Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Religio-tific?



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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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Popu-elitism



The line between the informed intellectual (or the “wonk,” if you will) and the rabble-rousing populist is finer than it seems. For one, both have advanceable policy positions. Barack Obama, who might rightly be described as a wonk (if not an outright egghead) has the same objective of mobilizing enough public support to advance his agenda as Limbaugh, although Rush, who is not an elected official, clearly is less constrained by mainstream ethics. But at the end of the day, while Rush is out pushing homophobia to his conservative base, Obama is forced to employ the same populist methodologies, if not the message, to reach his own liberal supporters.

It’s clear that even eggheads such as myself, my esteemed colleague, and Barack Obama, have to draw certain appeal from the mainstream. The trick to successful egghead propagandizing, of course, is to make the mainstream believe that they are not the mainstream. By the by, this is related to my theory about why Republicans consistently win the subarban middle-class, but that’s a topic for a different post. While the rabble-rousing populist actively tries to distance herself from the intellectual, the intellectual politician must necessarily adopt populist tendencies.

Before we continue, let us clarify something. As any fan of William Safire will tell you, words carry a weight well in excess of the initial message your neurons fire into your central cortex. Come again? In a nutshell, it is important to make sure you agree on the meaning of a word before you begin to argue over the implications. In this case, we need to take a look at the word populist.

If you were too lazy to follow that link, then you’re going to be out in the cold from this point on. Sorry, lazy-ass. We’re going to skip the first definition. While applicable here, it’s a little too partisan for my tastes. I consider myself more of an independent than a member of a political party, and as such I’m not a big fan of the association. Fortunately, there’s a second definition (for all of you unrepentant lazy-asses out there: “a believer in the rights, wisdom, or virtues of the common people”).

The point here (what I’m arguing in fact) is that there is not set definition for the “common people.” People generally see Obamanites as essentially well-educated individuals. The implication that follows is that he is an elitest, whereas in reality well-educated individuals make up a huge (and growing) portion of the electorate (and that god for that). See my point, then? While conservatives such as Sarah Palin would love to have you believe that they are proud to be outside of the educated elite, Barack Obama would have you believe that your educated ass is actually part of the elite.

Let's take a look at the definition of the word "elite" together:

Elite: The socially superior part of society.

Nuff said, right? Of course, if we were going to continue down this entomological road we’d next be analyzing “superior” and “society,” which would be interesting, but tedious. Anyways, the point is that whether you see yourself as a gun-toting Joe six-pack (by the way, does six-pack refer to his abs or to his beer? I was never sure on that one) or a Palm-Pre toting egghead, you’re probably going to join one of two "elite" camps… but in the end you’re going to end up just another peon in the ranks of the “common people.” Is that a bad thing? Depends on your point of view, I suppose.

15 Ways to Fix the World

A boy enjoys a fish tank at the Oklahoma Aquarium

15 Ways to Fix the World - The Atlantic (July/August 2009)

In next month's edition, which you can now see by following the link above, The Atlantic posts some clever proposals to fix the world. Among them, try Gregg Easterbrook's article "Privatize the Seas," which, while not a sexy topic, is important if a) you want your kids first "pet" to be fish; or b) you just like to eat them.

As a primer, here is a Times article from earlier this year that explains the problem and potential solutions.

Fish Shares and Sharing Fish, http://judson.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/guest-column-fish-shares-and-sharing-fish/?scp=3&sq=privatize the ocean fish&st=cse . Thoughts?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Poison Ivy?


One of my favorite professors in college was perhaps one of the more pompous individuals I have yet to meet. And that's saying something. As a sophomore in a class filled with seniors, I took a class with Dr. P, we'll call him, titled "Personality, Power, and Politics."

The last week of class, he invited our class up to his cabin - chateau if you will - for a wine and cheese seminar (I kid you not) upon one condition. Prior to the class letting out, he asked whether anyone was under the age of 21. I winced, raised my hand, and endured the wrath of pernicious eyes waiting to tear me a new one.

Dr. P pulled me aside after class, gave me a good-ole-boy hand around the shoulder, and told me as an early high school graduate, he empathized with my predicament, and offered to let me into his home despite college rules to the contrary. Born that afternoon was my first, albeit unlikely, mentor.

In discussing world leaders, during a class break, one day, I asked him whether he deemed it likely that a student from Emerson - or any non-Ivy academic institution - could ever become the President of the United States or, for that matter, a Justice of the Supreme Court. Dr. P thought it unlikely. He cited statistics offered much like in a recent New York Times article, 'An Ivy-Covered Path to the Supreme Court,' at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/09/us/politics/09ivy.html .

In short, 70 percent of Supreme Court justices graduate from undergraduate, graduate, or law school in Ivy league schools. That percentage is much higher when factoring in 'fringe' Ivy's - such as the inferior law schools at Georgetown and the University of Chicago (I kid, and digress). Moreover, the last four U.S. presidents graduated from either Yale or Harvard.

Despite obviously wide ideological differences after exiting these institutions ( See Scalia v. Ginsburg), there is a perception of qualification that is engendered simply by graduating from these prestigious colleges. And, perhaps for good reason. But for every creative argumentarian such as Scalia, whose critics duly recognize the quality of his writing, there is an absolute Ivy dud (See Ivy graduate Clarence Thomas, who last asked a question at an oral argument on February 22, 2006).

Much has been made of the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as the first Latina and only third woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. As a product of a Hispanic background - my mother and sister both being born and raised in Ecuador - I could not be more proud of the heritage, life experiences, and qualifications of Judge Sotomayor.

Diversity in 2009, though, needs to go beyond, while still being inclusive of, racial and gender qualifications. The notion that highly qualified potential Supreme Court nominees are somehow superior because of SAT and GPA scores attained in high school is laughable. Conversely, public universities and private-non Ivy league institutions are, or should be, insulted given the high quality of instruction that can take place across the country. Educational diversity is also more reflective of the tableau vivant that stretches across the landscape of this country.

So let's celebrate the nomination of Judge Sotomayor. At the same time, the idea of uniformity along any vein seems dangerous, if not a poisonous attribute for a coequal branch of government of, by, and for the people.