Wednesday, March 30, 2011

George W. Bush's Secret Advice to Obama on Libya

If former President George W. Bush had given President Obama advice on his Libya speech the other night, it would probably sound a lot like this:

Courtesy of The Daily Caller. Genius.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What Obama Didn't Say About Libya

The President gave his address to the Nation last night, detailing the American military role in Libya.

But the AP analysis of the speech brings up the key unmentioned point by the Administration:

In transferring command and control to NATO, the U.S. is turning the reins over to an organization dominated by the U.S., both militarily and politically. In essence, the U.S. runs the show that is taking over running the show.


I suppose this is kind of like being "the guy behind the guy?"

It seems perfectly clear to the rest of the world that America is leading operations in Libya, while trying to make it appear that we are not, well, leading operations in Libya.

As the world's lone superpower, America must lead with clarity, not ambiguity.

Lolcat of the Week

The Lolcat of the Week below succinctly captures my musical tastes - give or take the odd Bing Crosby performance. Enjoy!

funny pictures - I like both kinds o' music:  Country AND Western.
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bank of America's Tax Problem

I rarely cite the folks at ThinkProgress, but their report today about Bank of America's Federal Income Tax filings highlights a story too outrageous to ignore.

According to Think Progress, Bank of America doesn't really have a tax problem at all. In fact, they haven't paid Federal Income taxes in two years:

Now, with many companies releasing their financial reports for 2010, it appears that Bank of America — the nation’s largest bank — has gone a second year in a row paying absolutely no federal corporate income taxes. In fact, not only did the company use its losses to avoid paying taxes last year, but it actually reported a tax benefit of almost a billion dollars.


I assume the corporate giant isn't merely skimping out on taxes à la Wesley Snipes, but as a long-time Bank of America customer, and quite nearly a Bank of America employee, the information above is deeply upsetting - particularly when I think about all the interest they make off of my credit card.


Recently, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont sponsored legislation aimed at closing the corporate tax loopholes that permit such tax avoidance. As an outraged consumer, I'm inclined to say right on.

But the pragmatist in me realizes that this is sponsored by Bernie Sanders so there must be something wrong here. The devil, as always, is in the details.

Regardless, the BoA disclosures indicate that it's time for Washington to have a serious conversation about tax reform. Unfortunately, such a conversation won't actually take place given the proximity to the 2012 elections.

But if House Republicans are serious about shrinking the deficit, then some sort of tax reform has to be on the table. Right?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Things That Make Me Go Hmmm

There are two things, nay, three that will forever remain a mystery to me:

1. Interrupting a meal to make/take a telephone call.

2. Uggs

3. The Rule Against Perpetuities.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crossroads GPS Takes on Obama's Health Care Blitz

Man years ago, I was privileged to intern in the office of then Department of Labor, Chief of Staff, Steven Law.

Today, Steven is the CEO and President of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, two organizations committed to promoting individual liberty, limited government, free enterprise, and a strong national defense.

Steven was on Fox News this morning discussing Crossroads GPS's effort to hold the Obama Administration accountable for its use of public monies. In particular, the Administration attempted to hide its use of some $3.6 million that it spent on TV ads promoting Obamacare.

In all, it's an interesting spot. Most importantly, it is an unfortunate reminder of how 'transparent' the Obama Administration actually is.

Emergency in Plato's Cave

The XKCD comic below is admittedly nerdy. But it's also too damn funny not to post.


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

On Obama's Peace Prize

Politico is reporting that President Obama plans to hang on to his Nobel Peace Prize, despite the seeming contradiction of leading his country into a third war.


When the President won his award in 2009, I dismissed the matter as Nobel nonsense, which it was and is.

Today, the nonsense is in rare form.

President Bush went to war with an oil-rich dictator who "butchered" his own people, "who wants to cling to power," and was promptly excoriated by the Democrats in Congress and its allies in the press.

Today, President Obama has gone to war against an oil-rich dictator who "butchered" his own people, "who wants to cling to power," and the left has given him pass.

The Nobel Peace Prize is really an insignificant issue when the entire situation smacks of hypocrisy.

My New Favorite Comedian

Last night, Jimmy Fallon said everything I have been wondering about President Obama for the past few weeks.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Coming Soon...

Thanks to the good folks at HarperCollin's publishing imprint HarperOne, my copy of Rob Bell's Love Wins arrived in the mail today.

Book review coming soon...

