Friday, August 31, 2012

The United States is the world's original and still-greatest political experiment, founded upon a creed of liberty for all in a land of unprecedented, unparalleled opportunity. This land's manifest destiny is to be a shining city on a hill, a light by which the rest of the world may see the glories of a new and better world. This is, was, and always shall be an exceptional nation, the envy and wonder of the world. America is, like, awesome.

Calls for a "second American century" cannot quite silence the suspicion that, for all America's great strengths, time and history are against the United States -- and, worse still, Americans know it. Just as the glories of the Roman republic were never so keenly hailed as when the republic was dying, so there is a decay about American exceptionalism.

When George W. Bush suggested in 2004 a manned mission to Mars, the proposal was mocked to death. Rightly so, perhaps, because it was a ploy smacking of desperation and, what's more, one designed to distract attention from troubling events and setbacks elsewhere.

Today, the more a party talks about American exceptionalism, the more one suspects it fears for the future. It reeks of fear -- not strength -- and like most such boastfulness seems designed to camouflage insecurity.

If Americans fear they're no longer as exceptional as they should be, that's at least in part a consequence of poor George W. Bush's failed presidency. Empires wither when they're overextended abroad and underresourced at home.

Despite all this, the United States does remain an extraordinary, even an exceptional country. It does not lack resources or will, and its relative decline vis-à-vis other powers is, in one sense, evidence of the American century's success. That is, American notions about the path to liberty and prosperity remain powerful, even inspirational ideas. And Americans are right to celebrate them. The American idea really is worth preserving and celebrating. But that doesn't mean it must be cheapened...Leadership is never as selfless as its leaders like to suppose it must be.

Britain long ago accepted relative decline as something inevitable. Bankrupted and exhausted by two world wars, Britannia reappraised its position. Yet today this small island of just 60 million people remains the world's sixth-largest economy and is still, in so many ways, an exceptional and extraordinary place.

Someday, some time still long in the future, the United States will tell a comparable story of its own. This too will be no disgrace. Sometimes it's enough to be good without having to strain to be exceptional.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mobilizing American Ingenuity To Strengthen National Security: A Challenge to the Public

Rose E. Gottemoeller serves as Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.

Our smaller, faster-paced world is changing the security landscape, and these changes will bring with them new challenges and evolutions in current threats. To respond to these changes, we must adapt instruments of statecraft to bring to bear the networks, technologies and human potential of our increasingly inter-dependent and interconnected world. In this spirit, on August 28, 2012, the Department of State launched the Innovation in Arms Control Challenge asking "How Can the Crowd Support Arms Control Transparency Efforts?"

Through this Challenge, we will collect new ideas about how innovation and technological advancement can affect the implementation of arms control, verification, and nonproliferation treaties and agreements. Can innovation bring about creative ways to prevent "loose nukes" from falling into the hands of terrorists? Can smart phone and tablet apps be created for the purpose of aiding on-site inspectors in verifying and monitoring treaty commitments? How can we use commonly available technologies in new and creative ways to support our arms control policy efforts?

Over the past three years, the Department of State has been reshaping our diplomatic agenda to meet old and new challenges by deploying one of America's great assets -- innovation. Inspired by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emphasis on harnessing new technologies and
21st century statecraft, we have been working to elevate American "civilian power" to advance our national security interests, making partners of the United States government and its citizens.

This Challenge is an experiment in that thinking. It seeks creative ideas from across the general public, from garage tinkerers and technologists; to gadget entrepreneurs and students, to support the U.S. arms control and nonproliferation agenda. Are there new ways that we can use existing data, such as Twitter streams, to generate information that will be useful to arms control and nonproliferation verification and monitoring? Are there ways that we can help our inspectors to do their jobs better, by having better tools available? Are there ways that governments and citizens can work together to ensure better monitoring and verification of treaties and agreements?

These are the types of questions that we are asking contestants to

The contest runs until October 26, 2012 and is open to all U.S. citizens or permanent residents. There is a guaranteed award of up to $10,000. To register please,
click here.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Much of what we know or believe about politics is flawed. Every one of us suffers from the same basic cognitive flaws, the same limits to knowledge and understanding.

And yet much of the public discourse concerning politics is characterized by those who are certain that they are correct — or that those who disagree with an opinion are not correct. This lack of epistemic modesty, or recognizing one’s fallibility, is one of the many features of our political culture that has gradually undermined our political system.

Public opinion polling suggests that Americans are ignorant and hold flawed impressions of various aspects of the political system, the economy, and the federal budget. For instance, Larry Bartels, a political scientist, argues that Americans don't know where deficits come from, while other surveys suggest that Americans don't know what is in the Constitution or the recent history of the U.S. economy.

