Flawless is coming soon...

Friday, December 28, 2007

IBM's New Beast

I attended a conference about 15 years ago that highlighted the virtues of the information superhighway. The conference instructors were all but waving “farewell” to the 40-hour work week, because technology, we were told, would give us the tools to be more productive; leaving us with much more leisure time. By the end of the conference, most of us were conjuring notions of a 25-hour work week and eight weeks of vacation per year. However, 15 years later, I see how sadly we were mistaken, because most people I know are using the tools provided by the information superhighway, but we are busier than we’ve ever been.

Was the conference, and many thousands like it, a ‘necessary illusion’ to motivate us to embrace a highly stressful, extremely productive, digital work-place without dissent? Perhaps, but the older I get, the more I wonder if we really do live in the “Matrix;” the virtual world, made famous by the cinematic trilogy of the same name, where everyone’s actions are scripted by sentient machines to keep the human population docile. (I highly recommend these movies for their metaphoric value.)

The technology of the Western world is steeped in electronic wizardry. In fact, many of you may recall the apprehension over the Y2K bug that was poised to strike at 12:00 a.m., January 1, 2000, unless a concerted effort was made to convert millions of computer programs to Y2K compliance. During those anxious months leading up to the year 2000, there were some who were predicting that this electronic bug would spell the end of Western Civilization. However, as the clock struck midnight, bringing in the new millennium, our worse fears were never realized, thanks to an army of programmers who worked tirelessly during the electronic migration from the 20th century to the 21st century.

Thankfully, those exaggerated claims about the end of civilization as we knew it were more imagined than real; however, the recent announcement by IBM that it had broken the petaflops barrier, may spell another type of doom for the Western world.

IBM, which already sells the world’s fastest supercomputer, Blue Gene/L, recently announced that it had created an even swifter model, dubbed Blue Gene/P, capable of performing 1 quadrillion calculations per second or 1×10 to the 15th power. This enormous speed opens all types of new terrain for dramatic improvements in complex simulations, data-tracking on an unprecedented scale, breathtaking advances in medical imaging, and weather forecasting with a precision never before imagined. Wall Street also sees the potential with high performance computing in being able to predict how the markets will react given certain financial activity.

With the advent of Blue Gene/P, we may have finally crossed into the era when one central computer could instantly keep track of the more than 6 billion people in the world, and provide real time data regarding their whereabouts and day-to-day activities. I recently posted The Surveillance Society, which discussed how a number of Homeland Security contractors have created electronic dossiers on all Americans, and how the FBI is creating a biometrics database of everyone in the world. Does anyone believe that it is far-fetched to make the leap from where the FBI and DHS are today to one central computer maintaining daily monitoring of our activities? If so, I’d like to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.

History graphically demonstrates that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. As we idly watch the erosion of civil liberties in our country, have we acquiesced our Constitutional rights to a cabal of men who have amassed unprecedented power never seen or imagined by our forefathers? As I write this, I am uneasily reminded of the warning given to us by President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his farewell speech:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together

There are men with enormous influence over the affairs of our society, who stand at the signposts of civilization, directing our movement into the future. Will they direct us to a moment in time when the glories of our collective efforts will substantiate America as the greatest nation to ever rise in the history of civilization, or will we blindly be led to the poisoned embrace of the anti-Christ?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Double-Standard Bonanza

Our world is full of double-standards: A person tried and convicted for possessing 5 grams of crack cocaine will receive the identical prison sentence of someone convicted of possessing 500 grams of powder cocaine; the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including the United States, have veto power over the remaining 187 nations; Iraq was invaded and its government overthrown in 2003 for allegedly having a nuclear weapons program, while North Korea, India and Pakistan have had no such attack after flexing their nuclear muscles; In a state with capital punishment, a black person is more likely to be executed for killing a white person than a white person will be for killing a black person; and the citizens of Washington D.C. are outraged over the discovery that employees in the Office of Tax and Revenue issued more than $44 million in questionable property tax refunds, while our representatives on Capital Hill have overspent our Federal budget by more than $3.5 trillion in the last seven years without raising one eyebrow in the hallowed halls of Congress.

After the DC Tax Office revealed that a number of employees had been charged with steeling more than $44 million, many were calling for the Chief Financial Officer, Natwar Gandhi, to resign. Those calling for his resignation believe that he should be held accountable for the gross incompetence that would permit such abuses. However, although he has apologized for the actions of those under his authority, he has not resigned and neither has Mayor Adrian Fenty forced him out over his somnambulant management style.

After watching the news cycle on this story run for about two weeks with periodic updates, I wonder if I am the only one who believes that this is a minor financial scandal compared to another one that is taking place in our nation’s capital: I’m talking about the perpetual state of deficit spending that our Congressmen have engaged in that has virtually saddled us with a national debt that we will never be able to repay. The debt has increased by more than $3.5 trillion during the Bush administration from a little more than $5.5 trillion when President Clinton left office in 2001 to over $9 trillion.*

This is a masterpiece of mismanagement!!

