Monday, September 30, 1996

Week of 09/30/1996

Melting Pot? Or Cultural Crucible?
Is conservatism preserving America’s principles? Or perverting them?
- by David Matthews 2

"Give us your poor, your downtrodden, your huddled masses yearning to be free…" Or at least that was the quote imprinted at Ellis Island. And like a siren’s call, people came from all parts of the world. Some came to escape poverty. Others, to escape tyranny. And still others came for opportunity.

America is considered a nation of immigrants. A country populated by all walks of life. And thus was born the concept of a "cultural melting pot;" the belief that all cultures were welcomed into American society and that their addition would further strengthen that society.

But there is a movement within today’s political factions to do away with the concept of a "melting pot." That instead, it was time to bring the country back to it’s "roots."

Their prime target lies in something called "multiculturalism." Conservatives believe that America was always of one culture (which by "coincidence" somehow looks like their culture) and that in the past thirty years that culture has been "perverted" by both the rise in immigrants and the liberal cause. They point to the political turmoil that currently faces Canadians with their French-speaking province of Quebec as examples that having a different culture from the "mainstream" somehow leads to the breakdown of a country. They point to the rise in the number of American citizens who don’t speak English. They point to the rise in "special interest studies courses" in colleges and universities. They point to "revisionists" whom they believe erode American history by pointing out the faults of historical men like Christopher Columbus. And they point to the cost it takes to make government forms in English, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, and whatever other language would be needed to suit the special interests. They point to it all and declare it to be "bad."

To be honest, there are some things the conservatives are right about on this issue. Do we really need a special study group for every diverse minority that attends a college or university? There is already a means of social division out there for academia- it’s called fraternities and sororities.

From a financial point of view, I can understand the frustration of government agencies that have to print everything up in various languages. Some of my ancestors had to learn English in order to live in America. Same with a lot of immigrants who came here from different countries in the early part of this century. If English was declared the official language of this country back then, we wouldn’t have had to worry about having to spend the money printing up the same forms in different languages.

I myself wouldn’t mind having English become the official language of the United States if not for some of the consequences that such a movement brings. One such consequence was evident in Texas not too long ago when a mother lost custody of her child because she spoke to her in Spanish at home. The judge presiding over the case said that as long as the mother was speaking to her daughter in Spanish instead of English she was condemning that child to a live of poverty. Not only was that an insult to all Spanish-speaking people of the world, but also a direct insult to the mother of that child, whose only sin was trying to teach diversity.

Perhaps that argument best describes the fallacy of the conservatives when they preach out against things like "multiculturalism" and "diversity." They somehow seem to forget that they themselves are descendants of immigrants. That we were at one time guests to this land before we kicked out the Indians and forced them to live in reservations.

Conservatives at times don’t want to face facts that sometimes our ancestors were rude and obnoxious assholes.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Christopher Columbus mistreated the natives when he discovered the "new world." Does it subtract from the fact that he made the journey when everyone else said he was foolish to try? Not one bit. Does the fact that some of our founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves detract from the contributions they provided to this country? Hardly. The truth can at times be painful, but not as painful as concealing the truth.

It seems as though many conservatives don’t see America much as a cultural melting pot as they would a cultural crucible- burning away at everything they consider to be "impure." If this to be the case, it certainly does not reflect the diversity this country was indeed founded upon, but rather the dark past we have tried so desperately to rise above.

Monday, September 23, 1996

Week of 09/23/1996

The BIG LIE in Politics Revisited
Will third party candidates
REALLY have a chance against the 2-party monopoly?
- by David Matthews 2

A few months ago I wrote an article that was published in the Gainesville Times regarding what I call the "big lie" in politics, namely that there are only two choices for President in November. (Gainesville Times, 5/19/96 - You can now read it on my web site as well.) Now it seems that the big lie will be extended to activities that supposedly are designed to provide information about the candidates- namely the Presidential and Vice-Presidential Debates.

A bipartisan group called the Commission on Presidential Debates has made their decision as to who will be included in the forthcoming debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees. This group, comprising of both republicans and democrats, have already stated that they plan to limit who will be participating in these debates because of "the large number of declared candidates in any given presidential election." This group then proceeded to list a series of criteria that would help determine if a candidate would be worthy of being invited to the debates between the republican and democratic nominees. The operative word, of course, being "help determine."

This past week, that same Commission has decided that no third party is worthy to be included in the Presidential debates. This was indeed a shock to several key parties who rallied heavily to be included, including the Reform Party, the Libertarians, and the Greens.

But upon reading the criteria as given by the Commission I became painfully aware that they had no intention of allowing ANY third party to be included in the debates if either the Clinton/Gore or the Dole/Kemp campaigns did not want them there.

