Never run with the crowd. They're probably headed over a cliff.

February 2009 - Posts

Futbol Monograph #2

I recently learned an interesting piece of trivia. As everyone knows, only Americans call soccer, ‘soccer’. In other countries it is variously known as football, futbol, fusball, or other variants of foot + ball. It makes sense, since soccer is played with the foot using a ball and American ‘football’ uses neither a foot not a ball – since balls are round. So what does the rest of the world call American football? Actually, I really like their name for it. It is much more descriptive and in fact should be a name preferred by Americans. They call it Gridiron, after the lined-field upon which it is played. Now that is a name for American football! Hard hitting and painful. “Gridiron.” You can just hear the crunch. But even I agree that NGL doesn’t roll off the tongue quite like NFL.


But that isn’t really what I’m writing about today. My second monograph on futbol concerns organization. There are many reasons we love to play and to watch sports. The competition. The excitement. The thrill of not knowing what is going to happen next. It is no accident that sports are so often used as metaphors for rising above the miserable human condition. And of course, we watch because we can imagine ourselves out there being the hero and the superstar, and as children we got enough of a taste for some real empathy to kick in.


In gridiron, however, this imagination rarely rises above the level of a Walter Mitty daydream. Most people aren’t built for gridiron either physically or mentally and the leagues are structured so that only a very select few can run the gamut and emerge unscathed in the big leagues. Not only do genes play a part, but health at the right time, good coaching at the right time, a good team at the right time, and simply being in the right place at the right time, are key factors. Many talented athletes never achieve beyond high school or even club play due to the whims of fate.


Moreover, in gridiron, there is a set team structure. The NFL is at the top with it’s teams followed by college football with its conferences of set teams and then high schools with it’s winners and losers. From year to year this doesn’t change. The good teams vary some as do the bad but the teams are always the same. No matter how bad, the teams that make up the SEC or the Big Ten rarely change no matter how inept they may be. There are perennial favorites of course as well as doormats. How many cellar teams stay there year after miserable year, with no real motivation to improve. Some even learn to wear their annual failure to perform as a badge of honor, claiming academic excellence or commitment to ‘fair play’ whatever that means. Either way, no one wants to see another year of 2009s Detroit Lions. But – sigh – we probably will.


World Futbol is different, and far more exciting. Take the English football league system for example. The English Premier League (EPL) is at the top followed by a number of lesser leagues usually based out of various towns and cities all over England. The EPL has twenty teams. Several are almost always at the top. Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, and this year, Aston Villa are serious contenders – much as in gridiron. The other fifteen teams are distributed down to the last place team. But in the EPL the last place team can’t simply sit on its losses and wait until next year, because the bottom three teams are relegated into the next division down, the Championship League. And the top two teams from the Championship League move into the Premier League to compete with the big boys. The third team to move up is determined by a playoff which produces arguably the best games of the year.


Those relegated, on the other hand, receive huge blows to their prestige and wallet. Those that move up are showered with accolades and riches. This is true for each of the leagues, of which there are seven, each with several dozen teams. And beneath these are regional teams. Teams fighting to rise above relegation sometimes produce the most exciting games against top teams in their struggle to avoid the boot, as last week’s victory by last place Espanyol over first place Barcelona in the Spanish Premier Division reminded us.


The truly wonderful thing about these leagues is that it is possible for a local team, analogous to a YMCA team, to move all the way into the Premier League as long as it keeps winning. That is exactly what has happened with Hoffenheim in the German Bundesliga this year. Hoffenheim is a sleepy little German village with just a few thousand people but their team, which in the late nineties played little more than Sunday pickup games, is leading the Bundesliga over perennial favorite and financial giant, Bayern Munich. It took money, millions from the founder of the software giant SAP to get there, but the path exists nonetheless, for poor kids from villages in Bosnia who had no hope of college scholarships, to strive for a dream and attain it, as happened for Vedad Ibesivic, the leading goal scorer in Germany this year. Who incidentally, wound up in St. Louis as a refugee. How’s that for a winding path?


The flip side of this is that some formerly great teams, for whatever reason, fall out of the top leagues and tumble, sometimes for years, into cellars from which they never return. Leeds United comes to mind, a once great football power in England that has fallen on hard times and tumbled several divisions. Will we ever see them in the Premiership again? They’ll have to fight to get there.


It is fun to imagine what gridiron would be like if they adopted this system. Cellar teams in the SEC, Big Ten, Pac Ten, and other conferences would be tossed out and winners in lesser conferences would move up to take their place. The NFL could shed franchises not bent on excellence and pick up hungry, talented teams from feeder leagues. Detroit and other perennial dogs couldn’t simply stop trying but would be forced to fight for their lives. It would also greatly expand the sports economy, allowing semi-pro and arena teams to become part of something that actually matters. The same system could be even more easily applied to baseball and basketball, neither of which require expenses approaching that needed to field a viable football team. And the games played to avoid relegation would force struggling teams to rise to a new level. Winning a championship would come to mean far more than being handed an elaborate metal and stone icon that gathers dust on a shelf.


