31 August 2012


The mainstream media echoes the Democratic party obsession with identity politics, relishing pointing out the alleged lack of “diversity” in the Republican party. Never mind that they deliberately cut away from speakers at the Republican convention that would contradict this, for they have an ideological need to maintain it. 

The most ridiculous myth is the alleged Republican “problem” with “women.” But, just maybe, there is a Democratic party problem with men. The prevailing assumptions about gender are not only misleading, they are dead wrong. This only makes sense if you accept the ridiculous liberal notion that women somehow constitute a homogeneous interest group. However, in reality few women identify first and foremost as “women,” for they are wives, mothers, and sisters before anything else, and vary tremendously in their career and life choices. Obviously their political beliefs are going to vary accordingly. The notion that any woman “represents” women makes about as much sense as saying a particular man represents “men.” Apart from a few left-wing fanatics we don’t maintain our perceptions in this fashion. 

Nevertheless there is a difference between how the aggregate of men and women vote, but the reasons have little to do with “women’s issues.” For one thing, married women tend to vote Republican. It is among single women that there is a significant disparity, and here the reasons are largely economic; i.e. think of single mothers on welfare. Those in the lower income brackets tend to identify historically with the Democratic party. Ideology only plays a role for those with higher incomes.  

Then we have the notion that Republicans have a problem with minorities, due to voting patterns. However, here again it is just possible that the Democrats have a problem with white people. After all, no Democrat running for President has won a majority of whites since Lyndon Johnson, five decades ago. So it is by no means clear just who has the real problem. 

When the Democrats and their allies in the liberal media incessantly point out how the Republicans are predominantly white, it presumably means that minorities are “underrepresented.” However, the reverse of this is that minorities are overrepresented in the Democratic party. They never consider that though. It is unclear why minorities carry some special grace and greater value as people in this warped calculation. 

Along these lines we have the notion that the Republicans are doomed to minority party status because minorities represent the “future,” presumably due to a disproportionate increase in population, as the white birthrate plummets to European levels. However, it is not completely clear just who is a “minority.” In one sense, everyone is, to some degree. But the liberals mean people they have defined and stereotyped into categories, such as “Hispanic” and “Asian,” who are in some sense “nonwhite.” But here they categorize people into nonexistent groups, because no one is “Asian” or “Hispanic.” Each belongs to a discrete and unique culture. Thus there are Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, etc., but there are no “Hispanic” Americans. Even more preposterous is the “Asian” label that  is supposed to cover people from very different and geographically distinct cultures. What do people from India have in common with people from Japan, that warrants imposing a shared identity upon them? 

On closer examination the liberal’s dream world falls apart. First of all there are white “Hispanics,” which means they are not a racial, let alone a political, monolith. Second, many in the “Asian” category have an entrepreneurial proclivity which, longer term, would probably lead to identify more with Republicans. 

We need to go back several decades to understand where a lot of this silliness came from. In the New York State legislature initially the Democrats had a “black caucus.” Then it became the “black and Puerto Rican” caucus. Then it changed to the “black and Hispanic caucus,” and ultimately, the “black, Hispanic and Asian caucus,” as ridiculous as that sounds, thus enabling some politicians to claim they represent all “minorities,” usually without their consent. It is the liberals that segment and divide people into group identities, preferably with a grievance, as opposed to conservatives, who see them as individuals. 

The future of this country does indeed depend on which vision prevails, in terms of how people identify themselves. Will they be members of an ethnic group first, or Americans? A good start would be to stop the federal government from forcing group identity on people. We know the pernicious efforts of the left to keep people in group categories will continue, while conservatives encourage them to be individuals within a unified whole, and only time will tell which concept will prevail. 


25 August 2012


Neil Armstrong was one of the very few men of our time who was truly great.  He was great not because he was the first man to walk on the moon, but because he never did anything to exploit that fact.  How many of today's dismal celebrities would have the character to deny themselves all the lucrative opportunities that could have been his? Rather than try to benefit himself, he lived his life with integrity and quiet modesty, despite his achievement, or really because of it. For he knew that he had been given a singular, special role in history, and he always conducted himself with dignity and a maturity appropriate to his achievement. He deserves the admiration of people everywhere for his accomplishments as well as how he handled them. He remains an exemplary example of how a good man conducts himself in life. How much better our world would be if more people emulated him. We should all pause to salute the passing of this great man. 