This reality, that of general ignorance of underlying institutions, functions, and actions that amount to the substance of politics today...

This kind of thinking can be problematic in a democratic system where policy action is often determined, in one way or another, by public opinion. Also, one must consider that in order for policy action to be effective it must address problems as they are, not as we would like them to be.

Links between public opinion and political action suggest that a deterioration of political culture could be responsible for what many perceive as a general decline in our political system.

What must be stressed here is not merely the fact that Americans are ignorant or misinformed. The problems that we face are complex and the implications of policy action are often unintuitive and require extensive training and education to properly evaluate. Even today, basic elements of economics are unknown to economists, let alone the lay observer. Rather, the main issue is that we often implicitly deny our general ignorance, which results in the advancement of ideologies or philosophies that claim to have all of the answers.

As national politics becomes more partisan and the rhetoric more rigid and extreme, we must be more cognizant of our own fallibility and vigilant in our assessments of the underlying facts and methodologies. We can identify and embrace a passionate response to politics, but we must recognize such a response as incomplete when it comes to forming our views on issues and proper policy action. This might provide the common ground necessary to come to a consensus on how to address the issues facing our country. Or at least create an environment where we can once again make progress toward that goal.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Selling out within days, it’s easy to say that festivals such as Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Austin City Limits have acclimated themselves into the clutches of America’s mainstream culture. Once used to be about leaving the humdrum and ostentatious snobbery of life behind, is now (in some cases) becoming a business driven tycoon.

“I often make the point that people don’t go to festivals for the music, which is a secondary attraction,” said Casper Smith, editor of the Observer Music Monthly Magazine, to BBC. “They go because of the mass experience, the event itself.”

At these festivals, money can now buy things that would probably be deemed as hedonistic luxuries by the past festivalgoers of Woodstock. Coachella and Lollapalooza both offer hotel packages with Coachella also offering a safari tent with the same amenities of a hotel at a hefty price of $6,500. Bonnaroo also offers a Roll Like A Rockstar package that allows main stage VIP, airport transportation, onsite catering and more for nearly $4,000.

Not only that but festivals are still growing to appeal to a wider audience of musical backgrounds- electronic, rock, punk, hiphop...etc.- even if it means to abandon their roots and following.

Although tickets have remained relatively the same throughout the years ranging from 70-300, scalpers have increased, making it harder to actually procure a ticket. Scalpers often scoop up massive amounts of tickets and inflate the prices to outrageous rates that are nearly unaffordable. A $285 Electric Daisy Carnival ticket becomes $1,000 and $185 Austin City Limits ticket becomes $700.

With all this emphasis placed on the consumer and paying for extra expenses, it’s no longer a simple joy to go to a music festival but an intrinsic struggle.

And with festivals losing their certain endearing aura because of their sponsorship by corporate brands such as Hyundai and Heineken, the prestige of the festival is beginning to matter more.

“The reputation of a festival is more important to some people than the acts who are playing,” says Jarvis. This trend is bringing in new attendees that fake sentiment which can sometimes prevent genuine fans from attending.

Music festivals are changing and will continue to do so, but I just hope music festivals still maintain the promise of youth and relaxation in the years to come.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Armstrong's America

Most of the commentary about Neil Armstrong’s death on Saturday celebrated his being the first man on the moon, and rightly so. I’d like to remember him, however, for what he did right here on earth. His life and character embodied key virtues of our culture that made this country great, and can do so again — if we just believe in and embrace them the way Neil Armstrong did.

First, there were the traditional small-town virtues of the Ohio town where he was born in 1930 and raised. That was where his father followed the career that’s the butt of every late night comedian, as an accountant, and Neil became what every liberal activist now despises, an Eagle Scout. But small-town didn’t mean small horizons then any more than it does now. Neil’s greatest dream was to fly, and he earned his pilot’s license before he learned how to drive.

Then there was the United States Navy, where Neil trained as an aviator and flew 78 combat missions in the Korean War. He always said those missions were far more dangerous than anything he did as an astronaut or test pilot; they were certainly more important in terms of shaping his outlook on life. The Navy taught him the importance of friendship, but also the discipline to deal with the pain when those friends crash and die. Combat “builds a lot of character,” he once told an Australian interviewer. “It builds a lot of backbone.”

It certainly did. Later when he learned people were hawking his autographs for money, he stopped signing them. When he learned his barber had sold a snippet of his hair for $3,000, he threatened to sue unless the barber gave the money away to charity (the barber did).

