are the people that want to be President? Oy, vey!

I'm not sure what bothers me more, the fact that both parties seem to have a vast array of seemingly qualified candidates or the fact that none of the candidates really stand out from one another. On certain issues, at least the ones the press and the candidates agree on, each party's candidates seems to more or less agree. It's like going to the grocery store and comparing sacks of flour on the shelf. Each has slightly different, yet similar packaging. Each makes florid comments and claims as to the quality of the flour contained therein. So how do we tell them apart?

With flour we have essentially three choices: we can buy on brand or reputation, we can buy based on previous experience, or we can buy according to price. Guess what? The same can be said for our political candidates! We can decide based on party or what the candidate tells us. We can use their previous experience and our level of trust in their willingness and ability to keep their word. Or we can choose to decide based on how much we think it's going to cost us, that is, will the benefits they supply to our country outweigh the problems they bring to the table.

So what kinds of flour/candidates are we looking at?

Obama appears to bring a freshness to the debate. There is a certain youthful vitality, some would say virility, and the willingness of youth to seek nonstandard solutions to problems. Unfortunately, that which makes him appealing also becomes his shortcomings: youth, and inexperience, and maybe a tendency be so radical that he screws up things even worse.

On the other hand, Hillary is a relatively known quantity... mostly. While Obama has less to lose by speaking his mind, Hillary has to be much more politically cautious. There are times when you are almost not sure where she is going to come down on a particular subject. It's as if she doesn't want to alienate or upset what she considers her political base. Fortunately for her, she has no problem attacking the current administration of Republicans. So she leaves Democrats feeling vaguely antsy and Republicans enraged. And then there is the Bill factor... will it help or hurt? Has he been out of office long enough for people to forgive him most of his sins? What ever the answer to that, Bill has a lot more charisma than Hillary who comes off as somewhat scary. For that reason alone, Bill needs to be up there slightly behind and off to the side of Hillary. Close enough to make her look better, but not close enough to give the appearance of constantly whispering in her ear and running the show.

And then there is Edwards. He is vice presidential material and nothing more at best. At worst he is yesterday's news. Moving on.

With Dodd you get the feeling he'd probably make a damn good president and he certainly looks the part. He seems confident, experienced in person and his record in life reflects the same. Which means he doesn't have a chance. The question here is would he take the vice presidential slot? His experience, apparent ability and solidly built, grandfatherly appearance might give the appearance of having someone with wisdom and clear thinking on the team. But is he willing to settle for just being vice president? I think he may be the missing piece of the puzzle. Alas, in this media driven age, when the unusual gets more press, he doesn't stand a chance unless the other candidates pull a Howard Dean.

And, speaking of puzzles, there's Richardson. He doesn't have a chance and so he appears to bring a sense of "I'm not a Washington insider, I'm one of you" to the race. Within the Democratic Party platform, he can pretty much speak his mind. he seems sensible. So, he doesn't have a chance. Moving on.

If I forgot to mention anyone else, well, so have the voters forgotten to remember anyone else, too.

And then there is the Republican side of the campaign.

It goes like this: Romney, too much baggage and, regardless of whether it is right or wrong, there's the religion angle. Romney, if you want a candidate to help the Democrats, he's your man. The same can be said for the next candidate on the slate, Giuliani. Again, too much baggage, wives, tempers, and the sense that he fudges the truth to put himself in a better light. And there's the little problem of more extreme conservative support... he either doesn't have it or it can be assured. Another no go, moving on.

I'm having trouble remembering the names of the other Republican candidates at best, at worst they all kind of blend together and none of them have a chance. And that kind of sums up the Republican side, you got people who want to run, but most voters really don't want any of them.

Which brings us to Fred Thompson, because with him in the race all the lesser Republican candidates will be marginalized right out of the race. Smart man. Saved his money, bided his time, let other candidates determine what the issues were that the people were really interested in... or at least the issues the reporters hoped that the people were really interested in. Early on in the political process, when he started hinting that he would throw his hat in the ring, his candidacy had a certain appeal. Strangely though, the night he entered the race he uttered his bumper sticker campaign platform, those lovely three words:
security, prosperity, and unity. That was the point at which I decided that he was starting to get scary and I started backing away from the idea that he might make a good president. He may have a better chance of winning than all the other Republican candidates, but will he be good for the country. I don't know... we have his carefully hoarded words, but how much of it is nothing more than a really slick marketing campaign? That leaves me feeling uneasy. Still, he may have the popularity to help the Republicans hang on to the presidential office.

Then there is Ron Paul. Ron Paul. Ron Paul. Ron Paul. He not a chance in hell of ever being President, but out of all the candidates from both sides of the aisle I can safely say I know where he stands, I know what political positions he has taken, I know what he wants to do for this country and for its citizens. He is a breath of fresh air. He is the closest thing to an honest candidate I have seen in many a year. I disagree with him on so many things and, yet, I agree with them on so many things and, since he's honest and right up front with his positions, I feel I can live with those things that I don't agree with. I'm not scared he's going to change because he doesn't seem to have any reason nor desire to lie to achieve the presidency.

There is one other thing: I hail from Houston, Texas. I am surrounded with conservative voters as well as large numbers of liberal voters. They seem to live side by side in relative peace in my neighborhood and in other neighborhoods around town. I see the occasional Obama sign. I see the occasional support for Hillary and if I've seen or heard any overt support for the other Democratic candidates, it has failed to get my attention. I've seen a couple of bumper stickers for Romney, I haven't detected any strong support for Giuliani. And the rest of the candidates seem to fade into the background. With one exception.

