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The Burden of U.S.Citizenship November 5, 2012

As we approach the 2012 Presidential Elections it may be opportune to consider the onerous burden we share in exercizing our voting rights as Citizens of the United States. While many view citizenship as a right, few consider the burden that this right places on each and every American.

America is an awesomly powerful nation, politically, economically and militarily, and with the inherent ability to change the lives of the global population, both for the better and for the worse. With this power comes an obligation of responsibility - an obligation to act with discretion, wisdom, compassion, knowledge and foresight.

The risk we all face, as US Citizens, is that we may become arrogant - that might is right. That we may become indifferent - that lesser nations don't count. And that we may become ignorant - that we don't need to be informed or knowledgeable about other nations. And that we may be abrogating our democratic responsibility to ensure that our President and our Government is acting within the mandate we afford to them when we give them our vote.

Powerful nations that lose the ability to rule wisely, mercifully and with temperance invariably cultivate the seeds of their own destruction. And if the loyalty of its citizens is blind, arrogant and ignorant, the destruction of great nations is inevitable.

America is facing some of its greatest challenges - climate change, fossil fuel depletion, terrorism and nuclear proliferation - and it will require serious people to make serious decisions if we are to survive and prosper. And whether America gets a President and a Government that will make the right decisions and the right choices, will depend on whether US Citizens cast a vote based upon arrogance, indifference and ignorance or on wisdom and knowlege of the issues affecting not only our lives in the United States, but the lives of everyone who shares this planet.

All too frequently we see that America is unwilling to talk with its enemies and detractors. Yet it is precisely because of what America is, that we SHOULD be making every effort to sit down and talk with these people. The essence of greatness is the ability and willingness to communicate with friends and enemies equally. To demonstrate an intent to pursue agreement and compromise. To motivate a search for a solution to differences of belief and opinion. True greatness comes not from pettiness and spite, but from a willingness to seek out your enemy, not to destroy him, but to understand him.

America will be judged internationally not only by our actions but also by our intentions, and as US Citizens it is our responsibility to ensure that in as much as we enjoy mastery of the planet, so too must we exercise this mastery through knowledge rather than ignorance. Only then can we hold our elected officials accountable to act in accordance with our mandate. Anything less makes a mockery of democracy and belittles the value of our vote.

Defining America - A Changing American Culture and Morality November 9, 2012

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke.

Perhaps when Henry Ford launched his first Model-T production line, he failed to realize that while it would automate the production of a car, it might also automate the very thinking of a society, and irrevocable change the culture and morality of future generations. No longer would auto-workers have to apply intelligence and discretion to make decisions. No longer would Mr Ford have to deal with independent thought from someone who wanted to do more, or differently or even better. Each activity would be clearly defined, each responsibility clearly delineated, each worker a living, breathing automaton that would all too soon be replaced by a robot that would similarly never need to think, or make a judgment call, or use its discretion, and with the added benefit of never needing sleep or leisure or sick-time.

Has our society not become a place of puppets and puppet-masters? A society where a few puppet-masters control a multitude of puppets who are required to respond precisely to the rules of puppeteering? A place where there is no room for intelligence, no need for wisdom, and no need for ethics or morality? And perhaps a place where robots might better serve society absent the variables and foibles inherent in a thinking, critical and discerning mind.

Has not an overly legislated society, coupled with a queue-card mentality, obviated the need for, and indeed benefits of, an educated, knowledgeable, responsible and self-regulating populace? Where laws regulate every conceivable form of conduct, regardless of whether the legislator actually considered that specific circumstance at the time of penning such laws?

When I was a child, my father extended store-credit based upon a relationship with each of his customers, the customers' word and a handshake. When asked about this, my Dad explained that if he recognized a thing called character and integrity -- a driving force to do the right thing -- this was more binding than a contract. And not once did a customer ever fail to repay a debt.

Many years later, I went into a Manhattan store to purchase a cell-phone. I struck up a friendly conversation with the salesman while we selected a phone, accessories and a suitable service contract. We spoke about the company I owned and my blue-chip and military clients. Yet all of this counted for little when he pulled my Trans Union credit score lower than average because I was a new-comer to the USA with a short credit record and few long-term accounts. The store-policy was not to do business with a credit-score like mine. The salesman apologized profusely but said rules are rules that have to be applied without question or variance. Interestingly enough, a neighboring store pulled my Experian credit-score which turned out to be 70 points higher than my Trans Union score and the salesman enthusiastically served me with an even better package deal and at an even better rate.