Neil Armstrong knew there were more important things to life than being liked. Today, of course, we live surrounded by a media bubble that teaches the opposite. It’s the same bubble where character gets washed away with the semen stains on the Oval Office rug, that teaches our kids that what they feel is more important than what they know and says image always trumps reality.

But as an engineer, Neil Armstrong knew that reality can’t be Photoshopped or mouse-clicked away. It has to be confronted, and reason is our God-given tool for dealing with it. More than once as a test pilot and astronaut he had to make split-second decisions on which his life and the lives of others depended, as when he had to override the auto-pilot on the Apollo 11 lunar module before it dumped him and Buzz Aldrin in a field of boulders.

In those moments, asking “will this work?” becomes more important than, “How does it make me feel?” It’s a brand of Stoicism that’s out of favor today. Neil Armstrong wouldn’t have made a very good guest on Oprah. But it did make him the perfect person to travel to the moon with.

And Neil Armstrong was confident that someday, despite the end of NASA’s manned space flights, someone would “fly back up there and pick up that camera I left there.” Everyone who met him was always struck by the same thing, his humility. I think it was because he knew that he was no TV image Superhero. Behind all his amazing feats was something greater, an America that believed in character over celebrity, in accomplishment over image and solving problems instead of blaming someone else.

That was the America that made him who he was and put him on the moon. Today, in the age of the Kardashians and Desperate Housewives, many Americans despair of ever getting it back. But the truth is, it never went away. It’s still there, waiting. Like Neil’s camera, we just have to go pick it up where he left it.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

To celebrate National Toilet Paper Day, 75% of Americans have digested the choices and decided that toilet paper should be hung with the roll overhanging, not underhanging. In the first-ever nationwide survey conducted by NetPlenish, researchers who bent over forwards to get to the truth were surprised by the unanimity of the findings: the nation's toilet paper must hang at full mast. The results suggest that is profoundly un-American to allow your toilet paper to droop down toward the floor. Is it a symbol of defeat, of depression, of capitulation? Apparently not in Massachusetts. For reasons not readily accountable, this state is the one downcast renegade. It rolls under.

The survey discovered that women are even keener on the over-the-top position than are men.  Researchers discovered, though, that between the ages of 25-34, true Americans experience something of a movement in their bathroom habits. A mere 70% in this age range still roll their toilet paper over. The rest sink to unacceptable depths. However, by the time they are in their 60s, more than 82% of Americans know exactly how it hangs. 

NetPlenish is considering whether, on this National Toilet Paper Day, Congress might consider legislation that would make it, at the very least, a misdemeanor - punishable by community service restroom cleaning - to hang your toilet paper under the roll. The company feels sure that, in an era in which Congress seems unable to agree on anything, this is an issue upon which everyone can sit united. It is not the 1% that has nailed its colors to the mast, but the 75%.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The election of 2012 presents yet another battle in the great American culture war.  This one takes place on the Presidential campaign grounds.  It is in fact a battle of the centuries.  A contest between the America of the 19th century and that of the 20th. 

The 19th century was one of progress in economic and geographic terms:  Manifest Destiny, the conquering of the West and the growth of an industrial nation.  In the middle of the century a horrific Civil War ended the question of whether one nation or a few would be built out of the America that became free of its colonial parent in the 18th century.  And it ostensibly settled the question of whether all Americans would be free.  No longer a house divided against itself now one nation it would become a nation of the very rich and everyone else. 

The 20th century began with Theodore Roosevelt’s assertion of world leadership and his use of the bully pulpit of the Presidency to challenge the power of the control of the industrial magnates.  In 1912, only one hundred years ago, the American voters faced three progressive candidates.  Roosevelt may have been more progressive on social issues and Taft a bit more cautious on economic while the winner Woodrow Wilson ultimately adopted all the visionary planks of the Progressive platform - women’s suffrage, world organization for peace, restrictions on large corporations and government ownership of the railroads.  From 1932 to 1980 there developed in America a consensus, ratified in the election of 1964, that the federal government of this one nation would now pursue policies that would enable the vast majority of people to be in a well off and productive Middle Class.  There would still be the rich (only a few very rich) and of course the poor we would always have with us.  In 1965 believing that the society had coalesced around the progressive ideal the President declared war on poverty and determined to end the permanence of the lower class. 