Bear in mind that the Commission on Presidential Debates is a bipartisan organization run by two men who are not only Washington lobbyists but also former chairmen of both the Democratic AND Republican Parties. They have a vested interest as members of that commission to make sure that their respective parties have the best chance of winning in November, which they can’t do if they allow independent parties equal footing in a nationally televised event such as the debates.

Both parties, as they stand today, operate under the common principle that THEY are the antidote to the other party. Democrats need to demonize Republicans so they can be seen as the only rational alternative to them. The same holds true for the Republicans. Both sides sleep well knowing that despite the mutual mud-slinging and vilifying that the voters would be forced to make a choice between the two parties. This political version of "Mutual Assured Destruction," however, only works as long as there are no strong alternatives to steal those dissatisfied votes away.

And that is the real threat here- that any third party, even one currently seen as "insignificant" by the two parties, can take precious votes away from them if their stance can be viewed as a credible one. The libertarians do, which is why pundits, politicians, and members of the media do their damnedest to ensure they are kept in the shadows as often as possible. Libertarians who visit the political newsgroups on the Internet are barraged by insults by both liberals and conservatives as being lunatics and idealistic dreamers simply because believe that things like liberty and freedom should be universal, not handed out in piecemeal like both parties often do. Those same groups then try to pander to the libertarians come election time.

If this so-called "unbiased" Commission actually intended to allow third party candidates a chance to speak at these debates, they would not have used standards they themselves admitted to being vague and non-binding. They would have used credible, concrete, and definitive standards, such as a percentage of seats a party holds in Congress, if a candidate was eligible for matching federal funds, or if their candidate was on the ballot in all 50 states. Measures that would be universally applied to all parties that would serve as a clear determination if a political party was indeed a serious party to contend with or just what they would call a "fringe organization."

Perhaps the most chilling truth both democrats and republicans refuse to accept is that such actions to stifle third party movements only serve to HELP the third parties, not hurt them.

With perhaps a handful of eccentric Texas billionaires, most people do not wake up one morning and say "Gee, I’m bored. How about we create a third political party and see how far we can get with it?" Independent parties are not created out of the ether. They are, instead, created out of a sense of abandonment by the two established parties on issues they feel should be important. In this election, more than ever, that feeling is paramount in the minds of many Americans. And it only aids the cause of those parties if it appears that the "Washington establishment" is so afraid of that movement that they would resort to their bag of political "dirty tricks" to shut them out.

A little over 200 years ago there was a quote uttered by a member of the "establishment" that would forever exemplify pious governing. It was uttered by Marie Antoinette in France - "Let them eat cake." She was beheaded for her troubles. If the political descendants living in Washington today wish to continue to shut out any kind of political opposition they had best pray the electorate has evolved beyond the desire to behead their tyrants.

Monday, September 16, 1996

Week of 09/16/1996

The War on Declaring War
With all these "wars" going on .. who’s really winning?
- by David Matthews 2

Reading the local paper this week, I learned that one of the school boards in the neighboring county has decided it has to be serious on illiteracy… they just declared WAR on teenage illiteracy!

Yes, that’s right WAR! A genuine WAR on illiteracy!

Now.. what’s wrong with this picture?

How about all these "wars" going on in America?

Think about it for a second. How many so-called "wars" are there going on in this country? We have the WAR on poverty, the WAR on crime, the WAR on AIDS, the WAR on drugs, the WAR on terrorism, the WAR on homelessness, the WAR on cholesterol, the WAR on cancer… Conservatives like Pat Buchannan claim we’re in a religious WAR, which was later amended to being a cultural WAR. And just recently the Clinton Administration has started to wage a WAR on tobacco! Even I get caught up in the trend by talking about a WAR on the Constitution. It seems like with every action or perceived crisis there’s someone wanting to wage "war" on it.

Now ask yourself how many of these so-called "wars" have been won? Or even have a chance of being won?

In a purely public relations standpoint, "wars" are a wonderful thing. After all, they conjure up images of armies and battles, soldiers on parade, and flags and patriotic music. Wars polarize society, sometimes making unusual alliances between various groups. And here in America, wars are a big part of our history and our culture. George Carlin once commented that we’re the only country that mentions rockets and bombs in it’s national anthem!

And in political terms, "wars" are also a wonderful thing. After all, it supposedly makes us think we’re going to take an issue more seriously than before. Funds are allocated, special programs get special attention, and it also serves as an excuse to enact certain measures on the public. For instance, part of the Clinton Administration’s WAR on tobacco include new limitations on how tobacco can be advertised. Limitations which, if enacted at any other time or for any other product, would be considered blatant infringements of the First Amendment. Same with the new security measures being enacted in airports to fight the supposed WAR on terrorism. The Clinton Administration has ordered a new security program that requires those passengers who fit a certain "profile" to have themselves and their luggage thoroughly searched. No warrant, no probable cause, just search them and to hell with the Fourth Amendment!