Love Wins 198x300

Lolcat of the Week

The Lolcat of the Week below more or less sums up my attitude toward school this week.

For obvious reasons, the week after spring break is always the hardest.

funny pictures - Ai Been Thinkin...
see more Lolcats and funny pictures, and check out our


Thursday, March 17, 2011

The New York Times Set to Charge for Website Access

Happy St. Patrick's Day, readers! On days like today, celebrating the patron saint of alcoholics, I can't help but be a bit nostalgic for Boston.

Even so, yours truly will soon be on the road, visiting to my tribe's reservation in beautiful Taos, NM. Unfortunately, this will probably mean only scant posting over the next few days.

But before I leave, I wanted to share a quick story from my morning reads. According to the AP story below, the New York Times plans to start charging for access to its website beginning March 15.

The New York Times says it will start charging for access to its website and for the use of smart phone and tablet applications later this month in the U.S.

Beginning March 28, prices start at $15 for four weeks of full access to the website and the smart phone app.


I suppose one has to make money where one can, but I can't think of a faster way to kill the Grey Lady than charging for its on-line content.

The funny thing is, the Times tried this before in 2005 with its ill-fated "Times Select," though this applied only to "popular" columnists such as Thomas Friedman.Given the abysmal line-up of NYT columnists, it's little surprise that the effort tanked.

Regardless, the move impacts me very little. If the New York Times plans to charge for its content, I can't think of a better website not to visit.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Love Wins, and Universalism

Admittedly, I was never much familiar with Christian Universalism, having run across it only fleetingly in my days as a religion major at Dartmouth .

The basic tent of universalism is a belief in the universal reconciliation of all people, regardless of the sins one commits in this life. While the message is certainly a hopeful one, given how very different this idea was from my Baptist up-bringing, I dismissed the concept out of hand.

Yet, late last week, universalism again caught my eye when I read that mega-church Pastor Rob Bell planned to release a new book on the topic called Love Wins .

LOVE WINS. - Available March 15th from Rob Bell on Vimeo.

The idea is strikingly provocative. Assuming Bell's point is one of universalism, and given Bell's status among American Evangelicals, the book has the potential to utterly upend the way modern Christians think about faith.

Before I comment further, I hope to have time to read the book while on holiday in Taos, NM over the weekend. Accordingly, I have requested a copy of Love Wins from the publisher.

Assuming the stars align, and I am met by HarperCollins good graces,  I hope to have a review posted sometime next week.

As always, stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

State Governments and Transparency: Best Practices

I have received updates for a while now from the Sunshine Review, an organization committed to promoting governmental transparency at the state level.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I'm also a featured blog in their Ballotpedia Website under Arizona Media.)

Today, the Sunshine Review released their annual "Sunny Awards" highlighting the best practices of governmental transparency. Here are their awards for Arizona, direct from the press release:

Press Release
Contact Claire Milbrandt

Phone: (414) 465-2225

Sunshine Review Announces Arizona Winners of the Annual Sunny Awards

Award recognizes state, local governments with perfect transparency scores

ALEXANDRIA- The nation’s leading government transparency advocate, Sunshine Review, announced on Thursday the 112 winners of its 2nd annual “Sunny Awards.” The 2011 awards, which more than double last year's number, recognize the best state and local government websites in America that exceeded transparency standards. The Sunny Awards announcement preludes the launch of “Sunshine Week,” a period nationally recognized by hundreds of media and civic organizations, that celebrates the efforts of activists and the strides taken towards open government.

“Sunny Award winners deserve recognition for making information available to citizens and for setting a transparency standard that all governments can, and should, meet,” said Mike Barnhart, President of Sunshine Review. “Access to information empowers every citizen to hold government officials accountable. Official accountability is the cornerstone of self government and liberty.”

The 2011 list of Arizona winners include:

Pinal County

City of Surprise

City of Chandler

City of Pheonix

For a full list of Sunny Award winners, visit here.


Since its inception in 2008, Sunshine Review has analyzed the governmental transparency websites of all fifty states and 6,000 local governments. Last year, 41 websites earned grades of ”A” transparency grades. Grading takes into account the proactive disclosure of information regarding budgets, meetings, elected and administrative officials, permits and zoning, audits, contracts, lobbying, public records, and taxes, as well as the ease of use and availability of information.

I wasn't terribly surprised that the City of Phoenix snagged an award. It did surprise me that Pima County, which is notoriously aggressive about developing their website, did not. Sounds like someone's been wasting money...