To put the $3.5 trillion in deficit spending during the Bush Administration in perspective, the entire accrued, national deficit didn’t hit $3.5 trillion until 1991. This means that the Bush Administration’s deficit spending during its seven years in the White House equaled what it took the United States 215 years to accrue from its founding. Or better yet, since Congress is playing with our money, let’s have a little game ourselves: If you had 3.5 trillion one dollar bills and you counted one bill per second, how long would it take to count them all (answer at the bottom of this post)? Hint: We’re talking of a number that is so enormous, you could not count to it in your lifetime.

I’ve heard people recite the mantra - “Congress has created debt that will be passed on to our grandchildren.” However, they said the same thing during the Reagan years, and now some of our grandchildren are beginning to contribute their share of the annual payments, and the total debt not only has not decreased, but has increased by eight-fold since President Reagan first entered the White House. Let’s face it, our grandchildren cannot repay this bill – if our elected officials suddenly received a dose of discipline, and decided to reduce the debt by ½ percent annually, it would take approximately 200 years to eradicate the irresponsible management of the last 25 years. This sounds more like a debt that will take 10 generations to repay using my arbitrary calculation above, than the two that we keep hearing about. And we have not even discussed the interest on the debt, which this year alone will be nearly $430 billion.

The D.C. residents want to hold Gandhi responsible for the mismanagement in the Tax Office; however, who do we, the American public hold accountable for Congress’s negligence in creating this unfathomable debt? But now that I think about it, these are the same public officials who had to close down their private congressional bank due to public exposure that in one year alone they wrote more than 8,300 rubber-checks. Investigators said that millionaire lawmakers were among the worst offenders. In fact, more than 575 checks were for $1,000 or more. Unlike you and I who are saddled with outrageous fees for returned checks, the members of Congress paid no fees, no fines, no interest and no penalties for their bounced checks.

Hold on, I’m having a Eureka moment: if lawmakers cannot balance their own checkbooks which are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, how do we expect them to balance a budget that exceeds $2 trillion? And these are the same elected officials who swore to uphold the Constitution and to faithfully discharge their duties as public officials?

* $5.5 trillion is an enormous sum of debt; however, one of the few good things that Bill Clinton did while he was President was that he balanced the national budget in his second term, and he reduced the debt by 1.9 percent during his final two years in office.

Answer to trivia question: How long will it take to count to 3.5 trillion seconds? It will take roughly 32,000 years to count each trillion seconds; consequently, 3.5 trillion seconds will take approximately 112,000 years to count.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Perpetual Surveillance

Have you ever had that anxious feeling that someone was following you? …Well if you have, your emotions have not betrayed you, because virtually everywhere you go in our modern society, you are being watched; from your local grocers compiling a profile of your buying habits to Internet sites tracking your whereabouts on the Web. Wherever you may live or work, there is also the constant gaze of cameras peering down into your daily routines collecting information about you and/or ready to snap a still-photo of your automobile crossing that intersection a fraction of a second too late or too swiftly. Your cell phone bill will even give you a digital listing of all the calls you made during the previous month.

I’m old enough to remember a time when you would have had to wait a few days to have a credit application approved. However, you can complete a credit application today at cash registers at most major retailers and in a matter of moments, the cashier will advise you of whether your credit request was approved. There was also a time in the not so distant past when an employer requiring a prospective employee to submit a police clearance, would have to wait days depending on how quickly said employee took care of it. Now, the Human Resources Department can submit the identifying information – name, SSN and date of birth – electronically and at the speed of light, the employer will have a life history of the new employee.

Cameras, we have been told, are for our security; the swift approval process for credit applications are allegedly for our convenience; profiles of our buying habits supposedly provide “tailor-made” sales pitches from retailers; and employment screening have been purported to make the workplace safer by weeding out past offenders. For those who may have taken Economics 101 in college, you learned that there is no such thing as a free lunch – one benefit cannot be acquired without the loss of another. Consequently, we must ask, “What did we lose in exchange for our modern-day conveniences and security?”

The trade-off for our “have-it-now” modern society is that there has been a serious erosion of privacy in America, and the invasions into our privacy continue to eat away at our ability to remain anonymous in society. In fact, a mining company in Boca Raton, Florida named Seisint has created "MATRIX," an acronym for Multistate Anti-Terrorist Information Exchange, and according to its creator, it is the largest database on the planet, with more than 20 billion records.

MATRIX was created with the objective of compiling an electronic dossier on every citizen in the nation. With the press of a button, MATRIX will spew out individuals' social security numbers, pictures, birth dates, current addresses, old addresses going back 30 years, phone numbers and the names of others living at their addresses. Credit applications and credit reports, descriptions of properties they own, when they bought them, what they paid to whom, the property taxes paid, their driving histories and violations' records and their driver's license and vehicle registration information all will be shown; as will the names, pictures, phone numbers, birth dates and addresses going back 20 to 30 years of their relatives, associates and neighbors.