There are reasons that futbol is the world’s most popular sport. It is highly accessible – all that is needed is a ball of rags and a flat spot. It is fun, with basketball-like action that includes everyone on the team. Every position is a skill position, and the skills are fun to master and then use to crush the competition. Anyone can play. Basketball has been reserved for the very tall, football for the big and durable, baseball for those willing to take a lot of performance enhancing drugs. In futbol, almost any body type can be honed to a sharp edge. These are all factors, but I think one of the most important reasons that futbol is the world’s most popular sport is because it brings something so very American to the game. You can start at the bottom and work your way to the top – if that’s still possible in the land of the free.

Changing Perspectives: Conclusion

We tend to forget that government, politics, and economics are not the same thing. The word politics and the phrase political party don’t even occur in the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Nor is the word economy even implied in either of these documents. In fact, George Washington, the founder of our nation warned strongly against political parties and said little if anything about economics. Government are the structures by which a society is administered, how it’s laws are made, enforced, and adjudicated, and how officials are installed and removed from office. Politics is the way that groups of people leverage their numbers to wield authority and shape policy. And economics refers to a system by which goods and services are created, traded, and disseminated throughout a society. Naturally these structures are inter-related in how they are manifest and some are more tightly coupled than others but they are not equivalent to one another.


Capitalism is an economic structure based upon leveraging capital to increase its value. It is not related to either a representative form of government or the political parties which vie for control of a government. Nor is it directly related to the concepts of freedom and liberty. In an ideal system capital is invested in an enterprise with the result being an increase in value of that enterprise beyond the sum of the original value plus the investment. For instance, upgrading an assembly process might allow a manufacturer to produce more of a product at a higher quality than before so that more of the product can be sold. Profits rise and value increases. Its only relationship to freedom is the concept that the money belongs to the owners and investors so the profits belong to the owners and investors.


Free market capitalism is perhaps the simplest, most basic and pure economic system with its natural checks and balances based on supply and demand. That, however, doesn’t mean that it can exist under any set of conditions. Indeed, capitalism, like any other system, requires the right conditions to thrive and always walks a fine line between sliding into either feudalism on one side and fascism on the other. As soon as business owners and investors begin to view themselves as isolated systems there is a danger that feudalism will arise. On the other hand, when a free-market capitalist economy stumbles, the first response is often protectionism and government bailouts which can quickly lead to fascism. Either way the result is the same, a rapidly shrinking middle class and the disappearance of avenues from the lower to the upper class.


For market capitalism to thrive there must first be capital, resources, and a market. If there is no money, nothing to invest in, and no consumers there is no value. But these basic conditions are not the whole story. Simply investing capital and reaping rewards is no different than Pharaoh’s use of corvee labor or southern plantation owners prior to the Civil War. That was capitalism, too, but here in the West we generally consider it a bad form of capitalism because over thousands of years great men and women realized, and often died, for the idea that humans should be treated better than animals. And that is backed up in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Declaration of Independence, and the writings of the founding fathers. What they realized is that there is a form of capitalism that can benefit everyone. A limited form of capitalism that lets the benefits of technology and the struggles of man to be shared by all who are willing to participate.


So how is this capitalism different than pure capitalism? Most importantly it recognizes that business concerns are not isolated systems but are part of a larger community. Not the community of businesses, but the community of employees, citizens, and states. After all, without employees, consumers, and a stable government, any kind of enterprise becomes extremely risky. When a rising tide lifts all boats those without boats drown. Community-based capitalism means that those with the largest boats throw life rings to those without. It is of course the job of the swimmers to grab take the life ring, but without this act, capitalism becomes feudalism. When the acquisition of personal wealth (aka, greed) becomes the principle occupation of a business owner or a group of investors, flowing success down to the masses is the first thing to be cut, people start drowning, and the system fails. And in the end, leaving government to throw the life lines only makes things worse.


Community-based capitalism also requires the people engaging in business transactions to follow a basic code of ethics and honesty. Investing is founded on agreements. When agreements cease to be honored in both word and spirit, mistrust and animosity are the natural result. When an investment is made a product is the natural expectation, whether that product is a good, a service, or even some kind of financial instrument. When no product is received, and no product was ever planned on the part of the business owner, or the product was so risky as to have been misrepresented, the system fails. When this happens investors become cautious and owners become protectionist. While those at the bottom of the system feel this failure most immediately, it nevertheless affects everyone and the economy stops growing.


There are other conditions necessary for capitalism to thrive but arguably none is more important than the concept of reward. It is deeply ingrained in our psyche that hard work and honest ambition should be met with increasing success; the rising tide. While this can’t be guaranteed, a boat with a hole in it is no good at all. Most people start with little or nothing. The only way they can move forward is through help from others, whether that help is direct investment or simply being given a chance. This isn’t charity to the poor. This is recognition of talent and ambition and a helping hand to realize potentials. New blood is the life blood of any enterprise. That is why America has stayed so innovative, the constant arrival of literal, new blood. It is just as true in business. True innovation almost always comes from the outside, because attacking problems in a unique way almost always comes from a different kind of thinking. Not everyone is ambitious and innovative, and most people realize when they aren’t, but for those who are, they must receive the help they need to succeed or they will simply stop trying at some point and a key driver of community-based capitalism is lost.


