With Bush finally admitting that US and Iraqi forces aren't ready to handle the election planned for January, with American deaths skyrocketing, and with Rumsfeld looking like a bigger clown than ever before, perhaps its time to start asking what price we're really paying for this war. Democratizing Iraq seems to be the final straw and the reason why the people who are somehow able to dismiss the fact that there are no WMDs or Al-Quaida ties in Iraq still are able to justify our intervention. "Sure," they say, "the Iraqi people hated being exploited by Saddam and are going to love being able to govern themselves." Sadly for these people, to make such a statement is to ignore the 7000 year history of Iraq. Remember when everyone thought the Iraq war would be easy? "Sure," they said, "they'll love us when we go in and overthrow Saddam; they'll probably pick flowers and make us look like the biggest heroes in world history." If only such statements were true...

Edwin Black's column in the Plain Dealer yesterday is a must-read for anyone who still believes American-style democracy will work flawlessly (or at least stably) in Iraq. The problem with Iraqi elections and democray is simple: the assumption that American-style democracy will prevail is bunk, because Iraqi-style democracy will actually come about. The problem here, is that Iraq-style democracy is nothing more than glorified theocracy. Unlike in the USA, Canada, and Europe where most of the population is secular, or at least unwilling to mix church and state, in the middle east, Religion trumps everything, including government and politcs. Unlike in America where political parties are divided on issues like big government v. small government and regulated v. laizee faire economics, Iraqi political parties are nothing more than religious denominations.

Shiite Muslims, who make up about 60% of the population, have been out of power ever since Saddam Huisein (a Sunni Muslim) took power years ago. And for those who thought Iraqi's were happy about Saddam being out of power, they're partially right... except only because now the Shiites are finally going to be able to run the country and seek vengence on the Sunnis and Kurds who share different religious beliefs than them. So assuming that the elections go smoothly, Shiites will coast right into power. Given the structure of Iraq's democracy, Shiites will control both the executive and legislative branches, and by large margins. Therefore, Sunni and Kurdish Iraqis will do everything they possibly can to keep the Shiites out of power, firing up another round of ethnic tensions and more violence.

And what about America's diplomatic ties to the middle east? Currently Iran is the only Shiite theocracy, and we all know how well our relations are with that piece of the 'axis of evil'. Why would anyone be led to believe that once Iraq turns into a Shiite theocracy they'll have any intention of cooperating with us over their newly formed theocratic neighbors? And then its important to ask... does a Shiite theocracy really gaurantee Middle Eastern stability? Most cite the fact that two democracies have never fought a war against each other, and that if every state in the world was a democracy we could put an end to all wars. I suppose that is why democracies are so obsessed with proliferating WMDs, and why countries like Iran feel pressure to jump on board as well.

The United States has been around for less than 300 years, not even close to the 7000 year history of Iraq. If Iraq was really able or willing to create a stable democracy, you'd think they would have been able to do so without Washington there to hold their hand. As Edwin Black puts it... "elections do not make democracies; democracies make elections."

Cracking the SAT

The title to Princeton Reviews book is pretty straight forward... use the book to study and do well on the SAT. But after an article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago, it makes me wonder if maybe it means something more... Is Princeton Review subliminally sending messages to kids to take crack before taking the SAT test? Probably not on purpose... but who knows?

Apparently, people have been taking to the prescription drug adderal to do better on the SAT, and apparently its been working. This is supposed to be a drug given to kids with ADHD so they can sit still and not screw around in class, but it also seems to give a pretty good kick for people taking "tests of reasoning." Then again, isn't it more a test of how well you feel that morning anyway? Aren't the top pieces of advice given by those shady SAT prep classes and books to get a good nights sleep and to eat a good breakfast? If this is all you need to do then why did we waste the past 12 years of our lives in school? This seems to be a good routine for finding out how well kids take care of themselves.. but aren't these tests supposed to find out how well we can reason?

According to the article, College Board doesn't know that people are taking drugs to improve test scores and they don't have any rules prohibiting such behavior... Come on College Board! give me a break. I wouldn't be surprised if some College Board hotshots were bigtime investors in Pfizer or whoever makes the drug, because you'd have to be pretty blind to realize how ridiculous the SAT has become.

