Saturday, October 31, 2009

What you deserve

I was just reading an online article about people who are in debt even though they make more than enough money to live comfortably.

"Mark," a 41-year-old executive who makes a six-figure salary but fell into debt because he doesn't believe in self-sacrifice: "I have a sort of moralistic self-righteousness that I deserve good things," he says. "And because I'm surrounded by luxury all day, I know what's good quality and what isn't."

My advice is to not listen to any voice, internal or external, that says you "deserve" luxury consumer goods. That is the voice of someone or something which does not have your best interests at heart. Hit the mute button, make the sign of the cross, say "Get thee behind me Satan" -- whatever works for you.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Mexican Day of the Dead, Sunday Nov. 1, 2009

This year the Putnam Museum is the place to celebrate the Mexican Day of the Dead in the Quad Cities! [Click on the image below to see it full sized.]

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why fund war with debt but insist that health-care reform be deficit-neutral?

The Washington Post responded in today's paper to a reader who pointed out an apparent contradiction: the editors insist that health care reform not increase the debt but call for escalation of the number of our troops in Afghanistan without any plan to pay for it other than borrowing money from China and Japan. "Why fund war with debt but insist that health-care reform be deficit-neutral?" This was part of their answer:

Universal health care, however desirable, is not "fundamental to the defense of our people." Nor is it a "necessity" that it be adopted this year: Mr. Obama chose to propose a massive new entitlement at a time of historic budget deficits. In contrast, Gen. McChrystal believes that if reinforcements are not sent to Afghanistan in the next year, the war may be lost, with catastrophic consequences for U.S. interests in South Asia. U.S. soldiers would continue to die, without the prospect of defeating the Taliban. And, as Mr. Obama put it, "if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans."

The disconnect between the interests and priorities of the Washington elite, as exemplified by the editorial board of the Washington Post, and those of most Americans could not have been revealed more clearly. This was obviously written by someone whose health care (and the health care of everyone near and dear to them) is absolutely guaranteed. This is in sharp contrast to the situation of most Americans who worry that they, or someone close to them, have no health insurance or could lose it, perhaps as a result of being laid off, and be unable to obtain an new policy, either because of a "preexisting condition" or because they could not afford it. For most Americans outside the Washington beltway this is much more of a "necessity" than the need to wage unending war in Asia.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Louisiana judge thinks biracial children are to be pitied

nathan_nora_portrait, originally uploaded by dvdbarrett.

When I read that a Louisiana judge had refused to issue a marriage license to a biracial couple out of concern that "most of black society does not readily accept offspring of such relationships, and neither does white society" it brought back memories. About 20 years ago I informed the people I worked with that after 10 years of trying my wife and I were going to have a baby. We were adopting and we had opted for a biracial child after being told that the wait time would just be weeks but for any other category of child it would be years. The senior member of my work team told me he thought biracial children were to be pitied using almost the same words as the Louisiana judge. There were nods of agreement with this opinion all around -- it seemed to be the consensus opinion. Later 2 women (out of the 60 people who worked there) each told me privately that they disagreed - they thought biracial children were beautiful.
Once we got our baby boy and a year later a girl we discovered that "I think your child/children is/are beautiful" was a kind of code phrase of support for white parents with biracial children that we would occasionally get from strangers in public. It would have never occurred to us that our children were anything other than beautiful, even if no one else had told us that, but it was nice to occasionally have it confirmed.
Judging from the almost universal condemnation of the Louisiana judge's opinions on this, public opinion on biracial children has really shifted in the last 20 years. But how could it be otherwise. Above is a 16 year old picture of my children. How could anyone think they were anything other than beautiful?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Why was gambling illegal?

When I was growing up in the 1950s and 60s all forms of gambling were illegal in this country (except in Nevada) and had been as long as anyone then alive could remember. My grandfather, who was born in 1890, talked about what life was like at the turn of the century and although in some respects the country was very different then the illegality of all gambling was exactly the same.