Ron Paul. I have heard young people talk about him. I know Democrats and Republicans alike that have his signs out in front of their homes, I passed them when I'm driving through my neighborhood and, because of my job, I cover many miles along the streets in my neighborhood. Bumper stickers and Ron Paul's name written in the dirt on the back of a pickup trucks window expressing support. There are polls and surveys that say he only has 2% support and that he is a second-tier candidate, but it is solid unwavering support.

Love him or hate him, you cannot argue that he brings intellectual and political honesty to a race that sorely needs them. Could he win? Possibly, but only if all the other candidates really screw up and then there is the general feeling that maybe America is ready for a good dark horse candidate, someone who isn't hog tied to the existing political structure. So, no, he probably doesn't stand a chance, but wouldn't it be interesting for the country if he did?

There is one the really sad thing about this presidential election though. If a candidate could run under the name Mr./Ms. I'm-Not-George-Bush And-None-Of-The-Above he might be able to win this race by the largest percentage in history! LOL!

Stay tuned for our next essay, what effect will all these early primaries have on the race next year? Worst-case scenario? So much time will pass between the primaries and the unofficial counting of the electoral votes in the political convention that the apparent candidates will immolate themselves through error (can you say Gary Hart?) or feet in mouth. Or will the voters just get tired of listening to the candidates run in place and try to stay in the public eye. Voter weariness with the system may play a major role.

In the end, who will be our next president? There is a growing uneasy feeling that a lot of people would like to say, none of the above, let's start this race again from scratch.

And so I remain,
my usual irritated self.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Behind the Power Outages in Southern California

I was a recent visitor to the LA area and, to be honest, I'm amazed at the place. First, for all intents and purposes, people are living in the desert or areas with near desert conditions. There is an amazing lack of water. Talk about a dry, arid area!

I live in Houston, lived here all my life. It's hot, humid, and semi tropical. Without air conditioning, 24/7, the place would be a nice quiet industrial town. We want, no, demand that our air conditioning be able to function all the time. And that means everybody in the city's air conditioning at pretty much the same time. The per capita consumption of electricity in Houston is probably higher than in LA.

That said, I am constantly amazed at the power problems California has. Brownouts, industrial shutdowns, people dying from the heat when their air conditioning can't get enough electricity to function. I read in the paper how a goodly portion of Californians seem to think that Enron is somehow responsible for their power problems, and I have to laugh.

First, Enron, the crooks at Enron took advantage of laws and regulations set in the place by California lawmakers and regulators. They set up a situation that all but invited someone to come in and take advantage of them. And then they are completely amazed that they are taken advantage of! Every good con needs a greedy, self interested mark. And in every successful con the mark always insists that they were taken advantage of and that they have no responsibility for their own problems. California has an amazing ability to point fingers everywhere except at themselves. Yet, they are the most responsible.

Why? Because, to rearrange an old saying, they want their cake but they don't want the oven in their house. During the Enron "crisis" I had a chance to read a lot of California newspaper web sites. There was a lot of talk about the need to build new generating stations, but nobody wanted them anywhere near where they lived and in California there seems to be people everywhere. And where there aren't any people there are "protectors" who feel that they have to keep civilization and its downsides at a distance. I have no problem with that, the environment needs to be protected, but you have to factor in the needs of the many while you listen to the voices of the few. Life is a series of trade-offs, compromises, and pragmatic decisions that can't possibly make everybody happy all the time.

Which brings us to the second problem: California consumes more power than it produces, at least on a very hot day. Its backup power comes off the grid from out-of-state, which is all well and good, but when the surrounding states are hot and their power consumption is up, where his California going to get that extra power? The answer is simple: it's not.

So California suffers from power problems and brownouts. Get used to it. If there is such a thing as global warming there are going to be more days like this. And before Californians go ape about whether global warming is real or not, consider that if California were a separate nation, it would rank in the top 10 nations of the world in terms of pollution output that helps foster global warming.

There is a solution. Build more power plants. Accept the fact that a well-built nuclear power plants built away from fault lines and major populations areas can provide power at a reasonable cost without having to depend upon fossil fuels. In France 80% of the power consumed comes from nuclear facilities. Take a lesson from them. They have come to terms with their power needs and have pragmatically gotten on with their collective lives.

Alas, that's not going to happen because California is the home of the world "not in my backyard" movement. There are always going to be enough naysayers and neo-Luddites to throw their sabots into the wheels of progress.

I can sit here in Houston in cool, collected comfort and wag my finger at you only because we have come to terms with our energy consumption. Our supply takes into account the days of the summer when it is known to get hot and energy usage spikes.

If California cannot collectively get its excrement together and do what is necessary to keep their society and state operating, then it will get scant sympathy from the rest of the country. We have our own problems and we are busy dealing with them.

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* * *

Two parting observations: I noticed a few comments about Hoover dam and some endangered fish. You have bigger problems with Hoover dam than that fish. I had a chance to stop at Hoover dam on my vacation. The water level is dropping because of drought. The lower the water level, the less power the turbines generate. If the water level drops to a certain point, the turbines will not operate. Because Southern California exists in desert like conditions it needs water. Because of the drought more water is being drawn from Lake Mead to make up for the shortfall, which in turn decreases the ability to generate electricity. Yes, California, at least Southern California, has problems.

The other observation is this: there are a great many people in southern California that seem to think that they can operate without air conditioning. And, in this, I have to agree with them. Because of the arid nature of the area, i.e. the lack of humidity, with a nice breeze or good ceiling fans it is much easier to tolerate higher temperatures than it would be in Houston. The trouble is everybody in California has an air conditioner and, when it gets hot enough, those who try to mostly exist without air conditioning will break down and cut it on. You get an energy consumption spike. Since the average usage expected seems to be predicated on the idea that a many are trying to live without air conditioning or at least a minimal air conditioning, when everybody cuts on their AC unit, surprise, surprise, suddenly there isn't enough power to go around.