Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The World of Personal Development

If you had mentioned the world of self-help, personal development or new age concepts to me two or three years ago, I would have laughed in your face. Today, I daily check out and, the web sites of two personal development gurus.

There is a reason why “The Secret” has been so successful. People (including myself) are screaming for hope. We’re looking for reason in our lives. We’re looking for happiness and fulfillment. Not just in our personal lives but also in our professional careers. People no longer stick with one job for 40 years and then retire with a gold watch and a retirement dinner. Technology and globalization has rapidly transformed all areas of business: from call centers in India to marketing personnel shifting companies every few years. The world is moving exponentially faster and there are no signs of it slowing down.

People are looking for answers and unfortunately our leaders do not have them. The current Bush administration just reveals one disaster after another, from failing to prevent 9/11 to Iraq to Katrina to countless breaches of constitutional protections. George W. Bush’s approval ratings are in the low thirties-high twenties. Vice President Dick Cheney is at 9%. Clearly, they are ineffective.

So, we see books like “The Secret” and “The Law of Attraction” as bestsellers. The war in Iraq has become a 21st-century Vietnam. Everyday costs are increasing at a faster rate. College tuition has skyrocketed to where many private 4-year institutions cost $50,000 a year.

I personally believe that this hypercompetitive capitalist environment will eventually subside. It’s too much. We’re already seeing this in young people; climbing the corporate ladder isn’t worth wasting your youth with 80-hour workweeks. People are beginning to search for meaning in life.

So my answer for today is a lesson best taught by Joseph Campbell: follow your bliss. The rest will come.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Technology Is Less Convenient

Every time I hear about another technological innovation, I’m informed about how the new device will make my life easier, will make choices simpler, and the convenience it brings will change my life. Cell phones now double as cameras, walkie-talkies, PDAs, alarm clocks, whatever. The trains on my rush-hour commute are filled with people thumbing through their BlackBerries (derogatorily nicknamed “CrackBerries” by some). This “technological convenience” will now make you smarter, faster, better, more efficient. It will also allow you to have a life too. Or so that’s what’s promised.

Ask yourself this: are you now more convenienced? Is your life simpler or more complex because of technology?

The first decade of the 21st century is now over half over. The latter half of the previous decade promised all sorts of conveniences that technology would bring. People could telecommute. People would be able to leave work early. In other words, technology would bring “less work” and “more fun.”

Instead, it seems all this technology has had the opposite effect. The 9-to-5-workweek is an extinct dinosaur, replaced with late-night sessions checking the BlackBerry. The “virtual office” has now crept into recreational time. Proponents of this “virtual office” culture argue you can work anywhere at any time, even on the beach. Anyone who has done this knows that instead of having a great day in the office, you have a crappy day on the beach.

My point is that diluting the boundaries between work time and recreational time doesn’t conveniently allow you to define your own boundaries, it forces you to work…all the time! If you can check work email at home, sooner or later you will be expected to do so. If you can be reached by phone from anywhere on the planet, you’ll be forced to work. The lack of an inability to work thus forces you to choose when to work…and when you choose not to work, your colleagues will be wondering why you’re not working, especially if they want to work all the time.

No wonder why so many Americans are unhappy. The U.S. is the wealthiest country in the world, and yet billions are spent on self-help books and therapy.

I have yet to own a cell phone. I imagine I will eventually cave in but for now I’m fine not having a 24-hour connection resting next to my hip. God forbid I should be forced to get a BlackBerry.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Even Everything They've Said Has Turned Out To Be Wrong, Neoconservatives Are Still Clueless

It baffles me to see that, despite the utter chaos that has developed in Iraq, neoconservatives are still incorrigibly retarded in analyzing the situation.

Take Charles Krauthammer's lamentation, for example. Having acknowledged that sectarian strife exists on a full-scale level, Krauthammer lays the blame solely on the Iraqis, ignoring that L. Paul Bremer threw out over 50,000 low- and middle-level Baathist party bureaucrats and dissolved the Iraqi army, which left hundreds of thousands armed and unemployed. That pissed off a lot of people.

