Wednesday, July 10, 2013


A brief experiment for the reflective: consider your three most valuable physical possessions.  When deciding their relative value, consider their personal worth to you rather than the material worth to society.  Next, decide what percentage of each item's value comes from its function, and what percentage comes from the status the possession affords.

Now, drop the two possessions that you just spent the most amount of time thinking about.  These things are not important.  Consider what is left.  You didn't have to choose between function and status in order to recognize that it was important.  You chose it because it had greater personal worth. Hopefully this item was already at the top of your list after the second instruction.

Function and status are both important... it would have been difficult to evolve as a society without them.  But possessions and the relative advantages that they bring are not nearly so important as the things that you hold dear on a personal level.

Relative to our peers, our neighbors and our ancestors, there will always be, as Socrates said, those who are superior in some way.  The right tools, or decorations or memorabilia are only valuable in so much as they reinforce one's sense of self, and even then they should only be a booster, and not a crutch.

At the end of the day, one's possessions are only a means to an end.  Whether you belief in an afterlife, a silence, or something in between, nothing can be taken with you.  (Unless you are seriously oldschool, in which case hopefully you have a nice spot under a pyramid, pre-paid).

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A response to a response to a response about NPR firing Juan Williams

Earlier today, during a break in my work schedule, I read this opinion piece on NPR's firing of Juan Williams due to his "nervous" statement about Muslims.

Interested in the idea that William's admission of an emotional reaction could get him to lose his job, I responded with this comment:

I fail to understand how Williams feeling "nervous" when he sees Muslims on airplanes shows his "distrust of an entire religion."

I am a progressive. I am conscious of my own stereotypes. I try every day to educate myself about other cultures and keep an open mind. But I still get nervous when I am walking down the street on a dark night and pass "thugged out" black men, when an overly friendly guy pushes beyond my physical comfort zone, or when I am on an airplane and see a young man of Middle Eastern descent..

Consciously I know that most likely my imagination is just getting away from me, but that doesn't make my nervousness go away. In order to deal with our own stereotypes we have to be able to have honest discussions about our emotions. It doesn't work any other way. By firing Williams for sharing his emotional reaction, NPR only encourages the ongoing inability of our public figures to discuss sensitive subjects such as race and religion in a meaningful way.

Now I have to admit that the first thing I do when I respond to a Yahoo news article is check religiously over the next hour to see if anyone responds to it. Although my response was short on the "thumbs-up" that we all covet, it did elecit one response, from an individual named JoJo Tenn, that was so great I wanted to share it here:

See there is sanity even on the left. Well said Aaron. Remember, even a broken analog clock is right twice a day. Keep thinking as you do and one day, you too will be called a "Right wing fanatic" by those who now call you friend. Wait, you shall see.

Besides the somewhat offensive statement about a "broken analog clock" (I'm still tickin' baby! EDIT: and I'm digital) I thought this response was priceless. What do you think? Does JoJo Tenn see the writing on the wall for all of us "emotionally honest" progressives out there?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A victory for moderate moslems

As the title suggests, this is a victory for moderate (read: normal) moslems the word over. The more that conservative moslems can see that you can be a happy, functioning individual and still honor the moslem faith, the better their chances of resisting the pull of extremism.

Side notes:

1) I used the word conservative to describe the at-risk muslims because I feel that us Westerners should realize that conservatives are generally more susceptible to religious extremism.

2) The British spelling of the word muslim is just there so that Glenn Beck can't find me on Google. (as if).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


One thing that young Americans need to keep in mind as we move forward through our lives as responsible liberal citizens is that science and religion are and should be considered distinct paradigms.

To illustrate, many people would like to frame the debate between creationism and evolutionary biology / geography / geology / archaeology / physiology / behavioral psychology / etc., as a debate about scientific integrity. Pathetic wannabe institutions like the Creation Museum assert the existence of an alternative "science" that supports Adam and Eve's children cavorting with dinosaurs on the riverbanks. ...Really?

Religion, unlike science, is a belief system. As Spock would likely say, religion is illogical. However, this does not mean religion has to be counter-logical. If individuals and institutions wish to assert a faith that does not contradict the basic physical and chemical laws of the universe, they must adapt their faith to these realities, not the other way around.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

the Independent Voters Alliance

A friend of mine in Cincinnati has a dream to reform American politics in a fundamental way. His dream relies on the presumption that the dissemination of information is the single most important tool for choosing elected officials. It follows that if we can circumvent political advertising paid for with big money by the big parties, then we can elect independent representatives unbeholden to special interests and party lines.

Although Rich Stevenson grew up in the era before computers and certainly before the internet, he recognized the possibility of reforming the political system with these tools well before Howard Dean or Barrack Obama. In fact, his organization, Common Sense II: Political Reforms, has been around in one form or another since 1997.

The current manifestation of Rich’s movement is the Independent Voter’s Alliance (IVA). The goal of the IVA is to secure ballot access for independent candidates across the country. This approach differs from that of other independent-oriented political organizations by seeking to gain ballot access under the existing rules rather than reforming the system. Rich recognizes that with a small effort from many Americans, independent candidates can get their names on the ballot along with democrats and republicans.