When I recently read a book in which it was mentioned in passing how this situation came about I was surprised. Before reading about the history of this I would have guessed that the banning of gambling had a basis in Puritan morality, similar to the prohibition of alcohol. When I solicited my Facebook friends for their guesses when and why gambling had become illegal my sister-in-law also assumed that banning gambling had been similar to the prohibition of alcohol -- she guessed it must have come about after women's suffrage and as a result of a campaign to prevent men with wives and children from gambling away money needed by their families. My nephew guessed, again like Prohibition, the ban had arisen primarily as a result of anti-immigrant xenophobia.

It turns out that the national ban on all forms of legal gambling from 1892 to 1965 had arisen in order to stop bribes to and corruption of elected official by the legal state lottery of Louisiana which had so corrupted the state government that national legislation was needed to end it. By this time most other states had already made lotteries and other forms of gambling illegal and these local bans had come about in various contexts and motivated by various concerns besides corruption, including morality, efforts to protect wives and children, anti-immigrant feelings, etc. (although since this was the 19th century these bans were passed without the votes of women). But there is little debate among historians about the basis of the national ban being the need to protect our democratic governments from the corrupting influences of legal gambling revenues.

According to Roger Dunstan in "Gambling in California"

Following a long national tradition, the South turned to lotteries to generate revenue to rebuild the war-ravaged region. The Louisiana lottery was the most notable because of its unseemly end. In 1868, the Louisiana Lottery Company was authorized and granted a 25-year charter. A carpetbagger criminal syndicate from New York bribed the Legislature into passing the lottery law and establishing the syndicate as the sole lottery provider. The Louisiana Lottery was an interstate venture with over 90% of the company's revenue coming from outside Louisiana. This lottery was a prolific money maker. Attempts to repeal the 25-year charter were defeated with assistance of bribes to legislators.

... The Louisiana Lottery survived until Congress enacted a prohibition against moving lottery tickets across state lines by any method. This act led to the abolition of the Louisiana Lottery in 1895. When the lottery was disbanded, it was discovered that promoters had made huge sums of ill-gotten gains. The Legislature was riven with accusations of bribery. By the end of the century, thirty-five states, including California, had in their constitutions prohibitions against lotteries and no state permitted the operation of lotteries.

An article titled "19th Century Gambling as it Flourished in America" at agrees:

In 1868, Louisiana established a lottery that lasted for twenty-five years amid recurring scandals. Anti-lottery sentiment developed again in the waning decades of the nineteenth century, fueled to a significant degree by the scandals surrounding the Louisiana lottery.

"Gambling politics: state government and the business of betting" by Patrick Alan Pierce and Donald E. Miller tells the same story, with some additional detail:

The Louisiana lottery, with its history of bribery, graft, corruption, and dishonesty, represets a fitting end to a storied history of the American lottery, an institution which for years was the backbone of economic development of a new nation. ...Given the lottery's support by Louisiana politicians and citizens, only federal government intervention could stop the corrupt operation of the Louisiana lottery. A series of antilottery laws accomplished this goal. These antilottery laws included an 1827 law that prohibited postmasters from acting as lottery agents, an 1868 act that banned lottery materials from the mails but had no enforcement provisions, and an 1890 act that added enforcement provisions. The final necessary and most effective act, in 1892, prohibited interstate transportation of lottery materials. With its market essentially restricted to the state of Lousiana, the lottery eventually died three years later. Fallout from the scandals of this lottery as well as national public opinion on gambling were so negative that by the turn of the century no states permitted the operation of lotteries.

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Are our state legislatures today less susceptible to being corrupted by legal gambling industry money than their 19th Century counterparts? I know of no reason to suppose that they are. The only difference between now and then is that in 1890 the newspapers in New York and Chicago which were publishing articles alerting the country to corruption in Louisiana were not owned by corporations receiving gambling profits. Perhaps the only reason we are not reading stories about the corrupting influence of legal gambling today is that the small number of large corporations which control most of the media also have a financial interest in gambling remaining legal.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Local town names echos of empires

In his newspaper column in today's Moline Dispatch, Greg Aguilar reminds of how the Quad Cities area towns of Andalusia and Cordova got their names.