Then came Newt Gingrich followed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and they began to fight for that old time religion - less government and more of everyone out for them self.  Now the Republican party and the ticket of Romney and Ryan personifies that 19th century view, using the rhetoric of the 18th century and the founding fathers they call for the return to a two class America: the rich (and by that I mean the very rich) and the poor - room for only a small middle class which will be mostly upper lower not lower upper.  Let those who can afford it receive education at secondary and college levels; let families take care of their own elderly so they have to choose between feeding their children or getting medicine for their parents.  On the international scene let America practice a weird combination of neo-isolationism which means we only get involved where Americans can make a dollar and a unilateralism that says we will lead other nations and if they don’t want to follow we go it alone.  We will replace the Rockefellers and the JP Morgans with the Koch brothers and the super rich Wall Street financiers.

Obama and Biden and the Democratic Party carry the banner of the 20th century and the Progressive polices that built the great middle class.  They herald the belief that government was instituted by the governed to secure the rights that yes came from nature and natures’ God.  They favor a society where higher education and quality health care are available to all; where men and women will be judged not by the color of their skin, nor the contents of their wallet or stock portfolio but by the nature of their character.  And, they see an America that will lead the democratic and freedom yearning nations of the world into a century of peace and respect for human rights.  Those human rights that include the right of women to make their own reproductive choices and for people of both genders to decide their personal lifestyle and find love and companionship without government imposed restrictions. 

So the culture war becomes the focus of the battle of the American centuries.  Will this country continue on the road of the progressive 20th century or veer in another direction as Bush-Cheney tired to shift us until we fell into the ditch of economic depression.  The Obama-Biden administration has lifted this country out of the ditch -- now Romney-Ryan would push most of us off a cliff.

This will likely not be the last battle of the war between the centuries.  On the political front it will be replayed in 2016 and perhaps even in 2020. 

At some point in the next decade there will arise in our country someone who can speak to the proponents of one century with credibility and and lead them into a consensus with the proponents of the other century. Whenever this nation has needed such a unifying leader one has emerged even if only for a brief time and like a good pilot set the course of the ship of state aright.

It may not happen in this election nor in the next few years.  But that it will happen I have no doubt.  It is as certain as that the sun rises that this nation will yet have its finest hour.   And, that will be when America leads the world into a future of multicultural toleration and global peace. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blowjobs: Why Can't Americans Be More Like the French?

"What is it about Americans and la pipe?" asked my Parisian friend Anne in between puffs of Marlboro. I stopped and looked at her, perplexed. La pipe is French slang for "fellatio."

"You're going to have to be a little more specific," I said.

Anne, who was born and raised in Paris, went on to ask why it is that so many young Americans don't consider oral sex to be "real" sex. "It's like a stop gap measure on the way to intercourse," she observed, "and people in America don't think it's intimate the way we do in France. But it's so intimate!

Anne, who observed this phenomenon during her study abroad at a large Midwestern university a few years ago, was right, of course. In American culture, we don't count oral sex as "real" sex.

Among young people in France, on the other hand, oral sex counts as real sex. While every individual is different –- and that applies in the US as much as in France -– the sense I get when I talk to French people about sex is that to them, oral sex and intercourse are by and large equal. "For us, it's really the same thing, which is to say, it's a sexual act of the same seriousness as penetration. Maybe even more intimate," says Johanna Luyssen, assistant editor of the French feminist magazine Causette. "When you go to bed with a guy for the first time, you don't necessarily give him a blow job. That can even often come later, after intercourse."

I'll be the first to say that in many respects, the French attitude to sex is far from perfect. But in this regard, I think Americans could benefit by taking a page out of the French book. If America could work toward a new sexual framework, a way of thinking about sex that doesn't treat intercourse as the be all and end all, we'd be a healthier, more equitable, and I dare say more sexually satisfied people.

For one thing, it all but ignores gay and lesbian sex. Under the current framework, it's impossible for a lesbian, no matter how many same-sex hook ups she has, to really truly lose her virginity. The same goes for gay men: if the only real way to have sex in America is to stick your penis in a vagina, then there are lots of very sexually active gay men out there who are still technically virgins. The privileging of heterosexuality, and of vaginal intercourse above all other kinds of sex, shuts them out and invalidates the sex that they have.

There's the public health argument. A new sexual framework, one in which oral sex "counts," would make it easier to prevent the spread of STIs in America.

However, when it comes to public health, the case for that new framework is complicated. Given the shoddy quality of sex education in this country, and the comparatively poor availability of contraception, the oral sex-real sex distinction might serve a purpose.

In other words, we're looking at a huge overhaul here. We're looking at a radical re-thinking of sex, not just a re-classification of the blow job. But I think the French have got this one right. Oral sex is real sex, and here in America it ought to be thought of as such. We need to do away with the idea that intercourse is the most superior form of sex, the "home run," the ultimate way to score. Done right, it's the kind of shift that could make America a healthier place. It would certainly make it a more equitable place. We already French kiss: why shouldn't the rest of our sex lives be à la française?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The lunchbox has been a key accessory for American schoolkids for more than 60 years, according to Peter Liebhold, a curator with the National Museum of American History. It's an American status symbol, too. "Today, if you travel to Target, Walmart or other back-to-school retailers, you will see kids and parents constructing their identity through lunchboxes (as well as clothes, backpacks and binders)," Liebhold noted in an e-mail.