The moral of this story was that unquestioning obedience to system-rules have superseded business acumen, discretion and intelligence. The automaton no longer has to think or use discretion. Simply check the queue-card to find the answer.

Wasn't there also a time when you could call a company, speak to the switchboard and find out the best person to speak to for a solution to your question? Now are you not simply told that she cannot help you because all she does is answer the phone? That she doesn't really know what anyone else in the company actually does?

And what does it say about a society when you can sue Starbucks for serving you a hot cup of coffee and you burned yourself? Or when you can sue the microwave manufacturer because they never warned you that you cannot dry your Poodle in the microwave? Or when you can sue me for injuries sustained when you come to visit me and slip on my walkway? Has the protection of law not deprived you of rational thought, common sense and self-responsibility?

Have we not indeed created a society where education is no longer designed to instill the power of independent, rational and logical thought, but rather to instill simple unquestioning obedience to the rules and string-pulling of the puppet-masters? When it's easier to sentence a man to death than it is to grant him a stay of execution or a re-trial? When the assumption exists that a bureaucratic ruling must be implicitly obeyed without question and without ever wondering whether the prevailing circumstances may be indicative of some error in adjudication?

And in creating this unquestioning, unthinking, queue-card, rule-following society of automatons, have we not allowed ourselves to become circus-animals, performing and responding to the prods of the puppet-masters, without knowing why or what they are doing, other than that failure to perform and conform will evoke punishment?

Why did the people of Germany rampage though the streets on Kristallnacht in November 1938? Perhaps because the people of Germany needed someone to blame for the hardships of Germany, and blaming the Jews was an easy outlet for their frustrations? Perhaps, as said by Joseph Stalin, because education is a weapon whose effects depend on who hold it in his hands and at whom it is aimed.

What does it say about a society when college students at a sporting match target and taunt a foreign-looking brown-skinned student with a chant of "where's your green-card?" Do we blame the students for being young and ignorant? Or do we blame our society for instilling in our students an antipathy for anyone with a brown skin? Is this anti-immigrant profiling not the thin edge of the wedge? Will we not also resort to the Nazi's anti-semitic playbook in restricting the rights of people to educate their children, operate a business, rent a home or secure basic utilities? Indeed, have we not already dusted off the Nazi playbook?

America is a nation of immigrants and its greatness is because of immigrants, not in spite of immigrants. To even suggest that immigrants today, whether documented or undocumented, legal or illegal, are to blame for American unemployment or an overburdened health-care system or an over-burdened and impoverished educational system, is nothing less than naïve. Yet the propaganda about the costs of undocumented immigrants will always work if the populace is too ignorant to know better and if the populace needs someone to blame for some perceived hardship. Thus, the undocumented immigration debate is emotional propaganda, fuelled by emotional ignorance, against which reality and common sense is a poor defense. Yet the debate will continue for as long it's easier to blame someone else for your hardship than it will be for you to seek the solution within yourself.

The term "illegal" immigrant is in itself an emotionally charged and inaccurate term. It tends to suggest the stereotypical criminal. Yet people without papers are not criminals. They have committed no crime. Indeed, being an undocumented person is a civil matter rather than a criminal matter. But using the term "illegal" rather than "undocumented" tends to enflame the passionate desire to punish and marginalize a group of people who by and large are tax-paying, law-abiding and hard-working entrepreneurs.

And as a society progresses along the path of "obedience regardless", the automatons are increasingly spared the dilemma of having to choose between following the queue-card and doing what is right, fair and just. When Martin Luther King condemned "unjust laws", was he perhaps referring to not only laws that are unjust per se, but also to laws that are sometimes applied in an unjust manner, or laws that result in unjust consequences?

If the law stipulates that murder without extenuating circumstances must be punished with the death penalty, what do we do if extenuating circumstances are known to the jury, but not introduced in the court-room in order to protect an innocent party. To disregard knowledge not introduced into evidence, will be to secure an unjust consequence from the application of a law that may not be inherently unjust.