In many ways, our trend of enacting so-called "wars" has it’s origins with another "war"- namely the Cold War. The Cold War was seemingly the "perfect war" for the defense industry. After all we had a ready-to-please enemy in the Soviet Union, the need to build up troops and stockpile weapons, and the reason for us to have our presence in all corners of and above the Earth. It gave us the reason to stick our noses into the affairs of other countries, sometimes creating despots and tyrants and even supporting despots and tyrants as long as they were on OUR side. Countries like the Philippines, Panama, and Iran had at one time tyrants that the United States supported only because they were on OUR side of the Cold War.

Sure, there were some occasional conflicts like Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and Grenada, but aside from the latter we really didn’t "win" anything. And how did the Cold War end? Well it DIDN’T end the way wars normally end, which was when one side surrendered after heavy fighting- it ended when one side couldn’t financially afford to continue to play this little game any more. So who really won? Well the Department of Defense won big time. And so did all the defense contractors. And now that the Cold War is over, those two groups are hurting.

Now consider how close today’s social wars are so much like the Cold War. Essentially, we have "wars" that have no ending to them! And the winners in these conflicts aren’t the American public, but rather the special interests who have something to gain from their pet projects and their social programs that may or may not work.

Think about the WAR on crime and ask yourself what is the purpose of this WAR? It’s to fight crime, right? Well how does that differ from the role of today’s numerous law enforcement agencies? It doesn’t. So why are we "declaring WAR" on crime? It’s because we have a law enforcement system that has been unable to do it’s job.

Same with the local WAR on illiteracy. Why is this WAR being waged? Because supposedly kids aren’t learning the very basics of education. Well that seems to be the role of teachers, isn’t it? To teach kids the basics so they can be prepared for adulthood? So why are we "declaring WAR" on illiteracy? It’s because we have school systems that have been unable to do their jobs.

And how about President Clinton’s WAR on tobacco? Why is this WAR being waged? Because supposedly kids are getting hooked on smoking. Well aren’t there LAWS on the books against selling cigarettes to underage children? So why is the Clinton Administration "declaring WAR" on tobacco? Because the laws aren’t being enforced.

There is a word for this kind of activity, and it’s not called "war"… it’s called INCOMPETENCE! Perhaps it’s something we need to think about before we start declaring so-called "wars" that we can never win. Let’s leave the talk of war to when we REALLY need it, like when we need to defend ourselves against a REAL danger.

Monday, September 9, 1996

Week of 09/09/1996

In Defense of the Online Services..
Is the rise of the Internet really the end of the online services?
- by David Matthews 2

OK… unless you are REALLY a newbie, you probably noticed that this article is coming from a web server that is owned and operated by America Online. It is an online service that right now boasts over 6 million people- the size of a good size metropolis or a small country!

And yet, there are many people who say that AOL, as well as Prodigy, CompuServe, and The Microsoft Network, are on their way to extinction. Their reason? Because of the wide scope of the Internet, the cheaper online costs of the Internet Service Providers, and the ease of Internet browsers by Netscape and Microsoft.

Are they right? Well maybe..

It is true that the online services have had to adapt to the Internet. AOL alone recently released it’s latest operating system that contains more links to the Internet, as well as a new browser capable of handling the HTML3 language normally seen in Netscape and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. And AOL, as well as the other online services, are seeing a drop in their rate of new members, and even in their established members, in lieu of the Internet Providers.

It is reasonable to assume that because of the Internet that it would be unlikely that there would be any more online services in the near future. But does that mean the end of the online services in general? Hardly!

For starters, the online services provide people with an easy-to-use operating system where they can get access to E-mail, news, weather, stock quotes, and other services at just a mouse-click away. They are designed for the newbie user. On the other hand, the Internet requires a browser, an E-mail platform, a newsgroup platform and server, chat programs, and any other add-ons and plug-ins.

In addition, the online services offer many functions that are exclusive for that service and not the Internet. For instance, AOL has a section for both Marvel and DC comics, while MSN not only has a section on the Internet for Star Trek fans, but most of it’s exclusive information is restricted to MSN subscribers only. The American Civil Liberties Union may have a site on the Internet, but if you really want to chat with them on issues you’ll have to sign on with AOL.

Plus, online services, for better or for worse, are family-oriented. If you are concerned with what your children could access you have greater control over content through the online services than with an Internet Provider. That isn’t to say that they are infallible in their protection, but they do have a greater means of control over what kind of content gets transmitted within their service. They also provide areas for children and teenagers to communicate and express themselves amongst their peers that are monitored for their protection.