College Board has successfully monopolized the college admission market (if such a thing exists) and they're continuing to bulldoze through. They run the entire AP program and the SAT. Of course I know you're thinking that the IB program and ACT exists... but come on... how many people actually take them? Isn't the point of education to learn enough to make it in the complex world that we have created? Isn't the reason we have classes like history so that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past? Isn't the reason we have drivers ed so that people don't drive like maniacs and kill everyone on the road? Whats amazing is that kids now spend up to hundreds of dollars going to night classes so they can learn how to crack the test and get more questions right than the next guy.

How can this type of elitist system truly measure the qualification of a candidate for college? Sure most would say there are other considerations from the SAT, but College Board has done a pretty good job of burning this idea into everyone's brain that SAT scores determine who you are as a person. And this has inevitably led to people doing anything, regardless of their physical or mental health, to ensure that they do well. Of course, I hate the think of the day when people have to pee in a cup before they're allowed to take the SAT on a Saturday morning, but maybe thats what we've come to? Without some type of change the elites will continue to use their shysty tactics to succeed on these tests and take the scholarship money away from those truly qualified, while the more blue collar student will continue to struggle, until everyone starts popping pills and they all equal out again.

Al Qaeda Recruiting Missions

Say what you might about the war on terror, but its hard to see how this strategy is actually solving the root problems of terrorism. Sure it might be temporarily repressing terrorist attacks in America, but how long can we do this? forever? The war on terror surely hasn't been very effective in capturing Bin-laden or Al-Zarqawi or increasing our Middle-eastern credibility...

When you consider the reasons why terrorism exists, it starts to make sense how ridiculous our current policy is. America's support of Isreal and our utter disrepect toward Muslim people in the Middle East seems to be incentive for them to want to attack the US and Isreal. Our actions in the Iraq war seem to have done nothing but exacerbate these problems. There are images on Middle-Eastern television showing Americans forcing Iraqis to strip and then completely humiliating them. Then there is video of an American cursing and blowing away an innocent Iraqi in a mosque. The civilian death toll is estimated to be anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000, but no one will ever really know since the US military doesn't keep track of "collateral damage."

Despite the fact that these figures aren't released in America doesn't mean that nobody cares. Bin-laden must be gracious that the US military is ignorant enough to do its dirty work in Mosques and disobey Muslim religion as much as possible in this war. All we need now is video of the US military hurting an innocent Muslim woman and the recruitment rate for Al-Quida will be through the roof. Unlike in the west, where society is mostly secular, religion seems to be a major factor in a lot of peoples lives, and having outsiders come and shit on it would probably be pretty offensive.

What would Americans think if we saw a Middle-Eastern person come into our country, wrap innocent civilians in American flags and then burn them to death? Can we assume there would be absolutely no backlash? What would we think if an outside country came in to overthrow out president because they "knew" he was stockpiling WMDs, and then shot at every moving target in Washington, DC, blew up their homes, and left them to deal with it themselves? Can we assume then that there would be no backlash?

This is a problem bigger than boming random countries and taking out opressive dictators. This is a game where all anyone wants is respect, and yet where more disrespect is happening than ever.

So Much Hypocrisy

Being the moral, Christian guy that George Bush is... it seems like he's doing a good job of fighting to keep Senator Arlen Spector from becoming head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, since Spector is openly pro-choice and will ensure Roe v. Wade stays in place. But its making me ask... what the hell?

Both Bush and Pennsylvania's other Republican Senator, Rick Santorum, endorsed Spector for re-election, even though they knew he was running as a pro-choice candidate, and that he openly opposed Bush on other issues like stem cell research. They pretty much snubbed Rep. Toomey, who Paul Begala calls "a much better peson." The whole thing makes you wonder what the actual motive of this thing was? Did they want to ensure Roe v. Wade didn't get overturned but at the same time wanted to use it as a campaign centerpiece to appease the evangelicals? And then did they want to put up a fight with Spector to make sure their image as anti-abortionists was upheld? Obviously they didn't care a whole lot when they endorsed Spector over the openly pro-life Pat Toomey in the primaries. I know if I were relying on these guys to come through on these 'moral issues' I'd have some big questions right now. Then again, I think its all mindgames anway.