Whew! George Orwell warned us of a society with no restraints on government or commercial intrusions into our private lives in his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. The only difference between his classic and our society today is that Orwell’s fictional characters lived in a totalitarian society where no one could safely object to the infringements on civil liberties; whereas we live in a democratic society where these types of encroachments on our privacy can be protested. However, the general public seems to be content watching the northern sky for good ole Saint Nick than to be concerned about privacy issues.

As prophetic as Orwell proved to be, even he did not see the next generation in privacy infringements – biometrics. The Washington Post recently reported that the FBI has “greased the skids” for an unprecedented attempt to identify everyone on the planet by physical characteristics, including facial images and scars; fingerprints; iris patterns; voice recognition; and the unique ways that people walk. The FBI is planning to spend $1 billion to create this enormous biometric database, which, if the government realizes its majestic ambition, will allow state and Federal agencies to scan crowds and pick-out criminals based on biometric images.

There is a well founded belief among many Christians that the Bible speaks of a time when every person on the earth would be required to receive a mark (the Mark of the Beast) in their hand or forehead to participate in the end-time financial system (see Revelation 13). However, with the advances in biometrics, the entire body could conceivable be the Mark. I mean, your fingerprint, voiceprint, iris, gait, facial features, and even your signature are all unique and could certainly be catalogued in a database for later retrieval to verify one’s intention to engage in a commercial transaction or to prove you are who you say you are.

Many of us have already unknowingly embraced a system of biometrics, and we participate in it daily when we sign our name in the rectangular box of an electronic signature pad. These digital-based pen tablets record the characteristics of a person's hand-written signature, by recording the pen pressure and duration of the signing process and storing it as an algorithm that is compared against future signatures. When these signature pads first came out, my computer training told me that someone was recording a digital copy of my signature, so I signed them using an “X,” but my explanation was too awkward. Therefore, now I simply sign them with a series of circles. Mike, a good friend of mine who later briefed me on this type of biometric surveillance, refuses to shop in establishments that do not offer a hard copy form for signing credit transactions.

As I contemplate the perpetual, surveillance society that we live in, I wonder how historians of the future will view it: Will they say that the Western world exchanged freedom for safety, and in the end didn’t get either?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Steroids: a Symptom of a Much Bigger Problem

What goes up must come down – the law of gravity; for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – Newton’s Laws of Motion; the speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion or of the motion of the source of the light – the Theory of Relativity; given the right chemistry, men and women will fall in love with one another – the laws of attraction; and an unrepentant nation engaging in illegal/unscrupulous activity will produce lawless inhabitants – the laws of sowing and reaping.

Was anyone surprised that George J. Mitchell’s 21-month investigation into steroid use by Major League Baseball (MLB) players resulted in a parade of the league’s top-tier players, including perennial all-stars Andy Pettitte, Mark McGwire (retired), Sammy Sosa, and seven-time Cy Young winner, Roger Clemens? The Mitchell Report exposed the love affair that MLB has had with performance enhancing drugs; however, what is implied in the report is much more disconcerting: First, American culture devours today’s athletic heroes at any fledgling sign of decline and it will dispatch the dreaded Inquisition against athletes who go through a drought. I mean fans do not give aging/deteriorating athletes an opportunity for a graceful decent into retirement or permit a player to work themselves out of an extended slump. Consequently, many of these slumping superstars have been ambushed by a compulsive disorder to keep the competitive edge, and performance enhancing drugs have masked their inability to excel on natural talent and ability.

Second, it doesn’t take a historical genius to recognize that America was born in sin, shaped in iniquity and to this day, continues to engage in unethical practices. Notwithstanding its revolutionary birth pangs and the slave roots of its economic dominance, we do not have to reach back that far to notice the trend of deception and illicit behavior that has dominated the political landscape of this country since the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Just in my lifetime, only two presidents since John F. Kennedy has served this nation without being directly embroiled in a scandal: Gerald Ford, who succeeded Richard Nixon after Watergate and Jimmy Carter, who ironically is given an honorable mention in one poll that named the ten worst Presidents in American history.

· Lyndon Johnson lied to the American public about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, escalating the Vietnam War;

· Richard Nixon authorized the Watergate break-in and then sanctioned the destruction of the evidence;

· Ronald Reagan was involved in the Iran Contra Scandal where the United States sold arms to Iran and used the illicit funds to run a secret military campaign funding the anti-Sandinista rebels, the Contras, in Nicaragua. He has also been alleged to have conspired in the October Surprise, where a deal was negotiated with Iran that would have delayed the release of the American hostages until after the 1980 elections, sealing his electoral thrashing of Jimmy Carter;

· George HW Bush was elected President in 1988 on the strength of his now infamous “Read my lips” campaign promise – “No New Taxes,” but he eventually broke that promise. He is also alleged to have been the architect behind the Reagan-era October Surprise;

· Bill Clinton spent most of his first term avoiding questions about Whitewater, a failed business venture of the Whitewater Development Corporation. And who can forget the uproar over his extra-marital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, where impeachment proceedings were brought up against him for lying about it?

