October 30, 2006

Perhaps we'll stay, but not on this course.

Many of you have probably heard Bush's standard go-to phrase when talking about the plan for Iraq. When asked about an exit timetable, or when he figures the mission will really be accomplished, he insists that no timetable is necessary and the United States will "stay the course". When reports inquire upon the ultimate goal of the mission, his response is to the effect of "victory".

This ambiguous and arbitrary rhetoric may be acceptable to the jingoistic crowds of America immediately following 9/11, but is no longer enough today.

The occupation of Iraq needs to be working towards some specific conclusions or it will fall apart and become one of the most disasterous foriegn policy farces in recent decades. Being that most Americans understand that the efforts being made at present in Iraq are ineffective, Bush is finally recognizing this fact and is changing his rhetoric to reflect that.

The administration has decided to Cut and Run from 'Stay the Course'. The media wizards and press represtentatives in the White House are no doubt working on creating new nomenclature to express the same ideas in a new way. In the mean time, Bush has already denied ever saying "stay the course" at all:

“Listen,” Bush insisted “we’ve never been ‘stay the course,’ George. We ... will complete the mission. We will do our job and help achieve the goal, but we’re constantly adjusting to tactics.”

I can't wait to see The Daily Show's take on this. I'm sure they will have a long montage of clips with Bush using those very words.

As for me, I certainly disagree with "stay the course". However, the media term designated to oppose the Bush plan, "cut and run" does not appeal to me either. Invading Iraq was certainly a mistake. The entire operation has been longer, more expensive, and more costly than ever expected, not to mention the missing weapons of mass destruction. But leaving now would not solve the problem. If the United States was to pack its bags and return home tomorrow, Iraq would likely fall into greater chaos than it is in today. Like it or not, the fact is simply that we're already in this mess and we can't just sweep it under the rug.

For the U.S. to save face and remove itself from such a volatile situation, a timetable must be established. Major landmarks must be set for the slow but sure removal of troops, the establishment of an Iraqi peacekeeping force and a stable government that can withstand the conflicts of differing cultures and ethnic groups. Guidance for development should come not from the U.S., but instead from the U.N. (if they'll take it) which could utilize a multilateral peacekeeping force to encourage stability, growth and development in the new Iraq. Washington must accept that the U.S. is not capable of winning "hearts and minds" in the Middle East by itself, especially not on the track we are on.

A new plan for Iraq is needed, and we need it now. The Bush administration has made it very clear that they have little intention of changing their current plan, whether you listen to today's rhetoric or yesterday's. This is why I'm voting Democrat this election. Not because I am a Democrat (not a Republican either. I'll explain another time.), but because I'm simply voting for change. We need some new people with new ideas and new strategies in Washington to try to solve this Iraq debacle. The ones there now sure aren't doing it.

October 15, 2006

One in a Billion? 8.259 Billion?

We've all used the phrase "one in a million" before. Often it describes someone really special; someone who stands out amongst everyone else you know or ever met. I'm thinking that this particular saying is outdated, or at least not quite as flattering as it used to be.

Today's current world population is roughly 6.55 Billion. To say that you're one in a million would mean that as unique as you are, there's 6,550 others equally as special as you. To put that into perspective, realize that there's only 1,800 or so players in the NFL, 793 billionaires, and 43 U.S. Presidents. So to say someone is a good as a professional football player, you'd have to say they are 1 in 3,638,888. To be as suave as a billionaire: 1 in 8,259,773. And do be presidential caliber: 1 in 152,325,581.

It sounds saddening at first, realizing that one in a million isn't what it was, but odds are you'll never run into the other 6,549 people anyway! And according the global average of 7,900 people per square mile (in urban areas) you're the most special person in 126 square miles! Think of it that way!

October 09, 2006

Haley Joel Osment Would Be Proud

The other day, Shannon and I were on the way to the park. We thought we owed it to the little guy to have a chance to run around out in the open for a while. On the way to the park, we decided to stop at a pet supply store to get a tennis ball for the dog. Shannon ran in to get one while I waited in the car.

Having sat in the parking spot for no more than a minute or two, a middle age woman walked up to the driver side window. I turned down the radio and lowered the window. She started by explaining that her car had been towed by AAA because her transmission broke. She then asked me if I could give her a ride to her “auntie’s” house down the street, or give her a couple of dollars towards cab fare. Everything I had ever learned about strangers from a young age had popped in my head. What's more, we were in what is oft considered a "rough side of town." Was this woman about to rob me? Kill me? Use the “cab fare” to buy crack? My parents and the news media would have me believe that there was a greater chance of a crime to be committed than an honest person needing a helping hand.