When you take jobs away from people and fill that vacuum with foreigners (i.e. private contractors), those now unemployed are going to be angry, hungry, and desperate, resulting in bad outcomes, especially if they are armed. Desperate people resort to hope, a concept that religion thrives on, and thus they lean toward their community leaders. People just like Moqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr has blamed the American occupation but has also sought vengeance against the Sunni minority. Conversely, the Sunni minority feels villified, ignored, and seeks to attack Shiites.

Yes, these feelings have been fueled for hundreds of years (much like Catholics and Protestants had violently brutalized each other throughout history), but the catalyst was that the new American occupation fired thousands of Iraqi government officials, disbanded the Iraqi army, and never fully filled the vacuum. The jobs that were replaced were filled by either the US military or private contractors. Iraqis had little say in the early stages of reconstruction.

Sorry, Mr. Krauthammer. You were wrong then and you are wrong now.

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Iraq Will Further Deteriorate

The National Intelligence Estimate reports that unless significant progress is to be made within the next 12 to 18 months, the security situation in Iraq will continue to deteriorate and the US will continue to lose control. The intelligence report also added that a quick withdrawal from the region would have "dangerous consequences."

It's clear that the occupation is not going well. Only members of the far left want an immediate withdrawal and members of the far right are too obstinate to recognize their own failures. Members from both parties recognize that a bump of 21,500 troops isn't enough to regain stability in multi-ethnic, war-torn Iraq.

It is truly unbelievable how the US got into this mess in the first place. Regardless of anyone's opinions on the invasion, the 2003 Iraq war was handled brilliantly; the subsequent peace staggeringly incompetent. In a way, the Republican handling of the Iraqi invasion is analogous to how they view their own domestic policy: do your own thing, keep government out of it, and all will be well.

Well, all is not well in Iraq. Unemployment is rampant, partly due to Bremer dissolving the Iraqi army and his de-Baathification policy. The low US troop numbers were calculated to take the Iraqi army into account but had been dissolved in the early stages of the war; all of those soldiers were thrown out of paying jobs. Private contractors from all over the globe are now doing the work the Iraqis could have done. Employing Iraqis to reconstruct their own country would have alleviated their grievances. Instead, we have Blackwater and Halliburton rebuilding Iraq for the Bush administration.

For the US, the situation is bad all around. Does the US continue to fight a losing war, where creating some semblance of stability is nothing more than a hopeful wish, or do they pull out, condemning the region into more chaos, abandoning hopes for a unified Iraq, and losing face with its allies and especially its enemies?

But I am ranting on topics that have been covered a myriad of times before. The point is that the Iraqi situation would not have been this dire had we had any semblance of competence in the Bush administration. The notion of laissez-faire economic policies only work when there is a stable infrastructure in place to enforce fair-play.

In other words, you can't play football without a written rulebook and reliable referees.


Thursday, February 01, 2007

How To Deal With Iran

It's pretty apparent that the Iranian government is plotting with Iraqi shi'ites in killing American soldiers. The question is how the Bush administration should move forward in handling with what is now a proxy war with Iran. Bush has already said an invasion on Iranian soil is out of the question but will he remain true to his statements? After all, Nixon said he wouldn't escalate the war into Cambodia.

I have a feeling we're going to have some intriguing covert operations over the Iranian border in the next few months (if they haven't started already).

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Joe Biden's Words

ABC News has picked up the story of Joe Biden's faux pas over Senator Barack Obama that the bloggers have been putzing with for the past couple of days:

"I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that's a storybook, man."
It seems that members from both the left and the right are in a hue and cry over this. Rush Limbaugh pounces on the libs:
"'He is a clean African-American'?...Does he mean that he knows that Jesse Jackson is not clean? Does he mean that he knows that Reverend Sharpton is not clean? … See, folks, this is the problem for the libs. Once they get off script they expose their idiocy, they expose their prejudice."
Jesse Jackson cries foul:
"They are loaded words," Rev. Jesse Jackson told ABC News. "And that's why he should interpret what he meant by those loaded words. It was an attempt I thought to diminish Barack's attributes and dismissive of our previous campaigns that made Barack's candidacy possible."
Why don't we take a look at exactly what has been said? Biden called Obama "articulate." Now how is that offensive? Maybe articulate isn't a strong enough word--perhaps Biden should have used "eloquent." Regardless, that's what I believe because to point out otherwise does not make much sense. The Kennedys were once labeled "articulate." Tony Blair has been called "articulate." Google "Bill Clinton" and "articulate" and you will find a myriad of references labeling the former president as such. Does that mean that those who stem from Mr. Clinton's working-class roots stem are inarticulate? Hardly anyone would make that argument. I think the same parallellism here.