· George “Dubya” Bush…Where should I start? The WMD lie that became the War in Iraq? The Downing Street Memo? The leak scandal outing Valerie Plame? Illegal domestic spying? The Middle East Roadmap that carved up Israel? I can keep going, but you do get the point, don’t you?

Last, the United States has deigned a War on Drugs since it was officially declared by President Nixon in 1971. Since that time, America has spent more than $1 trillion in the war, made 38 million arrests and seized thousands of tons of narcotics. However, today drugs are cheaper, stronger and more easily available for teenagers.

So a country that is intoxicated on its sporting teams; tolerant of hypocritical leaders; fabricating a “so-called” War on Drugs, which allows certain drugs in the marketplace, like nicotine, which kills more than 300,000 per year; sanctions more than 1 million murders of the unborn per year; permits all kinds of debauchery under the thin vale of Free Speech, will eventually see itself rot from within. Consequently, illegal steroid use is not the problem; it’s only a symptom of what is wrong with our society today. America is suffering from a hemorrhage of ethics starting at the top.

Mike, a good friend of mine, recently remarked that he is concerned that he lives in a country where universities offer ethics courses. After thinking about his statement, I understand why some points of ethics must be taught, but really, does anyone have to teach a businessperson that a bribe is prohibited, or teach a contracting official that a kick-back is illegal; or teach the President of the United States that lying betrays the public trust?

Therein lies America’s real problem, no pun intended!

So as I analyzed the quality of players who have been snared in the Mitchell report, I wonder, as my good friend Marthell remarked the other day, if Roger Clemens, a great white baseball player, will receive the same scrutiny as Barry Bonds, a great black baseball player whose homerun record has been brought into question as a result of his alleged steroid use. Oh, did I forget to mention that the double standard of racism seems to still bear its ugly head in this country as well?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Michael Vick's Harsh Sentence

When Michael Vick was first charged with a federal conspiracy charge of bankrolling a dog-fighting operation, I was one of the first who said that I didn’t feel sorry for him. I felt like enough young, rich celebrities had betrayed their responsibilities to be role models. Charles Barkley once quipped that he was not a role model, but anytime someone is blessed with extraordinary talents, like Barkley, Vick and a host of others, people look up to them. This is what made Vick’s involvement in something that he knew was illegal, very troubling to me. To think that he would risk a lifetime of fame, fortune and now we see, his freedom, for an illegal, backyard, flea infested sideshow for, at best, bragging rights, is beyond my ability to comprehend.

Although I do not understand it, there must be a certain currency in the “hood,” where Vick and other celebrities come from that makes it difficult to extricate themselves from its ornamental allure. I can respect that if it is done on the right side of the law. However, Vick will have almost 700 days to contemplate why he wasn’t strong enough to, in Nancy Reagan’s words, “Just say no” to the temptations of street life that have lethal consequences. His “suicidal” behavior now jeopardizes his professional football career and has all but wiped out the remainder of his contract with the Atlanta Falcons, which was valued at $130 million.

So do I feel sorry for Michael Vick? Well I didn’t until U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, sentenced him to more time than was recommended by the prosecutors following Vick’s guilty plea. Despite a plea agreement that recommended a 12-18 month sentence, prosecutors agreed with the pre-sentence report, which called for a harsher guideline of 18-24 months, and recommended that Vick be sentenced at the higher end of the guideline. It appears that the prosecution back-peddled from its plea agreement with Vick because he reportedly tested positive for marijuana use while on bond and then lied about it and failed to be truthful regarding his involvement in the death of a number of dogs. Is that all he did after losing a contract valued at $130 million and having the Falcons sue him for more than $20 million in bonus money that he received after signing his contract in 2004?

I certainly do not endorse lying to Federal officials or using marijuana, but for Pete’s sake other high-profile individuals have committed more serious violations of the law and received less time/no time in jail. Does anyone outside of PETA believe that Vick’s actions come anywhere near the seriousness of Oliver North’s crimes, or Michael Milken’s crimes, or the savings and loan scandal of the 1980s or the torture of foreign enemies by the CIA?

North was illegally involved in arms sales to Iran and used the proceeds to fund a secret war in Nicaragua. He was given a three-year suspended prison term, two years probation, $150,000 in fines, and 1,200 hours community service. However, he was later exonerated on appeal. Milken was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and securities fraud, and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was released after serving only 22 months. And to this day, I am unaware of anyone serving a single day in prison for the savings and loan scandal, which by some accounts cost the U.S. taxpayers over $150 billion.

All countries are aware of the Geneva Convention, which attempted to bring some civility to war after the horrors of the Holocaust and WWII. The Third and Fourth Geneva Convention, along with Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Torture Convention), and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prohibit the use of torture to extract information from POWs. The use of torture also violates U.S. law, so why is there a collective shrug on Capital Hill after the CIA admitted to torturing terrorist suspects and then destroying the evidence?