The lunchbox as we know it can be traced back to 1935 when Geuder, Paeschke & Frey produced the first licensed character lunchbox with Mickey Mouse on it. But it wasn't until after World War II when the lunchbox entered its prime.

After the war, the economy, with a growing middle class, was robust, and consumers were willing to spend more money on all kinds of things, including lunchboxes. "Increasingly, identity in the postwar period was seen through consumed items so individuals were picky about what their lunchbox said about them," Liebhold said.

Fans interested in a larger collection may want to consider a road trip to the Lunchbox Museum in Columbus, Georgia. Museum owner Allen Woodall Jr. claims it's the largest collection of school lunchboxes in the world, with some 2,000 pieces on display.

"Lunchboxes have so much character. To me they are time capsules," he said. "They really bring back a lot of great memories to a lot of people."

Woodall said guests to the museum are usually drawn to boxes that represent the era when they were schoolkids. "Western-themed, sci-fi fantasy, Disney-themed, the Beatles and Kiss are popular lunchboxes, too," he said.

The classic metal lunchbox era came to an end with concerns (among parents and lawmakers) that pieces of metal could be used as weapons at schools, Woodall said. He said most collectors cite 1985's Sylvester Stallone "Rambo" model (which he has on display at his museum) as the last metal box made for children.
From that point on, box manufacturers switched from metal to softer plastic lunchboxes. "I think the newer boxes lack the character and workmanship than the older metal boxes," he said.

"There is definitely an American fascination with lunchboxes, and I'm glad to be a huge part of it."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Americans cannot go on being "stupid" as their freedoms evaporate under what has become a corporate dictatorship. If America was a "free" country:

There would be 20 contestants for president instead of the non-choice delivered through our 2 failed corporately controlled parties. Republicans and Democrats have only divided and mismanaged the nation through incompetence and corruption, and both need to be shown the door along with their childish gridlock. Decades of war, pollution and stagnation are their fruits. The lapdog media must open-up to fair coverage of third party candidates who have just as much right to the stage as these shameless losers.

Government agencies would not serve to protect and fund industries that dine on the profits of war, pollution and disease; they would be held accountable to strict independent oversight. We would repair our infrastructure and environment instead of seizing foreign resources or supporting racist Israel's expanding domination of the Mid-East under the Neo-Con agenda.

Religions would not be allowed to displace rational thought and precipitate the most immoral crimes against humanity. When dozens of "Gods" and innumerable self-appointed human messengers bring only strife, common sense takes a holiday. Social manipulation needs to be stripped of this tool.

We would not have a disease generating food supply, scientifically proven responsible for cancer, depression, diabetes, heart attacks, or a drug-care monopoly that expensively doesn't work.We would not have fluoride in our water, mercury in dental fillings and fish or pesticides coating our vegetables.

We would not have a genetically-modified grain-based ag system that centralizes and dominates the food supply with unhealthy feedlot animal products, processed sugary carbs and brain damaging vegetable oils. Farming would be planet friendly, diversified and make us food-secure rather than the current chemical/water hungry monoculture that is prone to fail.

We would have a press that delivered objective information, not random confusion. Some people actually believe TV marketing and subtle propaganda diffused throughout the media. In fact most Americans see through phony propaganda and are tired of being under the thumb of billionaires. They see no way to address the broken system or even express their disgust, evident by their refusal to vote or participate.

Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and other whistleblowers would receive ticker-tape parades and not be hunted like dogs by an embarrassed political elite. Secret deals by elected officials are oxymoronic. They have only hindered foreign relations and bear no relevance to national security. Secrecy and control of information are hallmarks of organized crime, not honesty or democracy. The disproportionate political reaction to truth-tellers is disturbing and betrays a high level lust for complete control of information.

I am saddened by the idealistic fresh faces arriving at the campus, innocently determined to "make a difference." They will soon be broken by the system or become irrelevant outsiders...all for wont of a clean mirror that truly reflects the crumbling hag America has become; all for wont of an objective media.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

As unemployment ravages the working class, our lower and higher education systems shudder in crisis, and murder decimates our forgotten urban poverty zones, Nike is rolling out its first $300+ sneaker. But mom, you don't understand—it's worth it.
The coming $315 LeBron X Nike Plus, due in the fall, is expected to come embedded with motion sensors that can measure how high players jump. The LeBron 9 PS Elite basketball shoes, which currently retail for $250, feature Nike's signature swoosh in metallic gold.
Hmm, gold. Sounds like a good investment. Nike is actually ordering stores to stop holding buzz-building midnight releases of their new shoes because we, the consumers, always line up and start riots and fight each other for the privilege of buying Nike's newest products.