09 August 2012


One of the saddest developments in corporate history has been the decline of the once-mighty Eastman Kodak company. For the better part of the century the company was so dominant in photography through the production of film, processing and materials, that it was subject to constant anti-trust suits. There were competitors, but Kodak was dominant in photography because of its consistent high quality. It was a household name known to all. I remember the huge picture displays they used to advertise in Grand Central Station, and the photo gallery on 42nd St. and Sixth Avenue in New York. They are history now, along with its overwhelming presence in Rochester, New York that benefited that city immensely. All that has been swept away due to digital photography and the decline of film, even though nothing matches its fine resolution. Once digital arrived, the camera market was flooded with products, not only from the traditional camera makers, that previously were not players in photography, but other companies, such as Sony (which absorbed Minolta’s system),  Korean companies (which I personally would not touch),and even cell-phone makers.  Kodak manages to trudge along humbly, still making good products, like a small underwater video camera and a printer system that uses the most inexpensive ink refills on the market and works wirelessly. 

I am now in the process of scanning and digitizing thousands of those ubiquitous yellow boxes full of slides taken over decades, with those legendary names Kodachrome and Ektachrome, along with an occasional Fujichrome. It took many years before I could find a satisfactory reproductive system. I tried a couple of consumer scanners, but the results were poor. Then I used camera attachments to make duplicates, but this was a tedious, one-at-a time process. Finally I bought a high quality scanner (Plustek OpticFilm 7600 with Silverfast software) and got excellent results. Although the cost was higher it was well worth it. With this kind of configuration you can get high resolution scans that faithfully reproduce pictures from slides or negatives for almost any size you realistically might want to print, or you can further edit them with something like Photoshop or Aperture. However there is still no way to match the fine resolution of a slide or negative, and so some people stick with film even now. 

On the other hand there were also many inconveniences, such as changing film rolls, waiting to get the results, and getting into repeated fights with x-ray security personnel on airline trips, to avoid having my batch of film ruined by x-rays. (It’s a good thing that is in the past because I’d probably get arrested for doing that these days). The cost of pictures has also dropped radically as digital shots don’t cost anything, although high quality SLR camera prices have increased significantly. I didn’t fully switch to digital until I bought a Canon EOS 7D, which enabled me to use all my old interchangeable film camera lenses, and produced pictures with a high pixel count. But I still take pictures the old-fashioned way, through the viewfinder. This also significantly extends battery life. I find the digital screens on the back of cameras useless in bright light, and I’m baffled as to why they aren’t making many cameras with viewfinders these days. I personally recommend getting one with a viewfinder if you can find it, so you can actually see what you’re taking, never mind at least doubling your battery power if you turn the screen off. 

Computers have also been a major factor in changing photography, along with so many other things. Way back in the film era pictures were first digitized in order to be enhanced on the computer. The first program I had was called Digital Darkroom, which eventually became Photoshop. It’s just amazing what you can do these days to correct pictures. With the setup I have, I’ve been able to revive photos given up for dead because of darkness, and pull a serviceable image out of it on the scanner. Thus, overall, technology has been a blessing, especially to the extent that most people just want to point and shoot and don’t care all that much about high resolution. That, however, is a subject for another essay. 

08 August 2012


The Syrian people have been engaged in a heroic struggle to overthrow one of the most  tyrannical regimes in the world, with little more than moral support from the West. This is shameful especially given the intervention in Libya, where conditions were not as bad. The Assad government has murdered some 20,000 of its own citizens so far and is clearly on the way out, yet we are providing very little help. Yes, people are tired of war, but this doesn’t require troops, just supplies, weapons, and at most some air cover. Fellow tyrants in Iran are supporting the regime, and Russia and China are blocking any action by the UN, despite a majority in favor of it. They will have a lot to answer for when this regime falls, and it will fall. 

Imagine living in a country where one family has been in control for decades. Then consider a government and elite  that is largely populated by members of a single minority sect, the Alawites. It would be like ,say, the Methodists controlling everything here and oppressing everyone else. Then imagine they started killing anyone who opposed them. The Assad government is guilty of such war crimes. It is disgraceful to allow this killing to go on, when it wouldn’t take much to topple the tyranny at this point. 

Hesitation and excuses are made because of a fear of causing “instability” in the middle east, which is kind of an oxymoron. Everyone knows the regime is going to fall so why not align ourselves with the winners? Instead of worrying about what may follow we should be in a position to influence that. Given that Syria is an ally of Iran, it would also be a major victory over that odious, oppressive government, which has been an ongoing vicious enemy. Instead of trying to “engage” with these tyrants we should actively oppose them. When I say “we” here I don’t just mean the United States, but the western world, and NATO in particular. 

Unfortunately the fall of Sarkozy leaves the west without a dynamic leader, although there is one other. Ironically he is in the middle east, namely Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. He understands the Iranian regime and what their intentions are in terms of obliterating his country. Changing the regime in Syria would be a severe blow to Iran, and might even give the opposition there the courage to rise, and hopefully we would support them this time. 