All four of the above cases had (have) the potential of either destroying America; through war or financial disaster, or placing our soldiers at great physical harm during times of capture, so Vick’s offense looks tame in comparison. And if we could trace the origins of America’s laws against dog-fighting, it probably has less to do with cruelty to animals than it does with the victors not paying taxes on their proceeds. As most of you probably know, bookie gambling (illegal lottery) has been around for many years. It is illegal; not because a lottery is illegal, since many states participate in one, but because the bookies do not withhold Federal taxes when distributing winnings.

It’s about the money, or in this case tax revenue, but back to Vick: I will suggest three possible punishments that would have been appropriate for Vick and his entourage: 1) a fine for not paying taxes on their earnings, plus interest; 2) a letter of rebuke from the court for cruelty to animals, plus 80 hours of public service working with the animal-advocacy group, PETA; or 3) letters of congratulations from citizens around the country who are terrified of vicious pit bulls.

I don’t mean to be sarcastic, but America sanctions the murder of 1,000,000 (1 million) unborn children every year, so I’m too busy feeling sorry for the children that didn’t make it to feel sorry for a vicious, dead pit bull. I have also been able to muster some sympathy for Vick as well.

To be continued…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Cruelty Beyond Measure, Part II

In the run-up to the United States’ invasion of Iraq, the Bush Administration went on a public relations’ blitz to convince the international community that Saddam Hussein had a viable weapons of mass destruction (WMD) program. WMD is loosely used to refer to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons; however, in the case of Saddam, we were led to believe that his ambitions were to erect a nuclear arsenal. In an October 7, 2002 speech in Cincinnati, Ohio, which became known as “Bush’s Mushroom Cloud as a Smoking Gun Speech,” President Bush was quoted as saying:

“Tonight I want to take a few minutes to discuss a grave threat to peace and America's determination to lead the world in confronting that threat. The threat comes from Iraq. It arises directly from the Iraqi regime's own actions, its history of aggression and its drive toward an arsenal of terror…Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud [Emphasis mine].”

The speech took on a religious tone as it conjured images of the Armageddon clash of good versus evil. When the leader of a nation with no military peer makes such lofty indictments against an “evil” dictator, it cannot be taken lightly. However, despite assurances from everyone in the administration’s chain of command from the President to the dog catcher, it is now clear that Saddam had no WMD program. Consequently, the talking-points have now been altered to justify American presence in Iraq by declaring that Saddam was a bad person; the world is better off that he has been deposed; and we’ve brought democracy to an exploited people.

It is true that Saddam was a bad person, but is that the standard that should be used when America is about to commit its war machine in a preemptive conflict? If so then who’s the next villain to be attacked? Kim from North Korea? Ahmadinejad in Iraq? The warlords in Sudan? Or a list of a dozen more brutal dictators?

America generally only commits military resources to areas of the globe that are in its national interest, and certainly if Saddam had WMD, it would have been in the national interest of the U.S. to confront him. But before anyone considered Iraq’s nuclear ambition, India and Pakistan were flashing their nuclear chips around the poker table and no one in this country suggested a preemptive strike against either of those nations. And during the Iraq campaign, North Korea was flexing its nuclear muscles for the world to see, with no more than quiet diplomacy from the United States. These scenarios seem to suggest something that I long ago concluded to be true: No country with nuclear weapons has ever been invaded, which seems to make prudent foreign policy. Why risk a nuclear escalation in an effort to rid an enemy of its nuclear weapons?

If Saddam had nuclear weapons, he would have played the “Sampson Option,” or actions of last resort that destroys everyone, before he allowed the “Great Satan,” as the U.S. is commonly referred too in the Middle East, to apprehend him while buried in a rat-hole. I have my opinions regarding the U.S. overthrow of Saddam, but that is not the point of this post. I think it is clear that America went into Iraq for reasons other than those stated in early 2002. (For those who may be interested in pursuing this further, a good place to start would be the Downing Street Memo.) This would not be unprecedented, because the U.S. has intervened in the affairs of other countries in the past, like its military intervention in 1995 in southern Europe, when the Serbs committed genocide against the Bosnians.

America has a history of injecting massive amounts of humanitarian aid in countries that have received devastating blows from natural and manmade disasters, and for that, may God Bless America. But why has it been so slow to act in the Congo and Sudan to prevent genocide; or to help bring affordable AIDS medicine to Africa; or to bring relief to the sub-Saharan region of Africa that is at risk of losing 20 million people to drought and famine? Is it because it is Africa? Possibly, but that’s not the full story. There is no strong, organized lobby that represents the interest of the African nations, similar to those organizations that constantly try to influence American foreign policy on matters relating to Europe, the Middle East and Israel. Most European countries are also members of NATO, and the U.S. has a recognized international treaty that obligates it to act when there is a need; of course, oil will keep the cavalry coming in the Middle East; and America comes to the quick aid of Israel on mostly moral grounds.