What Now?

So the election is over and it looks like the Republicans somehow did an amazing job of completely playing America. The poll numbers and statistics are so bizarre that the whole thing just boggles my mind. Wasn't terrorism supposed to be a big issue in this election? Whats interesting is that all of the states and communities that have been, or are likely to be victims of terrorist attacks overwhelmingly voted for Kerry. New York, New Jersery, Connecticut, Marlyland, and DC all went to Kerry, despite being the biggest victims of terrorist attacks. The East Coast and California are the most likely to be attacked by terrorists again, and still... no support for Bush there. Back at home, Cleveland is the biggest and most likely target in Ohio, but in Cuyahoga county, Kerry won by a landslide.

Whats especially mind-boggling is that more Americans indicated they voted for president based on 'moral values' more than any other issue, including the war and the economy. How the hell did this happen? I Don't remember this country every being an especially religious, nor would I ever imagine a lot of religious people voting on so-called 'moral values'. The sad part is, apparently Americans are somehow able to fathom the thought of our soldiers invading a sovereign nation, going in an slaughtering thousands and thousands of civilians, abusing prisoners, watching our own troops getting regularly attacked by insurgents, and seeing a dark, dim, gloomy future in that war; and yet, they are not able to fathom the thought of two men or two women living together, just trying to be happy.

Speaking of which, the margin by which the gay marriage ban passed in Ohio and other states is ridiculous. I think its really saying something when your two republican senators, republican governor, and republican attourney general all disapprove of the issue. But then again, who cares about the economy when we can oppress homosexuals? Maybe I just don't want to admit it, but maybe a lot of people just didn't understand the issue at hand. This wasn't just about banning gay marriage, it was about banning homosexual and heterosexual civil unions too. Take this example: you're a homosexual who works for the Microsoft office in Seattle, and they give you and your legal partner health coverage. Microsoft decides they need you to work in their Westerville, Ohio office, but... oops you can't get health coverage there. So either one of two things happens: companies start moving their offices to states where they can give their employees fair benefits, or that person won't work in Ohio since he/she is being legally discriminated against. Whichever the case, it can't be good for Ohio.

When it comes to the war, its amazing that young people can support such a crazy endevour. I can't even believe how many people around school still support the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Four years ago Bush promised not to pursue nation-building or an agressive foreign policy like that... and then 9/11 happened. This time Bush indicated that we wouldn't have a draft, despite reports from military generals indicating our military is incredibly overstretched. The Heritage Institute has probably written a dozen or more articles about how we can't pusue any more foreign policy initiatives because we're too overstretched. These aren't just the hippies talking here... these are the right-wing hawks who support using the military, but support using it correctly. Right now the only thing I feel like I can do it sit back and pray that nothing happens to our country. Given the fact that Bush wants to extend the 'war on terror' into other countries, and that we need to retaliate to terrorism by attacking a country, and that our allies pretty much hate the bush administration, it looks like its going to be us, going in alone.

And how soon is this actually going to happen? Its like someone told me today, consider Iran... their parliment just approved a measure for them to start developing weapons grade plutonium. Now that Bush is in office, it seems like their strategy is going to be, build up nuclear weapons and attack them before he has the chance to send the military and take over my country. Theres without a doubt that a handful of countries and rougue states have nuclear weapons, its just a matter of time before America tries to do something again.

I think everyone should read the BBC talking points from today if you really want to get a good idea of what the rest of the world thinks about this election and this administration. I think that they're right to say that Americans are incredibly arrogant re-elect a leader who is a proven failure. The economy is in the shitter, the war is a disaster, Kerry won all three debates and yet Bush still comfortably won. What is wrong with the everyday voter?