We all deserve what we get.

Monday, August 20, 2012

At Odds With America

We have quite a story.  Quite a history.  Do you ever wonder how you are contributing to the history of the world?  I believe in a world of wonders, and I believe that all of our lives contribute to the world’s story one way or another.  Maybe it’s just naivety, but I like to think that my life makes a difference and that we truly can change the world for the better.  This doesn’t come from a lack of knowledge, experience, or insight.  I may be young, but I have seen a bit of mess and horror in the world.  I have seen poverty more closely than most of my neighbors, and I am humbled by it.  It plagues me and the land of luxury surrounding me. It is all too easy to sit in despair and judgment.  Knowledge of the world can be so real, so raw, you can hardly imagine beauty and goodness.  Reality is just that – real, tangible, experiential.  I want to experience the world in all its fullness. I am thankful for these raw and startling experiences of wretchedness. They keep me grounded, humbled, and simple.  But I am incredibly grateful for the interruptions of wonder, of being surprised by grace, and that hope makes its way into my spirit in some magical way.

I recently finished reading John Steinbeck’s account of travels across the country with his dog, Travels with Charley.  He embarks on an unusual journey of wandering intention, with an ambition to learn something about America and the nature of humanity, ultimately wondering, “What are Americans like today?”

I do not consider myself a patriot.  More often than not, I struggle with the elements of division, superiority, and blindness that have inundated America.  Most conversations surrounding politics or religion make me want to turn in my citizenship for all the misunderstanding, disrespect, and division.  I do not care to be grouped in that category of “American.”  You might think that the violence, oppression, and genocide we have witnessed around the world is reason to believe America is excluded from the “inhumane”...  

For the past few years, America and I have been at odds.  I have been trying to reconcile myself to her, much like Steinbeck.  Along the way, I have discovered hope, transformation, and humility.  I know that we’ve got a lot of work to do yet, but I also know that we’ve come a long way. Rather than gain pride, I am more humbled to be an American.  I have found a renewed sense of responsibility.  Rather than try to shrug off the smell of America when I am in another country, I am compelled to embrace who and what I am, sharing my resources, knowledge, and experience.

My question is, what kind of story are we living?  How do our lives factor in to the history of the world?  If someone like John Steinbeck were to travel across America with his dog now, what would he find Americans are like today?  Would he find that we’ve changed much in 50 years? I think it is the belief that we have changed that keeps me going. I believe that we have a responsibility to be the best possible representatives to the world of this little pocket of humanity.

These days I have more questions than answers.  

Perhaps if we consider ourselves ambassadors of peace, we might be able to share our dream with Rwanda, Sudan, Libya, and Haiti.  And if we come together with openness, in brotherhood, I believe they can teach us something great, too.  Let’s do away with the us and them.  We don’t need it. Because that’s not really us, and that’s probably not really them either.  When heaven crashes into earth and we all come around the table, I’m not so sure the passport, flag, or political position will matter so much.  I do not wish to sit at that table able to speak only of myself, nor do I wish to sit in shame.  I only hope that I already know my neighbors and that we have joy in being different, together.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Robert O. Blake, Jr.
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs
Tashkent, Uzbekistan
August 17, 2012

Uzbekistan has great potential for further economic development, including greater U.S. investment. The number of representatives of world-class American companies here today shows the high level of interest in doing business here in Uzbekistan. Many of these companies have long, prosperous commercial relationships with Uzbekistan.

In addition to investing in Uzbekistan, U.S. companies strive to be responsible members of the community. General Motors has set especially high standards with its environmental, social, and labor practices. Last year, GM Uzbekistan was a finalist for the Secretary of State’s Award for Corporate Excellence, ranking it among the best in the world in terms of corporate social responsibility.

Economic development of the entire Central Asia region is an important U.S. priority.

The U.S. strongly supports Uzbekistan’s efforts to promote reforms that will increase economic growth.