Is there a motivation that is worthy of America’s intervention in some of the most oppressed areas on the African continent? I would begin with the same motivation that is used to justify assistance for Israel – our moral foundation. If that’s not enough motivation, how about using the same justification that keeps us in the Middle East – natural resources, but the greatest natural resource is not oil; it is a human life. And if that’s not motivation enough, how about for the same reason we bring aid to European nations that are in need – the Contract, but not the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; it is as Thomas Hobbs called it, the social contract, which affixes on us all the obligation to participate in creating and preserving a civilized society.

If the aforementioned is unworthy of political and if necessary military attention to the problems of Africa, perhaps God's word can motivate us: Cain unknowingly laid the foundation for a civilized social order when he answered God’s query about the whereabouts of Abel by saying, “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper (Genesis 4:9b)?” Not only are we our brother’s keeper, God proved that fact to Cain by setting a mark on him forbidding anyone from slaying him (see Genesis 4:14-15); essentially making all men Cain’s keeper. What a difficult lesson for Cain to learn after murdering his own brother.

The question I ask - “Will we allow one billion men, women and children, who are made in the image of God…to perish before we learn that we are our brother’s keeper also?”

To be continued…

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Cruelty Beyond Measure, Part I

One of my favorite past-times since 1989 has been to keep track of information I read about in the media on numerous subjects of interest. I have three files of boxes of research material and literally thousands of newspaper and magazine clips that represent 18 years of work. I now keep track of my subjects of interest electronically by downloading articles from online news sources. However, there is one file that I continue to keep track of manually – my file titled The Destruction of Africa.

In 1995 it occurred to me that Africa was imploding and no one was raising an eyebrow. In fact, if a picture is worth a thousand words, the Spanish artist Salvador Dali captured the human suffering of the dark-continent in his piece, Montre Molle au Moment de sa Premiere Explosion. This painting shows the African continent as an exploding clock, obviously suggesting that time is running out for the charter members of the human race. If someone asked me to describe Dali’s artwork and my clippings in five words or less, I would simply call them The Detonation of Africa.

There is one emotional response that you may experience when reading an article on the ravishes of AIDS in Africa, or the consequences of famine in the sub-Saharan region, or the merciless crusade that the Sudanese warlords are imposing on the most misery-plagued section of East Africa. However, there is a potpourri of distinct emotions that you will be conscious of when plowing through a collage of destruction similar to what I have built over the last 12 years – it is appalling. In fact, unless swift humanitarian aid helps pull Africa from the verge of the grave, I believe that by the turn of the next century, the current occupants of the continent will take their place in the annals of history as victims of the greatest human tragedy ever witnessed – the annihilation of roughly one billion people! This is in addition to the tens of millions who have been killed or had their lives severely disrupted over the last millennium through the slave trade, colonialism, religious repression and the confiscation of Africa’s natural resources by outside forces.

Historians have attempted to quantify the litter of human suffering brought about by depraved men throughout the course of civilization. We have endless volumes on the Wars of the 20th Century, the Holocaust, the scramble to pilfer the gold and other precious minerals of Southern Africa, the slave trade, the extermination of the Native Americans, the Inquisition and the Crusades to name a few. However, too often the human face of agony is lost in the statistics of war, pillage and torture, and perhaps no face has endured more misery than the black female. It would be a challenge to find any segment of the human population that has been persecuted with more rapidity than black women: She’s helplessly watched sons, husbands and fathers leave for war and never return; she witnessed the breakup of the family during the slave trade; she’s experienced the denial of rights in her own society; and most horrible of all, she’s had to bear the torment of rape and all manner of sexual violence.

With the exception of genocide, there may be no greater evil that can be perpetrated on a society than the systematic rape of a nation of women and girls, which often accompanies genocide. Notwithstanding the Western World’s fascination with gender equality, and on one hand rightfully so, there is no physical equality between men and women. This is one line of demarcation where God separated the sexes – men have the physical ability to defend and protect themselves, their families and their countries that women simply do not have. Consequently, during periods of national upheaval, due to civil insurrection or invasion from other countries, women become the prey of wicked, sexually corrupt men. This often results in entire villages of women and girls being raped, sometimes by as many as a half dozen men, and then murdered! And sadly this type of savagery is still present in our world today.

The Washington Post recently published an op-ed column by Michael Gerson on the genocide that is currently taking place in the Congo. He chronicles the story of a 24 year old rape victim named Lucianne who recounts the horror of being kidnapped, brutally gang-raped and how she narrowly escaped murder. But that was just the beginning of a life that is now filled with abandonment, mistrust and fear. After escaping an arranged marriage by her captors, she returned to her family farm only to discover that her husband had forsaken her and the farm was being occupied by others. While 20 something women in the United States are making strides to secure a career, Lucianne must now live like a vagabond, moving from field to field with the child that she gave birth to as a result of the repeated rapes.