And with the rise of the Internet, the online services are now providing it’s members not only access to the Internet, but also a place for them on their web servers. One of the "dirty little secrets" for America Online subscribers is that each of it’s 6 million plus members has 2 megabytes of free space for each screen name on their web servers at no charge! Not only that, but AOL can help them set up a web page for them if they don’t know how to do so. Such offers will certainly allow online services to keep their subscribers coming back for more.

However, there are still some problems with the online services that need to be addressed, specifically HOW the online services bill their members. The online services still charge by the HOUR, compared to the trend of Internet Providers like Netcom that have completely abandoned it’s hourly charges for unlimited monthly subscriptions. This is an important step for online services if they wish to continue to be competitive against the Internet Providers, and which ever online service that can resolve that problem will certainly be the one that will stay in business when all the others fade away.

So while it is true that the online services have been hurt by the rise of the Internet, it is too hastily to believe they will be disappearing anytime soon. On the contrary, they are being forced to adapt to the Internet, and as long as they continue to offer something unique to the public they will continue to survive.

Monday, September 2, 1996

Week of 09/02/1996

Going back to the Dandelions…
A bit of nostalgia.. or is it deja vu?
- by David Matthews 2

I was going through some of the stuff I have in my office when I came across a book I haven’t seen in years!

The book is called "Tales Too Ticklish To Tell" and it essentially is the reprint of some of the "Bloom County" cartoons from 1987-88. Years before cartoonist Berke Breathed left the field to "Outland" and from there exited his favorite characters "Bill and Opus" to endless service as computer screen savers. There was Bill the Cat and Opus the penguin in the field with Stave Dallas and Milo and Binkley and all their friends going over the issues of the late 80’s from unions to the religious right to alien invaders.

And as I sat there leafing through the pages and laughing at the cartoons I began to realize something a bit startling- a lot of the issues that were big even ten years ago are still big today!

Think about it for a second.. is there too much of a difference between the "moral crusades" of the televangelists of the 80’s and today’s "social conservatives" like William Bennett and Pat Buchannan, aside from the moussed hair and the overabundant makeup? Or how about the arguments between replacement football players and replacement baseball players? Issues like smoking and drugs still bring headlines today. The media still gets bashed, as do politicians, and special interests. Gary Hart is no longer in the political scene, but Donna Rice is back in, only now she’s a religious lobbyist.

Of course, the one difference between then and now is that we don’t have Reagan’s "Evil Empire" anymore. The old Soviet Union came crashing down almost as fast as the Berlin Wall did. Instead of Gorbachov we have Yeltsin. And the big difference in Washington is that we have a Democratic President and a Republican Congress instead of vice-versa.

But the question is has anything REALLY changed in the past ten years? We still have to worry about AIDS, and drugs, and smoking. We still have to watch our language lest someone on a crusade will call us "insensitive." We still talk about violence as though it’s a disease and blame it on television and a lack of societal ethics. We haven’t overcome any of these obstacles, we’ve simply ignored them, or pretended they didn’t really exist. Or worse, we simply got tired of talking about them and moved on to something else we COULD solve.

If anything, we’ve lost some ground than from ten years ago. Concepts like job security are now more myth than reality. Optimistic "Baby Boomers" make way for realistic "Generation X Slackers." Awareness groups routinely tell us some sort of food is bad for us, and whatever is the alternative is even worse. Any minute now I expect someone to come forth with a survey that will tell me that breathing is hazardous to my health.

And maybe because we don’t have some "evil empire" to turn to that we’ve all of a sudden started to turn to ourselves as our own worst enemy. The "evil" doesn’t come in the form of an empire anymore, it’s now known as an industry- the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry, the "sex industry," the entertainment industry… If it makes us happy, makes us content, or satisfies a need it’s now an "evil industry" that must be regulated at least and banned if possible.

And through it all we lack the sense of humor that Berke Breathed used to make us laugh at ourselves and our silly crusades. Instead we have to make do with "Doonsbury" and "Dilbert" to poke fun at our reality. Good comics, but they are a poor substitute to some of the outlandish concepts "Bloom County" provided. After all, were else could you find a cockroach that whispered strange tidbits while people were sleeping? Or seeing what was hidden in people’s "anxiety closet?" And while today’s comics target only one facet of society, only "Bloom County" poked fun at ALL facets of society.

Maybe we need to get back to the dandelion patch and see things the way Bill the Cat and Opus saw things. Maybe we need to sit back and laugh at it all, because we sure as hell can use a good laugh..

.. At least until it’s proven to cause cancer. Then we’ll think about regulating it to death.