In my position as Assistant Secretary, I regularly meet with U.S. investors looking for opportunities in the region, and I hear a consistent message that Uzbekistan has great potential as an investment destination...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

OF ALL the organisations that serve America’s poor, few do more good work than the Catholic church: its schools and hospitals provide a lifeline for millions. Yet even taking these virtues into account, the finances of the Catholic church in America are an unholy mess. The sins involved in its book-keeping are not as vivid or grotesque as those on display in the various sexual-abuse cases that have cost the American church more than $3 billion so far; but the financial mismanagement and questionable  business practices would have seen widespread resignations at the top of any other public institution.

The sexual-abuse scandals of the past 20 years have brought shame to the church around the world. In America they have also brought financial strains.

The picture that emerges is not flattering. The church’s finances look poorly co-ordinated considering (or perhaps because of) their complexity. The management of money is often sloppy. And some parts of the church have indulged in ungainly financial contortions in some cases—it is alleged—both to divert funds away from uses intended by donors and to frustrate creditors with legitimate claims, including its own nuns and priests. The dioceses that have filed for bankruptcy may not be typical of the church as a whole. But given the overall lack of openness there is no way of knowing to what extent they are outliers.

Thousands of claims for damages following sexual-abuse cases, which typically cost the church over $1m per victim, according to lawyers involved, have led to a liquidity crisis. This seems to have encouraged a pre-existing trend towards replacing dollars from the faithful with publicly raised debt as a way of financing church business.

The church is the largest single charitable organisation in the country. Catholic Charities USA, its main charity, and its subsidiaries employ over 65,000 paid staff and serve over 10m people. These organisations distributed $4.7 billion to the poor in 2010, of which 62% came from local, state and federal government agencies.

The American church may account for as much as 60% of the global institution’s wealth.

Where that money comes from is hard to say (the church does not release numbers on this either). Some of it is from the offerings of the faithful. Anecdotal evidence suggests that America’s Catholics give about $10 per week on average. More comes from elite groups of large donors...

Some influential Catholics are keen to see better management and more openness and accountability. Leon Panetta, America’s defence secretary, called for outside oversight of church finances when he was a director of the National Leadership Roundtable on Church Management, a position he relinquished in 2009 to become director of the CIA. Faced with competition from other churches and disgrace from the behaviour of some of its priests, there has never been a more important time to listen to such calls, and to invite in the help and scrutiny that the church’s finances seem so clearly to need.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Americans are increasingly concerned about drought and other extreme weather conditions. And, according to a survey conducted for the nonprofit Civil Society Institute (CSI), two-thirds of Americans want the government to take action on weather extremes.

Conducted July 26-30, 2012, the CSI survey found 81 percent of Americans are concerned about “increased drought” and other extreme weather conditions. Three out of four Americans – including 61 percent of Republicans, 84 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Independents – believe that “with all the current concern about severe drought and the risk of water shortages, America needs to start focusing more on alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar, that require less water,” according to CSI.

 “We now understand all too well the harsh realities of the current drought and its relationship to changes in the climate from global warming,” said Civil Society Institute president Pam Solo in a press release issued Thursday. “America’s 'all of the above' non-solution for electricity generation is a dead-end path – one requiring vast amounts of water for coal-fired power plants, nuclear reactors and the fracking extraction of natural gas.”

Solo criticized Congress for not following up on a 2005 mandate that instructed the U.S. Department of Energy to produce a water/energy roadmap.

The survey, conducted for CSI by ORC International, found that two-thirds of Americans now believe that climate change is “real” or “appears to be happening.” Just six percent of respondents said climate change is “definitely not happening.”

Of those who said they believe climate change is real or appears to be happening, 73 percent have been influenced in their views by “recent extreme weather events in the united States – including drought, wildfires, high-wind storms, and other developments.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

How Not to Reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan -- or America

Some images remain like scars on my memory. One of the last things I saw in Iraq, where I spent a year with the Department of State helping squander some of the $44 billion American taxpayers put up to “reconstruct” that country, were horses living semi-wild among the muck and garbage of Baghdad. Those horses had once raced for Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein and seven years after their “liberation” by the American invasion of 2003, they were still wandering that unraveling, unreconstructed urban landscape looking, like many other Iraqis, for food.

I flew home that same day, a too-rapid change of worlds, to a country in which the schools of my hometown in Ohio could not afford to pay teachers a decent wage. Once great cities were rotting away as certainly as if they were in Iraq, where those horses were scrabbling to get by. To this day I’m left pondering these questions: Why has the United States spent so much money and time so disastrously trying to rebuild occupied nations abroad, while allowing its own infrastructure to crumble untended? Why do we even think of that as “policy”?

Why, in our zeal to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, we never considered spending a fraction as much to rebuild Detroit, New Orleans, or Cleveland (projects that, unlike Afghanistan and Iraq in their heyday, have never enjoyed widespread support)?