She ends her interview with Gerson by begging him for help for the civil war torn Congo. Gerson conceded that he had no words of comfort for her or them. And after recovering from a moment of anguish myself, all I can do is add one more article to my file.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

What’s With America’s Obsession With Celebrities?

Veteran’s Day is one of the “holiest” days on my calendar. During this year’s observance, my family visited the Vietnam, Lincoln and WWII Memorials. This was our small way of expressing gratitude to the men and women who guarantee freedom in America. However, I must point out to those patriots who feel that the media has betrayed the soldiers who have died in the line of duty by giving very limited coverage, while giving more than one week of non-stop coverage to the murder of Sean Taylor; he was a celebrity.

Americans worship the status of famous celebrities. I’m not suggesting that it is noble, and frankly I think our priorities are often misplaced in that regard, but it is what it is – Americans want to know how Paris is doing in jail, why Tom jumped on the sofa and if OJ killed Nicole. It’s an American obsession that has been tattooed onto the fabric of society. Most Americans probably know more about Barry Bonds than they do about Gerhard Ertl, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry this past year.

Don’t misread me because I am a sports’ fan myself, but if Barry Bonds never hit a homerun in his storied career (notwithstanding his alleged steroid use), we would still be able to catch an intercontinental flight from New York to Amsterdam. My point is that it is the thinkers that have brought us into the modern age; not the athletes, actors or super models. It demonstrates how skewed our national priorities are anytime we will pay Michael Jordan more than $35 million a year to play a game, but only pay grade-school teachers, who are the custodians of our future intellectual capacity, less than $50,000 per year. It’s as if the American social planners would rather that you “be like Mike” than to be like your 10th grade math teacher or your 12th grade physics teacher or the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives in Iraq.

There is a generation of young, black males who spend more time on America’s playground than they do studying, and they have dreams of being the next Michael Jordan, Donovan McNab, or Muhammad Ali.

Nimrod, who is credited with discovering the physics secret for entering into Heaven, is one of my favorite Biblical characters; however, Western theologians have a less reputable opinion of him. I once thought that the Western Christendom was critical of him because of his ethnicity; being the son of Ham, or from the father of the dark skinned people of the world. However, I have now come to conclude that Nimrod is vilified in the West, not because he was black, but because the men who sit in the “pantheon of the gods,” directing the path of civilization do not want anyone to emulate the most brilliant man who ever lived. Can you imagine the social revolution if the same generation of men wanting to “be like Mike,” began to yearn to be like Nimrod or Einstein or Dr. King?

Therein lies the plan to deify the entertainer – it reduces the possibility that someone from the inner city, or middle America, or the Bible Belt will make the next civilization changing discovery. Imagine the collateral damage if little Johnnie from S.E. Washington discovered a way to burn water in an internal combustion engine: First, you would basically be able to drive for free, but second and more important to the men in the pantheon is that it would do away with the need for gasoline use in most engines, wiping away trillions of dollars in revenue.

Perhaps this is the perfect time to start lobbying for and contributing to a national memorial for a temple dedicated to the tool of survival that God gave to us all – the human mind.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Tale of Two Communities

With much less fanfare than his brazen talk show often demonstrated, Don Imus returned to the airwaves at a radio station in New York on Monday where he is heard on 17 other stations around the country. His return completes eight months of penance for the controversy he stirred in April after referring to the Rutgers University women’s basketball team as a bunch of “nappy headed hos.” In his return to the airwaves, Imus called his Rutgers comment “reprehensible” and vowed to never be that insensitive in racial matters while on the air again.

Thus ends the saga of one of the longest running apologies that I have ever seen a white man “endure” over a racially offensive comment to a group of black females. Wow! Famous, white male grovels over remarks concerning young, black females. If Imus had made similar remarks in 1970, it would not have made it past the editors in the first news cycle. However, more than 30 years later, a nationwide furor caused his former employers, CBS Radio and MSNBC to terminate his multi-million dollar contracts.

In case you missed the first one – Wow!

The “Imus Episode” revealed two things about our society that troubles me: No; not that Imus would use such language, because if Don Imus is a bigot, and he may be, then he is an equal opportunity bigot, because he has made a lucrative living skewering black-white and every shade in between for years. But I was more troubled by the response in the black community to the remarks than I was by Imus making the remarks. It prompted me to wonder out loud – “Has the black community become the dragon that it has attempted to slay?” We hypocritically teach our children to live in harmony with their neighbor, notwithstanding their faults; however, when our neighbors offend us, many of us are ready to lynch them.