We’re a capitalist nation but we tried to be different. And for a long time we were. I’m not so foolish or idealistic as to believe that prior to 1950 American business was kind, charitable, and generous. However it is incontestable that the spirit of community that once pervaded this land is gone, or is only a faint glimmer of what it was. When someone starts an enterprise it is always hoped that riches will be the result, and this is natural, but should riches be the only desire? The idea of building something of lasting value that also serves the larger community seems to be gone to have been replaced by building a business as fast as possible, selling it for as much as possible, and moving to the beach. Not only does this mindset ignore the hard work of the employees who also built the business, the government that kept the economy stable while the business was growing, but  most importantly it minimizes the many relationships formed over years of hard work – which often have no relationship to the business itself. Because when you move to the beach your friends don’t usually move with you, though they probably helped you along the way if only for emotional support. Undoubtedly the high divorce rate in America stems from this same phenomenon; if a relationship isn't profitable, it is cast aside with no more thought than a book that failed to deliver as hoped. And since this has been the plan all along - acquire, cash in, unplug - what does it say about the value of relationship and community? When greed is the only metric, money is the only thing that matters, and that is a very good way to describe relationships in modern America; money is the only thing that matters.


When money is the only thing that matters, honesty and ethics are nothing but inconvenient liabilities. As long as things are done legally – which generally means that the contract was written by a very slick lawyer – a business owner can retire with a ‘clean’ conscience. No matter that the financial system of the entire nation has been destroyed and countless boats have been torpedoed, no matter that untold resources have been sucked from a community, the beach house, college for kids, and vacations are secure. The elimination of greed and dishonesty as vices, and the elevation of them to a twisted virtue, has done more damage to this nation than any other single thing. Whether it is toxic mortgage assets, cashing out and pulling out, or driving the automotive market with unsustainable products, greed and dishonesty have crippled this nation. The only thing more damaging is that those responsible have been allowed to keep their winnings only making them, and their practices, all the more enviable.


So why should I, or anyone else who is ambitious and innovative, work hard for a reward? There was a time when nepotism was looked down upon. It happens sure, and it’s only natural to want to leave something for the family. But when that legacy eliminates the just-as-natural cycle of hard work and reward, innovation will pay the price. But cashing in and pulling out can’t happen as fast when there are other boats in the picture. Far easier to make the anchor chain of others so short that their boats flood and sink. After all it is very easy to say that, “Success isn’t a guarantee,” and wash one’s hands of the matter. And this problem is only exacerbated by those who’ve enjoyed their success through dishonesty or cronyism. Those who’ve cheated are not generally disposed to helping others, and those who’ve been granted their lordship have no empathy for those still struggling. In fact, they usually feel they’ve lifted themselves by their own bootstraps and advise others to do the same.


Dwindling access to resources. Wealth hoarding. Lack of community. Dishonest and unethical behavior. More work for ever less or no reward. The failure to punish those responsible for fraud and waste. Toxic politics. Corrupt government. Public money used to sustain the dying enterprises of swindlers. Nepotism and cronyism. Hedonism. Materialism. Selfishness. Paranoia. Relationship abandonment. The conclusion is only too obvious. The conditions for healthy capitalism no longer exist in America.

Changing Perspectives, Part 3

I went to grade school back in the seventies which means I’m really old, if not ancient. It also means I went through the horror of the disco era and lived to tell about it. But it also means that I was exposed to something we don’t talk about today. When I was in school they talked a lot about LSD, or as it is more commonly called, Labor Saving Devices. You know, machines that free man from his backbreaking toil.


I clearly recall being told over a period extending from early grade school up through middle school, that in coming years, LSDs would free us from much of the labor we are forced to do, giving us more time for recreation, family, etc. And amazingly enough, some of those LSDs came to be. Computers in particular, in all their many applications, save millions of man years. And even now, we are inventing new ways to automate and make processes more efficient. But somewhere along the way the part about recreation and family got left out.


Work as a rocket scientist requires a lot of math. I can scarcely imagine how Werner von Braun and his team of scientists were able to invent and design the inertial, feedback control system for the V-2 using only slide-rules and graph paper. It took a lot of guys a lot of tries to get that V-2 off the ground and hitting English cities. Today, I have a computer on my desk that is more powerful than the entire computing capacity of planet Earth around 1980. So does every other engineer in my company. And in every company in my rocket science town. Using applications designed for such work I can not only design the feedback control system for a missile, but also the navigation and guidance systems, and simulate the dynamics of the missile, and fly the entire system on my computer before I cut the first scrap of metal.


The labor saving factor of today’s machines is enormous. But almost every one of us still has to work eight hours a day, five days a week. And I’m probably one of the lucky ones. So while tasks that used to take several people several weeks, now take a single man mere hours. Unfortunately, all it has translated in to is doing more work in the same amount of time. Since productivity is increased, more output is expected, and since the only measure of performance is output, and people tend to think in relative terms, pressure on the modern worker has never been higher. So in effect, the labor saving devices, invented by engineers and scientists and assembled by blue collar workers, actually make the quality of life for these people lower.