I decided to cast away my white-flight suburbia fears and lend a favor to someone in need. Shannon came back out to the car and I quickly explained why there was a stranger in my car. We turned out of the shopping center and continued down Broad street toward her destination. During the trip she explained how she had asked so many other people for a ride and was repeatedly denied. She even tried the police, and to her claim, their “to serve and protect” mantra didn’t serve her at all. She also considered taking a bus, but did not know which to get on or where to get off. I can’t blame her on that point. Despite having used dozens of public transportation systems in the U.S. and in countries where I don’t speak the native tongue, I still have no idea how to use the Columbus bus system. Our passenger was very appreciative of us taking the time to help her out, as she expressed that a number of times.

Her “auntie’s” house turned out to be only a mile or so from the park to which we were headed, but it would have been a long walk from the shopping center. It was located in a neighborhood that most of my ilk would do anything to avoid. There were run down houses, others that looked like they hadn't been painted since the Nixon administration, and what any suburbanite would depict as unfit for the middle class.

I thought about my decision to help this woman later. Why had I decided to allow a complete stranger into my car, despite everything I had ever been taught? We’re not supposed to help the under classed and under privileged this way. Think about what you know about hitchhikers- haven’t you always been advised against giving them a ride? I was led to believe they were all murderers who carried various weapons in their bandana-on-a-stick.

Call it cliché, but I think part of my decision to help her out stems from the concept of “paying it forward”. I’m sure that I owed it to the universe to help someone out when they needed it. For those not familiar (or not having seen the movie), “paying it forward” means when someone does a favor for you, big or small, you should not focus on “paying them back”, but instead “pay it forward” to someone else needing a favor. It works kind of like Karma, I think.

On a total side note, did you know Bon Jovi was a character in that movie? Weird.

(Update: While doing some Haley Joel Osment "Where are they now?" research, I came across this little tidbit: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/mugshots/osmentmug1.html
I guess he's old enough to know how to take two and pass...)

October 04, 2006

Gnarls Barkley: "Crazy" like a fox

I recently read in Wired magazine that Gnarls Barkley’s song “Crazy” was the first to hit #1 on the charts based entirely on downloads. The song was originally released without an album and has been extremely successful in the US and abroad.

This isn’t the future of music anymore- it’s the present. Music is now available at many different outlets online as well as on CDs at your local Wal-Mart. What I can’t figure out is what took the recording industry so long to realize this and capitalize on such a profitable opportunity.

Thinking back, I’ve been downloading music since the late 90’s. I can remember finding songs in the MP2 format on AOL servers and FTP sites. It was possible to acquire electronic versions of hit songs well before Napster came along. Even in the post-Napster era, we are easily able to access other servers. Limewire, Kazaa, Morpheus, DC++, and so many others link consumers to free copies of music. Instead of coming to some sort of realization or epiphany about a new way to distribute music, the RIAA and its dominant labels proceeded to file lawsuits against downloaders. They have fought a losing battle for the past decade, when all the while they were sacrificing their own potential profits.

Instead of spending money to pay lawyers and court fees, music labels could have set up music purchasing sites earlier. Imagine if iTunes and similar sites had existed 5 or 6 years ago. Think of how many illegal downloads would have been unnecessary. Many music fans who have since learned of ways to download music illegally may have chosen legitimate means to get their music. And the music companies would have made more money too. As cheap as it already is to produce a CD, the marginal cost for downloading an electronic copy of a song is next to zero. All companies need to pay for is some web design and a server to contain the files.

Another huge benefit of the ability to download music is the very reason Gnarls Barkley was able to be so successful. Music fans have the option of downloading just the song(s) they want from an album, instead of spending money on the whole CD. Today, albums are not put together in a creative “total package” configuration, the way they were a few decades ago. Look at the Beatles “Revolver” or “Sgt Pepper”, or the best example, “Dark Side of the Moon” by Pink Floyd. These collections of songs were destined to be together. Individually, there are a few stand-out songs, but the album creates a whole new work of art. Most albums today are a collection of songs assembled by executives at a recording label. They work hard on a few songs, promoting them extensively as “singles” but the rest is filler. They need to fill space on the CD so it sounds worth it to spend $15. I would much rather spend a dollar apiece on the specific songs I want to hear.

Let’s face it. We’ve all purchased a CD of an artist that has been a disappointment. There may be one hit song, maybe another song or two that’s pretty good, but the rest isn’t worth spending money on. How many CDs have you actually owned where most or all of the songs on the CD are really worth purchasing? How many CDs do you own that you can listen to straight through without wanting to skip a few tracks?

The music industry is only now catching on to a concept they should have discovered years ago. Gone are the days where they could get consumers to spend almost $20 for two good songs and an album full of filler. The 80’s may have been called the “me generation”, that I would argue that this generation has demanded (and received) more capacity for individualization than any before it. We can tailor our spending to our personal wants and needs, and this is the audio example.