Thursday, June 29, 2006

Good to Remember

Today, a brief selection from Thomas Jefferson's inagural address on March 1, 1801. Consider how these quotes relate to our own political reality today, both in a positive and negative sense.

"We have passed through a hard year of bitter struggle between two political parties. We have shown the world that in America all can speak, write, and think freely. The debate is over. The people have decided. Now is the time for all of us to unite for the good of all. The majority of the people have won the contest. But we must always remember that there is a minority. True, the majority must rule. But the rule of the majority must be just. The rights of the minority are equal to the rights of the majority, and must be protected with equal laws."

"The rights of man will be of the highest importance in this government. Information, knowledge, and opinions must move easily and swiftly. We will support freedom of religion...freedom of the press...freedom of the person protected by the habeas corpus...and the right to trial by juries that are chosen fairly. These are the freedoms that brought us through a revolution and that made this nation. Our wise men wrote these freedoms. Our heroes gave their lives for these freedoms. They are the stones on which our political philosophy must be built. If we make the mistake of forgetting them, let us return to them quickly. For only these rights of man can bring us peace, liberty, and safety."

"I know that I shall make mistakes. And, even when I am right, there will be men who will say that I am wrong. I ask you to forgive my mistakes which, I promise, will at least be honest mistakes. And I ask you to support me when I am right against the attacks of those who are wrong. Always, my purpose will be to strengthen the happiness and freedom of all Americans . . . those who do not agree with me, as well as those who do. I need you. I go to my work as president of the United States, ready to leave that position when you and the American people decide that there is a better man for it. May the power that leads the universe tell us what is best, and bring to you peace and happiness."

Such prescient words, from one of our foremost patriots and leaders. As relevant today as they were 200 years ago, perhaps even more relevant, as our country is no longer a decade old. Take a moment to reflect upon them, what they mean to you as a person, to you as a citizen, to us as a nation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Warren’s Gift

An interesting, positive news article out today. Capitalism is often seen as a heartless enterprise, and the men who run it are quite frequently vilified as people who do not care about their fellow men, who pursue the dollar over everything and everyone else. With a lot of people, this comparison is not entirely unjustified. Capitalism can make a slave out of a person, beholden to shareholder profits and the bottom line. And most people are happy keeping that money for themselves, to be sorted away however they best see fit, or left to their inheritance.

Which is why it is so refreshing to see the two most powerful men in the world partner up to help out. The Gates Foundation has been well-established as a global leader in aiding health and educational concerns across the globe. But now, Warren Buffet, the second wealthiest man in the world (right behind Gates himself), has stated that he is going to donate $31billion, of his $44billion fortune, to the Gates Foundation. That is unprecedented in terms of scale of donation. It is huge. The Gates’ were ecstatically humble, Melinda stating, “Bill and I are absolutely honored and humbled by Warren's gift. It is unprecedented in terms of what we can do to do good in this world. It is something we take very seriously. We have an incredible responsibility. To give away your own wealth is one thing but to give away the body of some body else's work is something else.” Warren himself tried to play off the charity as a business decision, but inevitably it comes down to good deeds, and his is a big one.

Warren should stand as a shining example, as Gates does already, as to how one should use his or her wealth in the world. People who have gained so much through their own hard work and determination, are now prepared to give something back to this world. That sort of generosity is enlightening, and something everyone should strive for. Now, not everyone has $15billion that they can live off of and donate the rest. That is understood. But there are people out there who are better off than most, quite a few of you. You know who you are, those who have luxury items and money burning in the bank. And even if they did raise themselves up by their own bootstraps, they should take time and recognize for what they are using their excess money. Is it frittering away in a bank? Put it to use. Not political contributions, not stock options, but true benefits that are tangible and attainable.

We all stand to learn something from this example, of how even the most stereotypical capitalists is at heart socially conscious and caring. Of how one of the biggest money men of our day, like Getty, Kellogg, and Ford of the past, still aspires to make the world a better place, and is willing to put his money where his mouth is.

Monday, June 26, 2006

It's a Beautiful Day for a Neighbor

It seems, as though Americans are becoming more lonely by the decade. In this report by researchers at Duke University, more and more people are without close friends who they can rely upon, talk to, relieve stress with, or just have fun. In fact, nearly 25% of people said they had "zero" close friends. While the whys of this rather sudden drop in friends (in 1985, most respondents reported having three friends they described as close) were not probed, it seemed fairly certain that America's circle of friends is closing down.

So what? you may ask. Why does this matter? I have some friends, or I don't need friends. Whatever your response, you should be concerned. Having stable social networks is a key, in my mind, to a healthy functioning society. And the possible list of factors that are causing this isolation (working longer, marrying later, longer commutes, the internet) are all factors also have a hand in creating an unhappy society. No matter how big the GDP is, regardless how prosperous financially or materially a nation is, if you neglect your social interactions, then eventually you will collapse. Why? Because you stop caring for one another, it becomes a "me-versus-the world" attitude, life degenerates into unhealthy competition between people. Remember, we are a social animal, like it or not.

This touches on a broader scope of points I would like to investigate, looking at a renewed social outlook of our nation, our politics, and our direction. But in order for any social program to work the citizens must care about what happens to one another. And a good way to start that is by having close friends.

So go out and hug your friend today, or make a new friend, or even say hi to a neighbor or a stranger on a bus. Make today, and every day, Won't You Be My Neighbor Day.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A Total Non-Issue

You've got to hand it to our President, King of Smoke and Mirrors. He has proven yet again that his political acumen has developed serious glaucoma and has no clue as what to do about it.

This Monday the President formally reassumes his position behind an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that bans same-sex marriage. His exact words were, "The union of a man and woman in marriage is the most enduring and important human institution. For ages, in every culture, human beings have understood that marriage is critical to the well-being of families. And because families pass along values and shape character, marriage is also critical to the health of society. Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them. And changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family structure. America is a free society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens. In this country, people are free to choose how they live their lives."

First of all, some bouts with his words. If people are free to choose how they live their lives, why can't they choose to commit to another partner that they love and respect and want to share their life with? And a society which limits the role of government in the lives of our citizens? Puh-lease. How does interjecting the government into a personal issue like this limit their influence in our lives? If you read his whole speech, you'll find holes galore that I won't waste time with now, from activist judges to treating citizens with respect and dignity. But as exemplified by the passage above, what a waste of oxygen those sentences were.

The President, in making this vague, short-sighted appeal to gut-reaction conservative politics, has successfully ignored or glossed over issues that truly are "critical to the health of society." You want to help our society? Great. Then let's talk about poverty-reduction, the war in Iraq, debt reduction for both the nation and our citizens' personal finances. Immigration reform, public health, even terrorism deserve to be the recipient of such lengthy discussion and support from our primary leader. But instead, he wastes his political capital, already so diluted, on this issue which is hardly critical to the future of the United States as a society. If you truly desire to solve the critical problems, Mr. President, it's time to focus on real issues, not pander to your mutinous political base. This grandstanding display of pseudo-authority is not fooling anyone.