The Sunshine Review's data covers all 50 states, and is sub-divided by State, County, City, and School District. By way of critique, the information for Arizona Cities and School Districts seems to have a glitch, but the State and County materials are all up to date.

In all, the site should have something interesting to peruse, wherever you're from. If nothing else, it provides a useful service to a strikingly underserved demographic. Many government watchdogs exits at the National level, but only a handful do the work of holding states similarly accountable.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Best News All Day: Capel Out at OU

With nuclear reactors blowing up in Japan, I was hard pressed to find any good news on this first Monday of Spring Break.

Fortunately, the OU Athletic Department provided a much needed bit of inspiration.

Oklahoma's chronically abysmal Men's Head Basketball Coach, Jeff Capel was fired this afternoon.


No word on potential replacements, but it doesn't matter - whoever OU gets can't possibly be worse than Capel.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Campaigns, and Social Media

Social MediaThe Politico ran a lengthy, provocatively-titled piece this morning, detailing on the role of social media in modern, American politics.

The entire article can more or less be summed up in its final paragraphs below:

Matt Moon of New Media Strategies, and a former deputy research director at RNC, said the media environment forces candidates to rely heavily on staff and scripted talking points — and to depart from them at their peril.

”When you have to respond so rapidly to changing situations, whether it be with domestic policy or you re trying to react to what an incumbent commander-in-chief has to do with foreign policy situations, it’s really not feasible for a candidate not to have a playbook that covers each of those areas,” Moon said.

“If you have a candidate who has the hubris to think that they can just come up with something on the fly, you’re going to run into a lot of dangers where a quote might be a one-day story or it might define your campaign.”


The thing that struck me about the Politico article is that it tells us absolutely nothing about the use of social media in campaigns. Instead, it conjures up a social media gospel that politicians are supposed follow if they want to get elected. The recipe for social media/electoral success is three-fold:

  • Never deviate from the talking points;
  • Extemporaneous speaking is now hubristic, and risky, so don't do it;
  • Responding rapidly" means selecting the appropriate policy from the candidate's "policy playbook."

Point one is probably good commonsense for someone like Sarah Palin, who just today (also in Politico) was called the Al Sharpton of Alaska. The rather explicit point seems to be that if you wander too far from the script of acceptable positions, then you are immediately relegated to punchline status.

Unfortunately, this also suggests that elections aren't really about comparing policy positions, or making informed decisions about who can run the country best. The the talking-points-only model suggests that elections are about winnowing down the field to the candidate who strays from message least. The end result is a staid, boring campaign that never shows voters the real candidate. A lot like the Romney campaign circa 2008.

The second point about extemporaneous speaking is also troubling. There once was an era in American politics, apparently long ago, when speaking extemporaneously was just a part of the political schtick. Some of President Ronald Reagan's most devastating lines were delivered completely off the cuff, and America was better for it.

If the Gipper had followed the, admittedly, sound social media advice above, he would have been much less like the Gipper, and much more like, well, Mitt Romney. If candidates follow this plank of the formula, candor and humor in the politics will be distant anachronisms. (Here's looking at you, Myspace).

Finally, the article's third point, reduces the art of leadership to little more than b-rated cooking show. Successful leaders simply pick the most appropriate response from a cookie-cutter book of policies, and hope for the best.

While such an approach may work for sports, guiding our nation in such a manner would almost certainly make social media redundant. At best, careful adherence to point three would stymie the dynamic, real-time response to situations that social media are supposed to provide.

And so readers are left to wonder exactly how campaigns, and candidates will use social media in the coming election. Politico missed a real opportunity here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A Bipartisan Brew

As CNN notes, Congress hasn't agreed on much - well, anything lately.

Except that microbreweries are taxed too much.
Currently, breweries pay a $7 dollar tax per barrel for the first 60,000 barrels they produce each year. The bill would drop that fee to $3.50, and for production in excess of 60,000 the tax would fall from $18 per barrel to $16.

Nice to see that beer still brings people together.

Only 36 more days of Lent...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, March 11, 2011

Worst Pilot Ever

Had a good time last night, watching old clips from the Dean Martin show.

I swear, I've been on this guy's plane before. He was clearly a pilot for Delta...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Want to Buy a Castle?

Spring Break 2004 An ominous view of Eagle tower at CaernaApparently, there are nine on the market in the United States.

Prices range from $1.3 - $11 million, and all are located in the Northeast.