When such evil regimes are threatened we must stand with the people and be on the side of history.  We should be taking steps to assure that they are succeeded by free and open societies instead of burying our heads and looking the other way, or worse, "engaging" with the oppressors. What was done in Libya can be done in Syria. Libyan elections did not produce an Islamic tyranny but a rather liberal government committed to an open society. To repeat I am not suggesting sending troops, but simply providing logistical support. We ignore these things at our own peril. For even if we want to ignore the rest of the world, the rest of the world doe not want to ignore us. 

07 August 2012


I  rarely agree with the teachers’ unions, given how they expend funds on politicians, and sometimes get in the way of reforms, but I think they are solid ground in a resolution recently passed by the AFT concerning mandatory national standardized testing. One of the dumbest programs of the Bush administration and Teddy Kennedy has turned out to be “No Child Left Behind.” It seems like every recent President wants to leave his mark on education, with one scheme for improvement or another, none of which seem to do much besides inflating bureaucracy.  That is not to say that schools don’t need improvement; clearly they do. But most are financed by state and local government and embedded in communities, and sweeping federal mandates do not work, and in fact may be counterproductive. 

We’ve more than doubled spending on education over the past thirty years with little significant improvement because not that much has gone into hiring or justly compensating the people who actually teach. What we have instead is an ever growing bureaucracy with more layers of administration, specialists, and support staff that never see a classroom. This has occurred because of ever more stupid mandates about what ought to be done. Every time legislation creates a program meant to solve something, it is inevitably accompanied by a bureaucracy to manage it- a principle that applies across the board, not just to education. Too often that’s how your tax dollars are spent.

In addition, broad standardized testing is too simplistic. What of Special Education? It is preposterous to apply the same standards to these children that are used for the general population. That makes no sense. Special Education teachers have to cope with children with learning disabilities, along with a surprising number of obnoxious parents who insist on trying to enroll their children in it, even though there is nothing wrong with them. It makes no sense not to differentiate, and it is unfair to teachers who constantly make their best efforts. 

At the opposite end of the spectrum we are also shortchanging the brightest students, who have different needs. After all these are the pupils that will likely grow up to be the innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, artists, intellectuals, etc. that our society as a whole needs to remain competitive in the world. One size fits all simply does not work and is detrimental to overall education. 

The job of teachers is to teach and they should not be encumbered with ill-conceived requirements, stupid mandates, various useless specialists, and administrative fiat. If the federal government is to be involved in education at all, which is debatable, it should be through block grants with no strings attached. Again, this applies across the board to all government programs, for it is only through particular local initiatives that creative solutions can be found, and the more “laboratories” we have trying different approaches, the better. That is the only way we can really determine what works and what doesn’t work. 

05 August 2012


I never heard of Chick-A-Fil before the recent “controversy” erupted over an executive’s expressed position against gay marriage. When this became known, left-wing activists organized a boycott as well as a harassment campaign against the company. In some cities demagogic politicians stated that they would (illegally) prevent the company from opening any stores in their city, along with a clear disregard for free speech. This backfired as people in turn sympathetic to the executive’s viewpoint flocked to the stores in record numbers. 
Both sides responded to perceived moral imperatives, though the morality of one is incomprehensible to the other. One side believes in traditional values while the other believes they are upholding perceived principles of equality. I am not going to say anything about the substance of these positions, but that does not mean they are morally equivalent. For what we have here is a conflict of fundamental values that are irreconcilable, and therefore can only be resolved through the political process, if they are to resolved peacefully. However, it is troubling how wide the gulf between viewpoints has become. 
This fizzling “boycott” is a regular tactic of the intolerant left, which ironically claims to be opposing “intolerance.” These are people who routinely discriminated against those they disagree with. They publish home addresses of people they don’t like, try to intimidate them with demonstrations, and threaten their families along with other despicable behavior. Due to the fact that they increasingly only interact with people who agree with them, they assume their view is widespread when it is not. In fact when it comes to these sorts of tactics the left should tread carefully, or they will soon come to realize just how outnumbered they are of the other side starts to respond in-kind. It must be noted that honest liberals who believe in free speech did not support this action, and indeed were critical of it. They should not be confused with the hateful, radical left, who continually seek to undermine this country and its institutions. 
It is disturbing how far what passes for political action has degenerated. It is reflective of the overall coarsening of our society and the decline of civility. The necessary approbation for misbehavior is no longer there. But that pales besides the problem of maintaining a civil society when people no longer share the same beliefs as to what is moral. How this will be resolved in the long run is an open question.