Now the flip side of this argument: Because the employer now has a higher rate of productivity, and a resulting higher profit, he is able to leverage his increased wealth into… less labor for himself. Again, while I am in no way against the principle of profit or reward for hard, focused, intelligent work, it seems that there is a competing factor at work here. A rising tide may lift all boats, but it is only going to lift the boats that float. And some people don’t have boats. What happens to them when the tide comes in? And seemingly, the proportion of leaky boats and swimmers is growing. The question is, why?


 I heard an interesting report on the radio yesterday. It was from an interview in Myanmar, better known as Burma, but we can’t say Burma anymore, or Rangoon, the capitol – it’s Yangon or something like that. The military junta that runs the country doesn’t like it when we say Burma, so we go along with them and don’t. Regardless, the journalist was talking to an out of work laborer who recounted how Burma, I mean Myanmar, was once the bread basket of South Asia. But through greed and mismanagement it’s economy had been destroyed, unemployment was up, and there was now a shortage of food.


There was a time, not that long ago, when I wouldn’t have understood how greed and mismanagement could destroy an economy. But I learn by example. It is greed and mismanagement that have destroyed our economy. Greed by investment bankers, fund managers, and market speculators that have seriously wounded our financial system. Mismanagement by government legislators and officials with politically motivated, knee-jerk reactions to problems that can’t be cured by an application of dollars.


The middle class is a fragile thing. It is fragile because it doesn’t really exist. There are in reality only two economic classes of people. Rich and poor. Those who have an excess of wealth which provides them with choices and expendable time, and those who don’t enjoy this surplus and must work to eat. The middle class is an illusion maintained by a stable economic system that delivers goods and services through the participation of highly skilled workers. Because their services are valuable and their numbers relatively few, these highly skilled professionals receive salaries that are far in excess of those commanded by unskilled laborers. However, in most cases, these salaries are not high enough to result in an actual, long-term surplus. Especially since the middle class can enjoy the same privileged lifestyle of the rich through credit-funded homes, luxury items, and vacations. And people love to be comfortable.


Unfortunately, it is a lifestyle that can only be maintained through a constant inflow of cash, usually in the form of a salary. As soon as this inflow stops, it is only a matter of time before the lifestyle is forced to change as well. When an economy contracts, the middle class contracts with it, cutting off access to the skills and talents of the people no longer working. The ripple effect puts more and more people out of work until what was once a thriving middle class is a thrifty working class laboring at the whims of oligarchs. This is the reality in most of the world.


In the past, one of the most significant differences between America and ‘everyone else’ was a bridge from poor to rich. This pathway has always existed in every country at any time in history for those ruthless enough to walk it. But only in America was it so readily available to the common man who was willing just to work hard and make good choices. Certainly luck has always been part of the equation, but with repeated attempts those so inclined could make the passage.


I fear this is no longer true. Or at least, the path is longer, narrower, and more fragile. What made this path so accessible was the spirit of fairness that permeated the American psyche since our birth in 1776. I’m not naïve enough to assume that business in America has always been fair, or that all businessmen were honest, but there was a pervasive sense of honesty throughout the citizenry derived from our shared, Judeo-Christian heritage that kept a significant percentage of people at least ‘more honest’ than they would have been otherwise. A man’s word was once his bond, and a deal settled on a handshake meant something. Whether you believe our nation was founded on Christian values or not, it can not be debated that ethics and morality as regards honesty in business have eroded greatly.


Most distressing perhaps is the almost complete abdication of ethics by the various religious bodies that claim to represent God’s will. The only difference between Christians and non-Christians in modern society is two hours a week spent sitting in a pew. And since the majority of Americans still claim a religious affiliation, this means the majority of Americans have no real moral or ethical anchor. By and large the churches are run by the same businessmen who have driven the economy into the ground. And since they are motivated more by a desire to be in a leadership role at the head of a large group, than as a servant to a body of sinners, it is questionable exactly what is being taught in their sanctuaries.


I will bring this short series of essays to a close tomorrow, drawing together the various ideas in these three essays: The fall of Easter Island, the desire to be comfortable, and the topics discussed herein. The conclusion I reach is not shocking but is perhaps inevitable, and very much at odds with my own sensibilities. But for too long I have been a lemming and simply run with the crowd. Time to stop, even if it means getting trampled.


Next: Changing Perspectives, Conclusion


-Futbol Guru,

Changing Perspectives, Part 2

The defense budget of the United States is the largest on the planet. Our nation pours massive resources into improving, modernizing, and keeping our fighting forces the best trained and best equipped in the world. While it is foolish to assume that we should win every battle because of this, or that every piece of equipment is without parallel among our allies, rivals and adversaries, our record over the past few wars is nonetheless quite impressive. And even though several thousand American uniformed men and women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and each death is a priceless blow, our death ratio remains ridiculously low compared to earlier conflicts, or the conflicts fought by other nations.


While this is partly due to incredibly well-trained and led soldiers, it is also due to the amazing weapons we have given to our armed forces. We can launch a missile and know it will destroy its target. We know when the enemy is coming long before we see him. We can see in the dark. We can strike anywhere in the world quickly and with deadly force. A single bomb dropped from an attack aircraft can destroy its exact target with near 100% accuracy, performing the job of an entire squadron of B-17s.