My personal favorite, of the bunch is coincidentally the cheapest, Chateu Roachamore, located in Stamford, CT.

Note: the castle above is not for sale. In fact, it's not even located in the U.S. The shot of Caernarfon Castle in Gwynedd, Wales was taken by yours truly. Spring Break 2004.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Making the Case for Lent

Soctch on the Rocks

My wife and I started attending an Episcopal Church recently. In all honesty, it's probably the first church we've both been enthusiastic about attending since we got married.

The parish is tucked away on the Northwest corner of Campbell and River, set back amid a grove of Catclaw Mesquite trees native to Southern Arizona. Flanked by a Spanish-style wall on either side of the sanctuary, the scene is complemented by a bright, red-clay-tiled roof. In sum, the church is nothing if not a Southwest embellishment on America's special brand of Anglican.

One of the many things I like about our adopted church is the emphasis it places on intellectual development, and spiritual contemplation. We have visited a good many churches here in Tucson, never quite feeling like we were at home. But when the church announced its Bach Marathon last weekend, it's safe to say my wife was totally on board. Naturally, where the wife leads, I soon follow. I think it's fair to say that the church provides us just the right mix of spiritual reflection and intellectual stimulation.

To its credit, each service at St. Phillip's in the Hills brings an approach to God with the upmost reverence. The Eucharist is observed weekly, and the liturgical elements of the service, including the hymn selections, are traditional. There's something a bit inspiring about reciting the Apostle's Creed every Sunday - particularly when I consider that the creed has existed in some form since roughly the fourth century after Christ.

Having grown up as a Baptist, none of the churches I attended in my youth ever much observed the Christian tradition of Lent. I've long known what Lent is, but I've never experienced Lent to know what it means. Tomorrow morning will be my first Ash Wednesday service.

With much of the St. Phillips congregation set to observe Lent this week, imagine my surprise when I read in the Huffington Post that the observance is on the wane.

And there it is in a nutshell, you see, the trouble with Lent: it feels like this strange, weirdly anachronistic holiday that celebrates things we don't value and encourages attitudes we don't share. No wonder that each year fewer and fewer churches observe this age-old (fourth century!) tradition -- it's too old-fashioned, too "Roman," too medieval for many contemporary Christians to handle.


The point is a well-taken one.

Ours is a culture that values instant gratification in all its forms. I don't suppose this makes us any more 'wicked' than generations past. It simply reflects our hour of history. It's a basic fact that our world has never before experienced such an abundance of plenty. From food, to information, to, yes, even health care, mankind is truly living in a moment full of blessing. This is not to say that the embarrassment of riches is well-distributed, or that such lavishness is a good thing. I am merely stating the obvious.

Building on this theme of blessing, the piece in the Huffington Post continues, making the case for the Lenten season:

Yes. I need Lent. I need an absence of gifts so that I might acknowledge the Gift. I need a time to be quiet and still, a time to crane my neck and lift my head, straining to hear again what was promised me at Baptism: "You are mine! I love you! I am with you!"

Given HuffPo's politics, regulars here can imagine my surprise at reading the above. But, in truth, the author nailed it. The world needs Lent, not only because it observes the sacrifice Christ prepared to make for humanity. The world needs Lent because it reminds us that life is about more than the self.

Tomorrow will be my first observance of Lent. I plan to give up carbs, beer, and whiskey. While these would not be difficult for many people to give up, insofar as one can love material objects and comforts, I love my carbs. I love my Sam Adams. And nothing accompanies my evening cigar better than a glass of The Macallan scotch.

In the interest of full disclosure, I haven't given up Mr. Booze completely. We functioning alcoholics need our fix, and wine is an eminently agreeable substitute. But it seemed silly to give up carbs, and not to give up beer when beer is, in fact, loaded with carbs. And when I resolved to give up beer, it seemed silly not to also give up whisky, which, as luck would have it, is also loaded with carbs.

On this "Fat Tuesday" I'm not terribly certain what to expect from the observance of Lent. I'm far too cynical to expect any grand revelations at this point in life. In a way, my only expectation is that the self-denial will be a bit odd. Giving up these basic elements of my existence hasn't happened before - at least not since I was around 21 years old. Now that I'm knocking on the door of my thirties, maybe observing Lent regularly is for the best.

More to come...

Monday, March 7, 2011

Why I Won't Mock Charlie Sheen

Earlier today, in a move that surprised no one, embattled actor Charlie Sheen was fired from the CBS hit series Two and a Half Men [sic].