No, the argument rests with the idea that the term "articulate" is a dirty word. Historically the term "articulate" had been used to describe educated blacks who fit in the white man's mold. This is 2007, however, and the term "articulate" has never fallen out of favor in the common lexicon. I can call my fellow friend "articulate" and he/she would take it as a compliment. So then why can't it be acceptable to call an African-American "articulate?" Because it jives at the stereotype that African Americans are not articulate? Most African Americans have had to deal with lots of negative stereotypes. If I call a black man smart, does that mean I'm saying he's smart [for a black man]? I don't think it comes down to that.

The "clean" reference can be attributed to Obama's inexperience in politics. He hasn't gotten his hands dirty yet. I seriously doubt that Biden meant to refer to his showering habits.

Biden has never been known for grace or eloquence, but in my humble opinion I think the newsmedia have blown his statement well out of proportion.


Review of The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream

If you had any doubt that Barack Obama would run for president in 2008, read his latest work, The Audacity of Hope. His optimism for a better future pours out of every page. He successfully paints himself as a regular hardworking joe with a family man, just one of millions of Americans who strive for a better future. In other words, it’s a pedestal for which Senator Obama will launch his candidacy.

I don’t normally read books authored by superstar politicians. They are usually ghostwritten and in my eyes do not add much value to the person. For instance, George W. Bush is the author of A Charge to Keep. Does anyone actually believe he wrote this? Similarly, Hillary Clinton’s bestseller It Takes a Village to Raise a Child was also ghostwritten. In my opinion, if you can’t write a book you shouldn’t stamp your name to one.

Barack Obama, however, did not have a ghostwriter and penned the words that appear in The Audacity of Hope. His clear, concise style and the tender moments from his family life he shares bring a sense of credulity to his character. In one segment, he describes a moment where his daughter explains to him that children do not shake hands; that’s what adults do. Pages later he describes whether Ted Kennedy or John McCain had to go out to pick up ant traps after work. These moments reflect on both Senator Obama’s newbie experience as one of the upper echelons of American society and whether he will remain true to the reasons why he got involved in the first place.

In fact, the entire theme of the book is based on the disconnect between the American voter and the leadership in Washington. Private jets allow legislators to fly comfortably at least twice a week but they shelter their powerful patrons from the struggles and hardships of their constituents. Throughout his congressional campaign, Illinois voters kept telling him to never change and remain true to your humble background, a struggle that Senator Obama himself admits to as being difficult.

Mr. Obama was not born into elitism, though his impressive record challenges his humble claims. Earned a master’s degree from Columbia and a law degree from Harvard, was elected president of the Law Review by his peers, Mrs. Obama’s past is anything but average joe. He is a go-getter and would not be where he was today without his insatiable drive. The senator also claims that much from his life hasn’t changed since winning office; he still goes to the same barbershop and hangs out with the same friends. With his hat thrown into the presidential fray, I doubt life will continue as normal. The question is whether a “President Obama” will hang true to his beliefs.

I think he will. Why? It’s the color of his skin. A white man can grow up in poverty, become rich, and easily lose sight of his humble beginnings. The founders of America left Europe for upward mobility; hard work and success dictated your social status, not hereditary titles. Contemporary America, however, has replaced assumed titles with a crude substitute: race. A self-made white millionaire in America can always suppress his lower-class roots; a wealthy black man will wake up every day, look in the mirror, and see his face as one of the millions of other black men who struggle just to survive in this country. He will look around the halls of success and see white males: rich, usually old, and whose first-hand accounts are oblivious to the middle-, working- and lower-classes. Obama attests to this when he enters the Senate chamber and is the only black man present.

Though at times he can seem preachy and seeming to represent all sides to all people, Barack Obama succeeds in writing a candid piece on his views of the American philosophy and social landscape. The Audacity of Hope gets 3½ out of 5 stars.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Bush the Decision-Maker

He may be the decision-maker on Iraq, but it's too bad he's made all the wrong choices.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Oh Yeah!

Good times, good times..