The videos of our weaponry have jaded us to this unheard of performance and we’ve come to take it for granted. But there is a very good reason the United States has poured money into technology since World War II. Never again did we want to suffer another Pearl Harbor. Never again did we want a repeat of Iwo Jima, or Tarawa, or the Philippine disaster, or Normandy. For Americans, the toll in human lives was simply too high to repeat.


Shift gears.


The pyramids are still standing after 4,000 years, a testament to the men who built them. At that time, life in Egypt was better than anywhere on Earth. The planet was still an incredibly brutal place and trying to think about what it was like forces the removal of so many societal and cultural norms that it is nearly impossible to get an accurate picture. Even in Egypt it was horrendous by modern standards. Pharaoh was in control and his word was the utterance of god. The people who built the pyramids, while not slaves, weren’t much better. Corvee labor it is called; labor provided by subjects in return for ‘bread’. They had no choice in the matter. There were no rights for the people. They labored in faceless anonymity and passed from this world having had no opportunity or chance to improve their lives.


For thousands of years corvee labor was the standard mode of operation throughout the world. Even today it remains in practice in some third-world nations. Bread for labor. It is difficult to imagine life under such a system, especially without the miraculous technological advances we so often take for granted. But where did all that wonderful technology come from? And why?


These seem like simple questions but it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be asked, or that they shouldn’t be answered. These advances came from a desire on the part of humanity to rise above the horrors of life. Horrors which modern western countries have effectively forgotten. To today’s children, and even to me, a middle-aged male, life prior to the industrial revolution, and the medical revolution, and the information revolution is hardly imaginable. Just the other day my son found an old portable television set amongst my junk. He plugged it in and to his astonishment, found that it could pull signals right out of the air! And he’s 13 years-old. What would I do if he became ill and there was no doctor? No antibiotics?


Man has struggled for thousands of years to improve his condition. The wealth of knowledge and sheer volume of discovery necessary to support our world is simply staggering. And every bit of it formed as an idea inside of a brain, transmitted to other brains through inventions such as language, writing, and the book, and allowed to grow further – even beyond the life of the originator. Thoughts transferred over space and time. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, art, commerce, business, finance, economics, medicine, manufacturing, culture, politics, society, philosophy, all culled from the ether at enormous cost and sacrifice, and very often under direct opposition of ignorant rulers. Government itself, and the very notions of freedom and liberty are inventions of man. They are ideas that took thousands of years to develop and integrate into the lives of the teeming masses. Freedom and liberty are, every bit as much as computers and automobiles, technology.


Life means pain. Man wants to improve his lot in life. To have less pain. Ultimately perhaps, to eliminate death itself – which may or may not be a good idea and is outside the scope of this discussion. Regardless, to that end great scientists and engineers have labored for years to provide better weapons to reduce the human toll of war. In a more general sense, man as a species, in every region on Earth, from every race, male and female, has labored to improve his lot, one little bit at a time. One bit adding to another from a myriad of disparate sources until we arrive at what we have today. A universe in which I can distribute my thoughts to the world in the fashion that you are reading at this very moment. Man’s oldest and best invention – the written word – distributed to the entire world at the click of an icon displayed on a screen.


How far we seem to have come!


Next: Part III

-Futbol Guru,

Changing Perspectives, Part 1

There’s an island deep in the Pacific Ocean. A tiny place that captures the imagination with iconic stone statues that line the shore. I’m talking about Easter Island, of course, the most isolated yet still comfortably habitable sixty-four square miles on Earth. Without long-range sea and air travel its isolation from the outside world is nearly complete.


Easter Island was once covered with lush temperate forest. Many tree species grew there along with a multitude of grasses, flowering plants, and other flora. Land animals were limited to birds, some of which were flightless since there were no predators. There were no mammals but abundant insects and as one would expect, a wealth of creatures in the waters offshore.


Humans showed up on Rapa Nui – their name for the island – around four or five hundred years after the birth of Christ. They found a paradise. Food was plentiful in the form of birds, fish, and plants, and the Easter Island Palm would have provided sap that was basically maple syrup. Building materials were in ample supply, space for farming was not limited, and the population of the island exploded.


But it wasn’t long before they had cut down most of the trees, which for some reason they used primarily to transport and erect heads carved from stone. No, extraterrestrials weren’t involved. The quarry where the heads were cut is well known and methods for moving, shaping, and erecting the enormous edifices using only indigenous materials and technology have been reconstructed. In fact, it seems that the most active period of statue erection was when the last of the trees were being felled. Instead of using their resources to improve they situation, they squandered them in an attempt to pacify cultural appetites.


No doubt, around this time, the people realized that they had eliminated their source of materials for boats and rope and hadn’t bothered to replace them. Fish, which had always been a primary source of protein for the islanders, could no longer be sought offshore so were replaced by chickens and humans. Cannibalism became widespread and autocratic religious cults sprang up and made war on one another. By the time Europeans arrived, the paradise the inhabitants’ ancestors had discovered had been transformed into a hellish nightmare, a fact seen in the description of the islanders by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeven, who named the island for the day of its discovery in 1722.