Only hours later, Sheen took to the the internet, getting out his spin on the situation light-years ahead of the CBS brass.

His eight minute rant appears in full below.

While it has already been much lampooned, what the video actually shows is a man on the brink, consumed by the need to succeed as a validation of life itself. "Walk into my plan, and you're gonna win, win, win." (See the video at the 5.10 mark).

For all the jokes that have been bandied about, after having watched Charlie Sheen in his own words, I cannot for the life of me understand why one man's destruction is so wildly entertaining. Like him or hate him, Sheen's life is obviously collapsing around him, to the point where he will cling to any delusion of 'winning' in effort to hang on by the lone thread he has left - a little watched channel on UStream. In many ways, it's like passing an accident on the highway: we just can't look away.

Another thing that struck me about the clip is how Sheen's token yes-man nervously laughs at every bumbling, inane thing Charlie Sheen says. The man is teetering on the edge of the abyss, and the best his (agent? publicist? token toadie?) can do is laugh and say, "fucking brilliant."

The clip signs off "You're either in Sheen's Korner or with the Trolls!"

Just in case no one else has said it, I'm in your corner, Charlie. And I hope you pull through.

Video streaming by Ustream

Friday, March 4, 2011

Why I Can't Have a Flying Car

The XKCD comic below more or less sums up why I could never have a flying car - assuming they existed.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

You're So Typical...

Actually, you're not. At least not according to National Geographic. I suppose this in some way reflects the assumptions I'm making about my own readers. For all I know, Pax Plena is wildly popular among late-twenties, Chinese men and you may be quite typical, indeed.

According to the National Geographic series exploring population trends among the world's 7 billion people, the most typical person in the world is a 28 year-old man from the Han ethnic group in China.

Yahoo News has the details here.

But the video below is really the informative piece. It's quite interesting when you think about it. Our view of the typical here in America is completely skewed relative to the rest of the world. In fact, our view of the typical is probably skewed relative to the friends one has, or the socio-economic circles in which one resides.

Lots of good food for thought.


Song of the Week: Make a Mistake

The Pax Plena Song of the Week reminds me of a steamy New Hampshire summer, and Fourth-of-Julys past spent along the Charles River in Boston. Released in 2003, Brad Paisley's Make a Mistake was an instant favorite of mine the momenet I heard its ornate guitar work, and upbeat lyrics, lo so many years ago.

The tune is simple and easily sung, like most Brad Paisley tunes. But in many ways it's exactly this simplicity of country music that makes it at all interesting.

Rant: Let's face it, if you want to listen to generic pop music all you need to do is pirate the latest Justin Bieber album, or the musical excrement we call Lady Gaga. I say 'pirate' because if your music taste is poor enough to actually pay for it, well, I can't help you and your head will probably explode once you click video below and listen to real music. Suffice it to say, given how country music is the veritable, polar opposite of everything "pop" and generic, it's little surprise that yours truly gravitates towards it - not unlike Charlie Sheen gravitating toward a train wreck. Moths to a flame, as they say.

Anyway, the lyrics of the tune tell a simple story of a boy urging a girl he likes to "make a mistake" with him. It's a bit cliché admittedly, but so is a lot of what we enjoy about relationships. We've all seen the movie where the lovelorn girl tells her beau their romance cannot be because it would surely be a mistake. Paisley's song is the beau's rebuttal.

Rescuing the song, perhaps from itself, is Paisley's nothing less than amazing handiwork on the guitar. The strumming and picking on both the melody and the chorus are stellar. Until hearing this song, I honestly did not comprehend how fast the human finger can move. I thought my 10-words-per-minute typing was impressive.

At any rate, there's only so much that I can say on behalf of a song that is eminently qualified to speak for itself. With that, please enjoy the extended edition of Make a Mistake, featuring an extra three minutes of Brad Paisley making the guitar his bitch.


Make a Mistake
By Brad Paisley

You over think things
You say what if we're not meant to be
Well you know what so what
Make a mistake with me

Nobody goes through this life and does
Everything perfectly
We're all gonna fail so you might as well
Make a mistake with me

Sometimes baby when we take
A chance that has this much at stake
We look back and in hindsight
What seemed wrong looks more like right

So I say worst case we'll be left with
Lots of good memories
This chance we have well it's worth that 
So make a mistake with me

I'm tellin' you the right thing to do
Is make a mistake
Make a mistake
Make a mistake with me

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