Jobs in Ohio have been continuously flying out the window, and blue collar workers are voting for the administration that is likely to cost them their jobs. The first initiative Bush is going to persue is making the upper-class tax cuts permanent, then he's going to ask congress for another couple of billions of dollars for Iraq. Talk about fiscal responsibility... then I'm sure ANWR will eventually pass, destroying one of the few beautiful environmental areas in our country and completely disrespecting indigineous people up there. CAFTA will probably pass and FTAA will be on the table so we can start outsourcing our jobs to more Central and South American countries and buying steel and manufactured products from them too. No Child Left behind will probably still be floating around, almost completely unfunded, and there will probably be more Social Security and Healthcare reforms, none of them possibly for the better.

The difference between what the president does in this term will probably be minimal from what he did in the first term, only last time we started from the top and worked our way down; this time we're starting from the bottom, and god knows where we'll end up. I think Evan said it best today... he's a pretty moderate guy, from a blue-collar, working class family, but the current administration just has not done anything positive for him or other similar families. To answer the question of 'do you feel safe today,' i would answer: no. But I'm not afraid of terrorism or homeland security, I'm afraid of whats going to happen to this country in the next four years. I'm disgusted in the choices Americans and specifically Ohioans made in this election, and hopefully things will change. Then again, Roger Solt once told me that the only way people really understand problems is through some type of disaster. There weren't a lot of people concerned about the Cuyahoga River in the 70s, until it caught on fire and burned... Maybe Americans will start to realize whats happening when America starts to burn like Rome did under Nero. Until then... all we can do is brace ourselves and hope Rome doesn't implode.
I probably should start this piece of commentary by pointing out that I am myself a Catholic, because I think that Catholic philosophy makes more sense than any other religion. St. Thomas's and other Catholics' proof for God's existance is quite good in my opinion and makes a lot of sense. I also think that Catholics have the best interpretation of the bible, and I agree with just about all of the underlying philosophies at the root of the religion.

The problem, however, is whats on the surface. Over my years its become harder and harder to figure out what the hell is actually going on. You have the pope saying one thing, some crazy archbishops saying something else, wacked out theology teachers preaching stuff that makes you wonder if they want you to stop believing in the religion... and everyone else who has some authority and an opinion.

So who are you supposed to believe?

There are so many variables in the religion that I still can't comprehend. Take for example confession.. you confess your sins, a priest intervenes, and God forgives you as long as you make a penence. Now, the whole concept of penance confuses me as I've had everything from attempts to reform my life, to things as simple as praying for the priest's family, or praying for American troops overseas.

Catholics never could quite agree on whether the Iraq war was just or not. Apparently, some types of war are OK in the eyes of the church. Sophomore year we had articles from one bishop saying the war was just for x reasons, and then another bishop with the exact opposite argument. Catholics try to be so 'pro-life' but everyone seems to forget about that time when Catholics killed all those Spanish people... or that time when they sat out on the sidelines during the Halocaust... or that the Catholics justify the death penalty and wars...

You have to concede that at least some Catholic priests are homosexual, and you have to concede that at least some Catholic priests are not perfectly chaste. So why does the Church have such a strong stance on banning gay marriage? Some priests disagree with the Church's stance and refuse to preach against gay marriage at mass. In fact, it seems like differnt priests do a lot of things differently. Some don't like to have people shake hands or exchange peace during mass, some skip all the songs so the mass can only last 15 minutes.. the list goes on. The point is that recently there has seemed to be a lack of uniformity.

And so I finally get to the question I want to ask... why is the Church attempting to take back control of the political system? After the distribution of Bush/Cheney stickers at school the other day, the shit kinda started to hit the fan. It seemed like everytime a Kerry supporter and a Bush supporter got in an argument it was the same thing:

Kerry guy: Bush launched an unjustified war when there were no weapons of mass destruction
Bush guy: But Kerry doesn't even know his stance on the war, he voted for the 87 billion before he voted against it.
Kerry guy: At least he knows the war was wrong and wants to fix the problems.
Bush guy: *awkward silence*... baby killer!

The sad thing is that the whole abortion issue is mostly the doing of the Catholic and other evangelical churches, and they portray the issue to seem like voting for Kerry is a vote for death and that it'll send you straight to hell. And thats fine for them... but the downfall of our two party system is that making this argument causes everyone to support Bush.