“We originally, from a further distance, had considered the said Easter Island as sandy; the reason for that is this, that we counted as sand the withered grass, hay, or other scorched and burnt vegetation, because its wasted appearance could give no other impression than of a singular poverty and barrenness.”


But European attention did not improve the downward spiraling plight of the Easter Islanders. Many of the inhabitants were kidnapped and taken to South America where they were sold as slaves. Ultimately the island was claimed by Chile who turned it into a sheep farm and sequestered the remaining population into a tiny area around the only serviceable harbor on the northwest coast. There they lived in disease-infested poverty, exploited and mistreated by their Chilean overlords.


Conditions are better now, thanks to the efforts of missionaries after World War II who brought the plight of the Easter Islanders to the world’s attention. There are still several thousand inhabitants and steps have been made to restore a more balanced ecosystem. The original plant and animal species are long extinct but related species from other Polynesian islands are being use to plant new forests.


Easter Island is perhaps the most striking, human-induced ecological disaster in the history of our species. Stating this is nothing new and the lessons should not be ignored.  However, the obvious environmental theme is not the reason for this essay. Comparing Easter Island’s fall to our own teetering biosphere doesn’t require insightful analysis. I’m driving at something deeper and more elusive. Something which many of us, especially Americans, take as axiomatic, and perhaps once was, but just might not be true anymore.


Next: Part II.

-Futbol Guru,

To be, or not to be... In Touch With Reality

One of the selling points of Mr. Obama as leader of the ‘free’ world was that he was/is in touch with reality. By this, of course, it is meant that his struggles have been similar to ours so he shares our values, ideals, and sensibilities. Naturally we assume this about him because he did not grow up the privileged son of a wealthy, decorated, World War II pilot. Or the son of an Admiral. He wasn’t a movie-star. He hadn’t been in elected office his entire professional life. The spoon in President Obama’s mouth was not silver but more like the spoons in our own humble mouths; stainless steel or plastic.


But is this assumption valid? For one thing there are many examples of people who came from humble beginnings only to have their world view twisted into something very different from that held by the common man. The easiest example of course has to be Bill Gates. He rose from nothing to become the wealthiest man in the world, and while his philanthropic efforts are laudable, a cursory look at his lifestyle leaves little doubt that he shares few sensibilities with you or I. Another excellent example is nearly every actor in Hollywood. The majority came from humble beginnings but it is far more difficult to find those with feet on the ground than their colleagues who’ve left planet Earth. Of course there are also examples of people who rise far above their origins yet retain their pragmatic view of life. Sam Walton comes to mind, who throughout his life continued to dress as he always had, drove pickup trucks, and visited his stores incognito. Doubtless he enjoyed his wealth and deservedly so, but those how knew him well always maintained that he was respectful and understanding of the average citizen. We all know examples from each group. We hold those in the former in disdain, and those in the latter in high regard.


Now back to Mr. Obama. It was difficult not to be swayed by the notion that his humble beginnings, which were played at length during the campaign, provided him with a world view consistent with prudence, frugality, and pragmatism. In other words, he wasn’t going to be irresponsible and wasteful and would try to reign in those who were. But I’m beginning to wonder if I may have missed the mark, or even been lied to. While Mr. Obama talked a lot about being in touch with reality, his actions since taking office speak a very different language. Most notably his decision to limit the bonuses paid to executives of failing banks.


Mr. Obama has proposed to limit the bonuses paid to executives of failing banks to $500,000. A half-million dollars. Let’s get this straight. These executives work for FAILING BANKS. They drove their business into the ground through greed and took your money with them. It got so bad in fact that they came to the government and begged – BEGGED – for more money. Your money. And for that we’re going to limit their bonus to $500,000? So last year the executive got $1,200,000 and $500,000 is a punishment? And Mr. Obama claims to be in touch with reality? What reality does he claim to be in touch with, because that decision doesn’t exist in my world view.


A half-million dollars. $500,000. How many of us could eliminate our lifetime debt, have money left over for college for our kids, and still knock ten years off our retirement age with $500,000? I’m talking mortgage, cars, credit, everything, wiped clean, and still not have to work for two or three years. Money is time. How much of your life is $500,000 worth. And that’s what he’s limiting as bonuses to failed executives? On top of their base, six-figure pay?


Perhaps it is just because $500,000 is so much less than $750,000,000,000 that he thought it would be okay. Or that it wouldn’t matter. Or that we wouldn’t notice. But this isn’t a matter of degree. The Nazis murdered 6,000,000 Jews during World War II. Does that mean we’re not supposed to prosecute people who only murder one person? What these executives deserve is to be fired, like would happen to you or I if we failed even far less spectacularly. What they should do, if they had a shred of honor and decency, is volunteer to work for free until the problem they created is fixed. Then maybe they can start drawing an hourly wage like the rest of us. But for some reason they, and our politicians, think they are entitled to a standard of living far above our own. And the most amazing thing about it all is that they’re using our money to get it! When they say this, what they really mean is, our lives aren’t important when it come to their standard of living. Feudalism.


In touch with reality. I think he needs a reality check.


-Futbol Guru,


The Return of Feudalism

They say things come to you in the shower. That doesn’t usually happen with me. More often, during the act of climbing into bed. Then I have to get up and write the idea down, for experience has taught me if I don’t write it down, no matter how Earth-shattering the thought, it will be gone the next morning. But this morning while I was shaving a light bulb went off.