Further support for electing to disregard just laws in pursuit of a just and equitable consequence may perhaps be found in the invasion of Iraq. Clearly a breach of international law respecting the sovereignty of nations, but perhaps justified on the humanitarian grounds of unseating and prosecuting Sadam Hussein. Similarly, justification for the illegal entry into Pakistan to execute Osama Bin Laden may have been found in the argument that the unquestioning obedience to international law would have unjust consequences.

If the law stipulates that a legal submission is to be filed within a period of 30 days, and the submission is filed timeously, but accidentally to an incorrect office of the designated recipient, thus resulting in it only reaching the correct office of the designated recipient some days after the stipulated deadline, would the unquestioning application of a just law not result in unjust consequences if the entire submission were to be rejected, regardless of the consequential seriousness and degree of hardship resulting from such a rejection?

Is the application of law a matter of black and white with no room for gray? Should laws be applied by automatons or is there a need for society to temper laws with humanity, fairness, discretion and morality? It is justice, not law, that is the great standing policy of civil society, and any eminent departure from it, under any circumstances, lies under the suspicion of being no policy at all. The jurists at Nuremburg argued that they were applying the laws of Nazi Germany. The American court ruled that the laws were unjust, that humanity, morality and justice demanded a refusal to obey an unjust law.

What then of the laws persecuting undocumented immigrants, denying education to their children, denying them the human rights of liberty, equality and the right sell their labor free from oppression and discrimination? What difference is there between the persecution of the Jews in Germany in 1938 and the persecution of undocumented immigrants in America in 2012?

When the House Judiciary Committee decides to blindly follow its self-imposed regulations and reject a private immigration bill because no precedent exists for approving a bill to over-rule the decision of another government agency, without examining the veracity or justness of such a decision, are we not sacrificing the principles of justice on the alter of legislative obedience? And when the consequences of such failure result in the loss of innocent lives, what then do we say about the defense that the House Judiciary Committee is simply following regulations?

Perhaps America has reached a turning point. Perhaps the desire to achieve a utopian, regulated, organized, law-abiding society with a populace that obeys rather than thinks, will itself sow the seeds of our demise. Undermining justice and morality may just be the first step in ensuring that America will collapse from within itself rather than at the hands of its external enemies.

Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually the people will believe it -- Adolf Hitler.

If you can Read, you can Think and you can Write November 27, 2012

While many general education programs claim to teach reasoning skills, or "critical thinking" as it is commonly called, they do so expecting students to pick it up in the context of other subjects. Reason is best learned directly and arduously, not by osmosis.

There are four subject areas that will efficiently provide students with sufficient reasoning prowess. The first is logic--pure reasoning--which teaches how to draw proper conclusions from a sequence of statements. The second is laboratory science, which grounds students in the scientific method that employs empirical experimentation to draw a conclusion. The next is statistics, which teaches students how to reason using trend patterns and probabilities.

Besides being an essential skill for life both during and after college, writing is also important to one's ability to reason. Writing is applied thinking--learning to write well also means learning to organize one's thoughts coherently. It can be subdivided into two components; one to focus on the primary building blocks of writing, language, composition and grammar, and the other to foster the use of rhetoric (argumentation). The ability to argue properly is often absent in today's students, and in professionals in the public arena as well. Too often, people today rely on emotions when faced with contrary opinions, or confuse ad hominem attacks with reasoned arguments.

Michael Foot opined that "men of power have no time to read, yet men who do not read are unfit for power", while former CENTCOM chief, General Tony Zinni commented that "knowledge rarely gives big answers, but expands options and creativity in finding best solutions for unique situations."

Extensive reading across a broad field in many subjects provides food for thought and the creation of new ideas which in turn are the very foundation of applied thinking. Invariably we see that inadequate reading skills lead to inadequate writing skills. The absence of knowledge leads to simplistic, irrational and illogical thinking skills which lead to sub-standard writing skills. Reading also develops vocabulary and word-recognition, essential to avoiding common writing malapropisms which can testify to lack of education or, through clever usage, testify to a degree of higher thought.  "Recycling makes good cents" may thus be viewed as clever, while former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's observation of two people riding a "tantrum bicycle" is, while unintentionally amusing, perhaps grammatically less correct.