While, dollar-for-dollar, corruption and contractor greed account for almost all the money wasted, the idea that, deep down, we want the people we conquer to become mini-versions of us accounts for the rest of the drive and motivation. We want them to consume things as a lifestyle, shit in nice sewer systems, and send everyone to schools where, thanks to the new textbooks we’ve sponsored, they’ll learn more about... us.

From Washington’s point of view, there’s really no question here, no why at all. Who, after all, wouldn’t want to be us?

Of course, not spending “reconstruction” money at home makes perfect sense. Detroit, et al., already are us.

Here’s the bottom line: a nation spends its resources on what’s important to it. Failed reconstruction elsewhere turns out to be more important to us than successful reconstruction here at home. Such is the American way of empire.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Child ingratiated herself into the lives of the average American with her infectious enthusiasm and trademark simplicity

Today would have been the 100th birthday of Julia Child, an American icon who brought two of the most beloved items in the US, food and television, together.

In recognition of her contributions to American culture, today we celebrate one of the country's most endearing icons.

Child's culinary career began after she graduated from the prestigious Cordon Bleu culinary school in France, and made her name authoring the 752-page cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. This followed her stint as a spy with top-level security clearances, naturally.

She then she ingratiated herself with the everyday American on her show The French Chef, which premiered in 1963 and aired for a decade on National Education Television, the publicly-funded precursor to PBS.

On The French Chef, Child didn't use cutesy abbreviations or branding gimmicks, she simply offered straightforward cooking technique with a heavy dose of real world wisdom. The French Chef wasn't the glossy, over-edited cooking production of today, but a fun and lighthearted class in truly excellent cooking.

''We should enjoy food and have fun,'' Child said in 1990. ''It is one of the simplest and nicest pleasures in life.''

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why is America so afraid of single mothers?

According to a recent Pew Research Center Poll, 69% of Americans “disapprove” of single mothers, believing that women raising children outside of a traditional marriage are not only bad for the kids but for society at large.

I can’t say I’m surprised.  It’s something that is thrown at me, a single mother, quite often.

The assumption, time and time again, is that single mothers don’t make a living wage, that their children are neglected and struggling.  That single mothers are bad parents and a detriment to society at large.

So what is it that is so threatening about the idea of a single mother?  Why does it raise such ire?

Emma Johnson, a financial journalist, single Mom and founder of the new blog Wealthy Single Mommy, says that she thinks part of this idea comes from the fact we generally equate “single Mom” with “welfare Mom.”

It’s an easy thing to do.  But it’s a mistake.

“I see this as a very exciting time for women, moms and single moms to build careers and lives that are fulfilling and lucrative and that incorporate family life in a meaningful way,” she told me.  “But we never get that message. It’s always about struggle and failure and messed up kids.”  That was one of the reasons she decided to start her blog.  She is working hard to build a “wealthy” life for her family.  And she defines “wealthy” as something beyond just the financials–she wants her kids to feel happy, full, and, yes, rich in love, too.

I have to say, most of the other single Moms I know (who, for the record, are single for all kinds of different reasons) are working hard to do the same.  Successfully, too, I might add.

There is no “typical” mother, single or married.  We are all doing the best we can, regardless of our marital status, to raise happy, healthy kids.  Single mother does not equal “welfare mother,” any more than married mother equals “stay at home mother” or “mother without other issues that may impede her abilities to parent.”  And it’s high time we got rid of this stereotype.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In this edition of Fresh Android Apps, we showcase a new title from the U.S. Census Bureau that lays out our nation’s economy in the palm of your hand....

America’s Economy for Phone (Free)

While it’s tough for anybody to truly get their finger on the pulse of the U.S. Economy, now there is an Android app that combines multiple economic indicators (16 in total) from the United States Census Bureau. Among the areas covered are the unemployment rate, GDP and construction spending. The app, which is also available on Android tablets and will eventually come to iOS devices, sends out Push Notifications when important data is about to be released. Economic information is also easily shared on the go with friends and followers via standard social networks.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The United States will walk home from the 2012 London Games with 46 gold medals—more than any other nation. American athletes also won the most medals overall, nabbing 29 silvers and 29 bronzes to pile on to the country’s Olympic loot. It’s the fifth consecutive Games in which the U.S. was most successful in plundering the international trophy case. America grabbed the lead in the medals race over China on Saturday. “I like to hear ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’—a lot,” said U.S. Olympic Committee chairman Larry Probst as America strode closer to its total of 104 medals Saturday. The U.S. won 31 medals in swimming alone and 29 in track-and-field events. China finished next closest overall, with 87 medals and 38 golds.