There used to be something called a ‘Retirement Plan.’ You’d go to work for a company and they would begin a retirement plan. Basically they’d put a little money aside each month and when you were old and gray, they’d start siphoning it back to you. It would come agonizingly slow but at least it was there. Sort of like serfdom in the old Feudal systems of Europe. In exchange for work, the Lord provides care and protection.


But retirement plans became expensive. And people clamored about not having any personal control over ‘their’ money. Companies took the opportunity to eliminate the costly retirement plans in favor of giving executives larger bonuses. But our government, always looking out for the little guy, said there had to be something for the workers. (They must have known even then that Social Security wasn’t going to be there.) So they came up with the 401K. You have the option to place a portion of your income, pre-tax, into an investment vehicle over which you have ‘control.’ Some companies even put money in there for you. How nice. It can then grow with the market. Sounds good on paper. Or does it?


Think about what’s actually going on here. The portion of 401K provided by your employer isn’t a gift. It is money that could have just as well come to you in the form of compensation. Sort of like FICA which the government takes for your retirement plan. You pay 7.5% and your employer picks up the other 7.5%. Of course they don’t ‘pick it up.’ They pull it out of funds you earned for a total of 15%. So 15% of your income goes to FICA retirement. Then your company, or you, puts some money into your 401K, in my case 15% for your, uh, retirement. That’s 30% of my income for retirement. Keep in mind that all this cash is flowing monthly into the stock market, continuously, like a river. Even now.


I can’t get to any of this - my - money right now. The Social Security System has no ‘fund’ so there’s nothing there to get. And my 401K isn’t available until I’m too old to use it. I can take it out but I pay a huge penalty, close to half. So it isn’t available to use in my productive life for things like, starting a business, paying for college, or stimulating the economy. So while you can’t use your money to grow your life, there are others who can use your money to grow their lives. This may seem like swindling, but this system was set up by laws.


Yes, you heard me right. While your income isn’t available to you, it is made available to other private citizens in a process protected by U.S. law. Consider the following argument.


Keeping your 401K in a ‘safe’ money market account produces virtually no growth so isn’t a viable retirement plan. So you move it into mutual funds. Mutual funds then make the money available to companies to use as investment capital through the purchase of stocks. These mutual funds are administered by investment banks and other institutions which, as we have all seen, almost without exception, pay their executives ridiculously huge bonuses even though they lost all the money you had been forced to put aside for retirement. So while the money your earned can’t do you any good, it supports a lavish lifestyle for others.


That’s bad enough, but there’s an even more chilling revelation hidden in this web of deceit. One of the strongest arguments against socialism is always the exorbitantly high taxes needed to pay for social services. On the order of forty to fifty percent in some countries. But we’re already paying upwards of 30% for retirement alone! Add income tax and that jumps to 45%. Health care comes out of our checks too, which easily pushes the rate to 50%. State and local taxes drive it north of 60%. In California it’s more like 70%.


Friends, we’re socialist already. But it gets worse. Far worse, because for most of us, there are no social services to be had! The hallmark of the socialist state – the safety net – is missing. While other socialist countries provide retirement and health care – even if it isn’t the best – the middle class in this country has neither. Social Security is insolvent and our 401K’s are worthless. Health care is only available while you’re working. So while we’re socialist, we’re not. We have the high taxes, but not the services. Where did the money go? I hear some Wall Street execs took home in excess of 2 billion dollars in compensation last year.


In fact, we’ve come full circle. We’re back to feudalism. Bad feudalism. In a good feudal relationship, the Lord expected work but provided protection. As long as he wasn’t a cruel, greedy bastard, the system worked surprisingly well. When he was a cruel, greedy bastard the Lord rolled in lavish excess, stopped providing protection, yet demanded the serfs continue to work. The serfs starved and complained but the Lords had lost the fundamental human element of compassion so simply shut the gates on their castles.


The question is, what are we going to do about it? America isn’t feudal Europe. In feudal Europe the people had no rights and the wealthy class had no accountability. We still have rights and there is still accountability. For now. But for how much longer? Those in power have already shown their disdain for good government and good business in favor of hoarding wealth and land. They passed laws which made your money available to them and not to you. They know they have swindled us and that we’ve done nothing about it. When people behave badly without consequence they grow only more bold. Why should they not feel that they are fundamentally entitled just because the masses are still restrained by the concepts of law and ethics? Concepts which they have found to be inconvenient or never had in the first place. Will they win in their latest ruse to increase their fortunes by asking us to buy things we don’t need, made in a country not ours, to ‘jumpstart’ the economy and get money they don’t need flowing back into their coffers?


I’m not a fan of socialism, but it is better than what we have now. And unless we the people take back not only our government, but our economy, we’ll wind up with even less. What is that going to take? There are those who say that the Tree of Liberty requires blood and sometimes they are right. But it hasn’t gone that far yet. Not even close. And in fact, the solution is much simpler, won’t cost a thing, and would actually save us money.


All that in between lifting the razor to my face and pulling it down my cheek. I guess you can have a thought in the shower.