I laugh everytime I see stickers around school that say "vote pro-life". What does that actually mean? A vote for bush is a vote for the war... death of thousands of soldiers, innocent Iraqi civilians; its a vote for a man who executed the most people in Texas history; and its a vote for the death of the environment. A vote for Kerry is a vote for the right to choose... either way you look at it, somebody is going to die! So I guess voting pro-life means not going to the polls and instead praying for a miracle that can make a difference.

Bush had a GOLDEN opportunity in yesterday night's debate to prove that he really was sincere about making abortion illegal. The question was asked, "who would you appoint to the supreme court?" This was Bush's chance to tell America that he would appoint a judge who would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. This was Bush's opportunity to tell America that he sincerely felt abortion was an issue that needed to be changed. Instead... he said he would appoint a justice who was against slavery. wtf? and that he would support a justice would wanted to keep 'under god' in the pledge. Any conservative, moderate, or moderately liberal judge would support those things. He then went on to say there would be NO litmus test for choosing based on political isssues.

I guess its a sad day for Catholics, to realize their 'pro-life' candidate really doesn't care that much, and that its now a complete shot in the dark whether anything can happen during the next four years. Personally, I agree with Thomas Frank's argument in the book Whats the Matter with Kansas?. In a nutshell, one of the thing Frank argues is that Republicans have been able to win the hearts of evangelicals who aren't especially political but feel strongly about issues like abortion and gay marriage, they tune into Rush Limbaugh and go to church and are convinced these are the only issues worth voting on. The problem is... once these issues actually get changed, these evangelicals will have no incentive to vote Republican anymore, and they'll either stop voting, or start voting on economic and other social justice issues. They'll realize that the democatic pary care significantly more about protecting blue-collar jobs and supports social justice and programs to help the poor. And lets face it... both the Republican and Democratic party wants to be in power, giving up a significant chunk of the base would be devestating.

So in essence, Bush has more to gain by keeping abortion legal and campaigning against it. For the past four years Bush has had Republican control in both houses of congress and yet you didn't read a whole lot about him pushing pushing a lot of anti-abortion bills. He brags about the partial birth abortion ban he signed. But what did that thing really do? It stopped one of the extremely few partial birth abortions performed in extreme situations such as to save a women's life. Partial birth abortion was pratically 99% illegal before bush signed that bill, and yet evangelicals think this is the best piece of legislation to ever pass through the congress. Even the ACLU concedes that partial-birth abortion is not a medical term and doesn't apply to any type of legal abortion procedures.

I thought John Kerry's explanation as to his stance was very clear during the debate. It amazes me to see the number of people who automatically discredit anything he says because he isn't strictly and openly against abortion. The issue of choice is an issue of what the state can and cannot tell and make people do. I am stauntly against smoking and drinking, and I think they're problems that cause massive social problems. But I don't think that the state should tell people they aren't allowed to do these things. I can, however, try to tell my friends not to do these things and try to personally get people I care for to stop.

I give John Kerry credit for being open and honest about his stance on these things. I am quite disaapointed that so many support Bush for what they think he is going to do, as am I with the Catholic church for trying to get its hand back in politics. Sadly, in 4 years, regardless of who the president is, when everything is the same as it is today, I'm sure I'll be hearing these same bad arguments as to why I should vote Republican and save a life.

Why My Blog Exists

Updated October 2008

Extraordinary Observations went live in September 2004. I was 17 years old and a senior in high school at the time; and my observations were fairly limited in nature. Back then, blogging was still a bit of a fringe hobby. I'm not sure if I was the only kid in my high school blogging, but I can't imagine there being many others. Four years doesn't seem like a long time, but a lot has changed since 12th grade. My writing style has evolved, my observations have changed, and it has been exciting to watch my blog's readership grow.

My blog exists because there are some observations that are worth sharing with the world. My favorite topics are politics and economics. I'm a passionate critic of local politics in Cleveland, my hometown; and energy and transportation are two issues especially close to my heart. I won't deny that my observations are written with a slant. My politics can be described as progressive and my economics as neo-Keynesian. I think cities are wonderful places and suburbs are the most soulless places on earth; but you'll find all of that out as you delve in the blog.

Hopefully the last four years are only the beginning.