I believe that those at the forefront crusading for Imus’ head on a silver charger lost a great opportunity to enlist him as an ally. They could have negotiated an agreement with him to, of course apologize, and then to align himself with worthy ethnic and feminist causes where he would use his star-power to raise tens of millions of dollars. The hypocrisy of the black community's response to Imus is that the same leaders have not launched an equally fervent crusade against the rappers who demean women, along with their song writers, producers, distributors, and the radio/TV stations that broadcast their CDs and videos for public consumption. For example, rap artist Soulja Boy has been getting much play with his “Crank Dat Soulja Boy (Superman)” Here are a few lines from the lyrics:

Soulja Boy off in this hoe

…Then super man dat hoe

…I got me some bathin apes

…Watch me super soak dat hoe

And the rest is too offensive to post on a family friendly site. I could have included lyrics from dozens of popular songs that denigrate women, but I selected Soulja Boy because of his notoriety amongst children, who are mindlessly parroting these words while doing the “Superman;” a dance that has been choreographed to the song. Where is the outrage in the black community over lyrics that denigrate black men, women, fatherhood, motherhood, a civil society, and distort the sacredness of sex? During the past 12 months we have witnessed something in public entertainment that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago - a parade of white, male celebrities who have been forced to beg the black community for forgiveness because of racially insensitive remarks: Imus, Michael Richards (Warning: for those who follow the link to Richards’s remarks, they are highly hateful, abusive and racially charged), and “Dog” the Bounty Hunter. This brings me to the second and more troubling aspect of Imus’ demise and subsequent resurrection: The white community is holding its celebrities to a higher moral standard than we are in the black community.

The black community, spearheaded by Jessie Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton, pushed for the removal of Imus, but has given the “Soulja Boys” of the entertainment world a free pass to continue to spew caustic vile into the airwaves. Is there any wonder why there is a general “dumbing down” in our community when we allow those artists to perform without accountability? Some are quick to defend Soulja Boy’s First Amendment right of free speech, but no serious public, corporate or religious leader in the white community has offered the same defense for Imus, Michael Richards or the Bounty Hunter.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Who's to Blame for Sean Taylor's Death?

Nigger is a pejorative term used to refer to dark-skinned people, mostly those of African ancestry. For centuries, it has held negative connotations, and in modern times it is considered a racial slur in most contexts. Modern colloquial uses include a synonym for "person" and an effort to "reclaim" the word for black people (see nigga), which remains a controversial topic [definition from Wikipedia].”

In the right context, nigger or its orphan child, nigga, seems like a very appropriate use of the English language. However, after listening to an interview where Minister Louis Farrakhan weighs in on the use of the N-Word, I took an oath to no longer use it except in a clinical or academic setting. But after reading this morning about the arrest of four men in connection with the death of Sean Taylor, I almost broke my vow!

Four young, black men have confessed to the murder of Taylor. This cycle of black-on-black violence has become a mantra in our local papers and news broadcasts: “…Young black male kills young black male.” The pact with death that these men made, along with thousands of their misguided comrades, will not be severed until the black community gets outraged enough to do something about it, because it is clear that we cannot look to the government to solve this problem. Remember the riots in South Central Los Angeles after it was announced that a jury acquitted four police officers accused in the video taped beating of black motorist Rodney King? Although the authorities didn’t take control of the foolish outrage that was being expressed by residents of South Central L.A., the National Guard took up garrisons on the outskirts of Hollywood in the event the rioters attempted to spill over into the affluent conclaves of the entertainment Mecca of the world.

In a contest of stupidity versus organized force, organized force will win every time. Where was the National Guard when the residents of South Central L.A. were killing themselves and destroying their own neighborhood? This type of suicidal pathology is being expressed all over America in many predominantly black neighborhoods. The death of Sean Taylor is simply a constant reminder that the black community must step up to the plate to bring civility back to its neighborhood.

The circumstances concerning Taylor’s death prompts me to ask the question: Can we assign partial blame to ourselves as a community for his death for our failure to raise our children in a disciplined manner? This is a very complicated question that needs to be sorted out by qualified, social professionals; however, one thing is not complicated at all – if a grade school student can use abusive language in public with no shame; or can threaten a teacher with no fear of reprisal; or can participate in a street life that has a very high mortality rate; or can murder someone with no sense of remorse, then there has been a chain reaction of failure somewhere from the cradle to the early grave.

As my outrage simmered at this morning’s report, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the words of the Western Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer:

Pardons the word for all! Whatever folly men commit, in their shortcomings or their vices, let us exercise forbearance: remembering that when these faults appear in others, it is our follies and vices that we behold. They are the shortcomings of humanity, to which we belong, whose faults, one and all, we share; yes, even those very faults at which we now wax very indignant, merely because they have not appeared in ourselves. They are faults that do not lie on the surface, but they exist down there in the depths of our nature: and should anything call them forth, they will come and show themselves, just as we now see them in others. One man, it is true, may have faults that are absent in his fellow, and it is undeniable that the sum total of bad qualities is in some case very large; for the difference of individuality between man and man passes all measure.

I guess the best way to end this post is with a tear of gratitude to my parents, George and Mary Tolson, for shining the very bright and often caustic light of discipline during those times that I attempted to travel down the road to destruction.

Pop, please give momma a copy of this, and thanks.