Many people don't realize this fact, but the Spanish Empire reached the state of Iowa and a small piece of Illinois. Some of our area cities share their name with cities of Spain like Andalusia and Cordova. It is kind of funny that at one point in our history, Spanish was the official language of the Quad-Cities.
Read the entire article.

Since this is Columbus Day I thought it would be appropriate to also reflect on how the nearby town of Milan got its name during the brief period when this area was part of the Italian empire. The large number of pizza parlors in the Quad Cities are also a legacy of this period. If you know where to look you can still find reminders of a time when all public institutions had Italian names. In the back of the prison in East Moline there is a place where you can see written in large letters on the ground the former name of the old East Moline State Hospital, 'Ospedale psichiatrico di Watertown.'

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Congratulations President Obama on the Nobel Peace Prize -- Now Please Earn it!

Michael Moore's response to President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize:

Congratulations President Obama on the Nobel Peace Prize -- Now Please Earn it!

Friday, October 9th, 2009

Dear President Obama,

How outstanding that you've been recognized today as a man of peace. Your swift, early pronouncements -- you will close Guantanamo, you will bring the troops home from Iraq, you want a nuclear weapon-free world, you admitted to the Iranians that we overthrew their democratically-elected president in 1953, you made that great speech to the Islamic world in Cairo, you've eliminated that useless term "The War on Terror," you've put an end to torture -- these have all made us and the rest of the world feel a bit more safe considering the disaster of the past eight years. In eight months you have done an about face and taken this country in a much more sane direction.


The irony that you have been awarded this prize on the 2nd day of the ninth year of our War in Afghanistan is not lost on anyone. You are truly at a crossroads now. You can listen to the generals and expand the war (only to result in a far-too-predictable defeat) or you can declare Bush's Wars over, and bring all the troops home. Now. That's what a true man of peace would do.

There is nothing wrong with you doing what the last guy failed to do -- capture the man or men responsible for the mass murder of 3,000 people on 9/11. BUT YOU CANNOT DO THAT WITH TANKS AND TROOPS. You are pursuing a criminal, not an army. You do not use a stick of dynamite to get rid of a mouse.

The Taliban is another matter. That is a problem for the people of Afghanistan to resolve -- just as we did in 1776, the French did in 1789, the Cubans did in 1959, the Nicaraguans did in 1979 and the people of East Berlin did in 1989. One thing is certain through all revolutions by people who wish to be free -- they ultimately have to bring about that freedom themselves. Others can be supportive, but freedom can not be delivered from the front seat of someone else's Humvee.

You have to end our involvement in Afghanistan now. If you don't, you'll have no choice but to return the prize to Oslo.

Michael Moore

P.S. Your opposition has spent the morning attacking you for bringing such good will to this country. Why do they hate America so much? I get the feeling that if you found the cure for cancer this afternoon they'd be denouncing you for destroying free enterprise because cancer centers would have to close. There are those who say you've done nothing yet to deserve this award. As far as I'm concerned, the very fact that you've offered to walk into the minefield of hate and try to undo the irreparable damage the last president did is not only appreciated by me and millions of others, it is also an act of true bravery. That's why you got the prize. The whole world is depending on the U.S. -- and you -- to literally save this planet. Let's not let them down.

President Obama's Call to Action

President Obama sent the following message to all those on his e-mail list yesterday.

A Call to Action

This morning, Michelle and I awoke to some surprising and humbling news. At 6 a.m., we received word that I'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who've been honored by this prize -- men and women who've inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it's also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I've said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won't all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it's recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award -- and the call to action that comes with it -- does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

So today we humbly recommit to the important work that we've begun together. I'm grateful that you've stood with me thus far, and I'm honored to continue our vital work in the years to come.

Thank you,

President Barack Obama