The approach is novel and ingenious. By disseminating information on independent candidates via the internet, and particularly by getting ballot access for those candidates, Rich believes that we can change the face of American politics. Check it out and see what you think.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sanford's Real Legacy

God forbid this should ever become a blog about celebrities, gossip, or both, but something struck me today about the tenderness of the love letters between Mark Sanford and the mysterious (one-named) Maria. Although there is a non-negligible connection between this whole affair (pun!) and public-policy arguments about the privacy rights of elected representatives, my reaction to the letters was focused more on the privilege of being privy to them.

The tepid moralist in me wants me to make an exculpatory statement before launching into a thorough analysis of Sanford's obsession: these letters are no longer private, and one should not feel bad about the enjoyment that comes from reading them. In my humble opinion, these letters have officially been published, whether Sanford intended it or not, and just like the compromising pictures your ex-boyfriend "accidentaly" sent to his college buddies, they are now a permanent part of the public domain.

That said, the content of the letters is still rather sacred. This is what makes them so enjoyable to read (and hopefully, worthy of discussion). I think an excerpt might illustrate my point:

(From Mark to Maria)
You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that is so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night’s light —

Besides the delicious boob reference, this is pretty standard fare as far as poetry goes. At the same time, it's enlightening to see a 49 year-old republican express such fond sentiment. I would challenge you to consider the last time you wrote, or received, such tender words from your lover, regardless of your age (or political leanings).

After asking myself the same question (I'm not telling you the answer), I gravitated toward two theories to explain the intensity of the letters. The first theory was that Sanford had finally met his other half. After giving myself a swift kick in the ass, I had my second thought: affairs are naturally going to propel us to romantic heights hitherto unexperienced (or at least not experienced in quite some time, as I'm guessing was the case for our eloquent elected official).

Is this really the case? Do extramarital affairs afford the only opportunity for middle-aged men to express their unbridled longing for women holding themselves a romantic partner? Oh shit, I've started to sound like Cary Bradshaw. Oh shit, I know that the Sex & the City chick with the curly hair is named Cary Bradshaw.

To avoid the painful journey down the moral road that question poses, let's answer with a simple "no" and move on. My real theory is twofold, but this time they aren't mutually exclusive. First, men grow afraid of the woman they spend time with. I'm sure this is fueled by our own inadequacies... yada yada yada, but men eventually get embarrassed to say, do and ask for things that they wouldn't have been afraid of back when they were hooking up with their partner in Karaoke rooms (if this doesn't apply to you, insert your own local de liaison here). Second, and more importantly, as animals, men crave variety.

Well, that's about all I really want to say about Sanford. I could wrap up with some moralistic message about overcoming both embarrasment and biology to forge a loving relationship with your own significant other and all the parts of herself she (and you) can hold, but that would be a little too self-rightous for my tastes. Instead, here's a letter-excerpt from a slightly more well-known writer of love-letters.

"No ill prospect has been able to turn your thoughts a moment from me. This perhaps should be as much a subject of sorrow as joy - but I will not talk of that. Even if you did not love me I could not help an entire devotion to you: how much more deeply then must I feel for you knowing you love me. My Mind has been the most discontented and restless one that ever was put into a body too small for it. I never felt my Mind repose upon anything with complete and undistracted enjoyment - upon no person but you."

As an ending note, Keat's never actually got his girl either, but that didn't stop him (or helped him, perhaps?) from writing his heart out in the attempt.

And as a true ending note, what's to be done about this from a policy perspective? Lets.. um... well... I'm sure there's something here that relates. While you attempt to figure it out, I'm going to be thinking about tan lines and hips and truly magnificent...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Aspen Ideas Festival

Aspen Ideas Festival

When it comes to generating ideas about some of the most important and pressing issues of our time, the Aspen Ideas Festival might be the best that's out there. The theme of this year's festival, 'Ideas That Work,' is particularly relevant to the creation of Wish Wonk so we thought we would feature it.

The festival offers (what am I, their salesman?) the most eclectic mix of brilliant people to debate one another, talk, and exchange ideas. The guest list year in and out is ridiculous, and next week's festival is no exception.

Some of those speaking include the author of one of my favorite current books, 'Great Endeavors,' and former U.S. Ambassador to France, Felix Rohatyn (more on him in my next entry); Secretary of Education Arne Duncan; Attorney General Eric Holder; Meet the Press Host David Gregory; author, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman; architect Frank Gehry; author and Pulitzer-Prize winner Thomas Friedman; former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and James Baker III; Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer and former Justice Sandra Day O' Connor; former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff; former CIA Director R. James Woolsey...I could go on.

I will...former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan; actress and author Mia Kirschner; the band 'They Might Be Giants' (ideas on music); NY Times columnist David Brooks; CNBC Correspondent Maria Bartiromo; Lewis Black (yes, that Lewis Black); the best host and news show out there (personal interjection) Charlie Rose; U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice; Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools Michelle Rhee; and those are just some of the names I recognize ;) .

I don't know anyone, myself included, that can dream about paying to register for this beauty (estimated cost is $2,450) that takes place next week in Aspen, Colorado (is it anyone else's dream to go out there one year for their Food and Wine Festival? But my dawgs at C-Span (C-Span 2 and 3 are even more gangster) will air many of the sessions.

This is probably a good space to mention that we created this site with the thought that, over time, Wish Wonk could have the potential to be a site about -not our ideas to change the world - but yours. We firmly believe that there are a lot of really good ideas floating out there that can change peoples lives. There just hasn't been a marketplace to exchange or aggregate these ideas. They are, in other words, ideas that work.

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