-Futbol Guru,

Why Liberals Fail

Let it never be said that the FutbolGuru is one-sided. Lemmings are one sided which is why they run off cliffs. Or rather, why it is so easy to get them to run off cliffs. What if one of those lemmings in White Wilderness had simply stopped to smell the cameras? Not only would it have been spared the plunge, it wound probably have become a pet of the director and lived to a ripe old age. Not bad for a lemming.


Conservatives fail. But I never said they always fail. And I didn’t disparage their ideas. Conservatives are the idea people for the very reason that they are not the best leaders – because they are highly rational. Which is not to say that there aren’t conservatives who aren’t fantastic leaders, too. Ronald Reagan for instance. Agree or disagree with his politics it can’t be denied that he inspired the masses and got himself elected twice with more than a few Democrat votes. Take a rational thinker and endow him with leadership capability and you have the makings of greatness. It’s like in engineering, a guy who not only understands theory and design, but who also knows how to program the chips, is an indispensable rarity.


Liberals fail, too. And fail spectacularly. But the reasons they fail are wholly different than why conservatives fail. However, like conservatives, who fail because of their strength in one area, liberals, too, fail because of their strength.


I’m reminded of the Alamo, and who knows how many other hopeless battles stretched across the sands of time. The men in the Alamo were besieged by Santa Anna and his Mexican army. They knew they were outgunned, outmanned, outmaneuvered and could not win this fight. It is likely that Santa Anna would have let them leave without harm if they had given up the garrison and laid down their weapons. But Jim Bowie and William Travis knew that the Texas Revolution was on the line and it was important to stall Santa Anna as long as possible. They tried to get reinforcements but knew it was a long shot. Yet they repeatedly told the garrison that reinforcements were on the way. The commanders hoped reinforcements were on the way, but they didn’t know this. In fact, they probably doubted it. So, did they lie to their men? It may have been because the men believed the reinforcements were on the way that they were able to hold out so long. In the end, of course, they all died, but it gave the Texians time to regroup for the rest of the war. The leaders did what they had to do under the circumstances. They inspired their men to hold out and helped win the war, but they paid a heavy toll.


Liberals are like that. And sometimes it is a necessary trait. When a group is under tough times the truth is not always the best thing to tell them. Outright lies aren’t any better, but an expression of hope, even if it is a distant or almost fabricated hope, can inspire people to lengths they could not otherwise go. Liberals are good at this. They have a vision of the future in which everyone is equal, happy, educated, fulfilled, obeying the rules, basically utopia. And it would be really nice if we could achieve this. Unfortunately, its not real and never will be. Keeping a garrison fighting under terrible, hopeless conditions by inflating hope over despair is one thing. But running an army that way on a day-to-day basis will soon lead to disaster. At some point you have to deal with truth.


One of the things Ronald Reagan did well was give Americans back their sense of pride. We’d just lost our first war, an ugly conflict that divided the nation. Nixon had resigned in disgrace only a few years before. Carter had driven the country into the mud through inexperience and naïveté. Iran was mocking us with hostages. The economy was in the tank. Interest rates were soaring. Inflation was up. Being an American sucked. When Reagan took office he knew our biggest problem was our self image. So what did he do? He ramped up tension against the Soviets. He wasn’t a warmonger but he definitely parlayed the Cold War into a tit-for-tat game of chicken that he knew we couldn’t lose. It was risky and had to be carefully managed or it could explode into a shooting war. But it worked and gave Americans something to rally around. A few years later the Soviets folded and we reaped the rewards, the most important of which was a much improved self-image. It was great leadership even though much of it was based on stereotypes and nationalism. And with lower taxes and decreased government regulation to go along with a sense of national pride, Reagan set up the economic boom of the ‘90s.


Clinton on the other hand played to peoples’ sense of class distinction. Class warfare has never been hotter, or worked better, in U.S. politics. President Clinton was a great leader. Perhaps the greatest of our generation. And by leader, I mean his ability to galvanize people behind him. Whether you love him or hate him it can’t be denied that for those susceptible to it, he had an almost Rasputinesque charm. People LOVED President Clinton because basically, he lied to them. He told them whatever his focus-group polling decided they needed to hear at the moment. No matter what decision needed to be made, he would lick his finger and stick it into the wind. While this can work well when a group is under duress, such as during a siege, we weren’t under duress at the time. So what resulted was an entire population that claimed permanent victim status. By the end of his tenure everyone was pointing their finger at everyone else and no one wanted to work together. Predictably, the economy went into the toilet. The recession at the beginning of the Bush presidency had nothing to do with George II, and everything to do with an epidemic of paranoid greed inspired by President Clinton’s class warfare. There is a time for government to conceal the truth, and perhaps even to lie, but it should be saved for emergencies, not become standard operating procedure.


What will President Obama do? Does anyone doubt that he took office and found the economy to be much worse than he’d been told. Was he shocked? Should he be rational and tell us the truth? Do we want to know the truth? Or does it make more sense to play on hope? For the short term, I say he’s doing the right thing. People need hope. People work harder with hope. They can face more difficulties and be less argumentative when they have hope. Giving hundreds of billions to the wealthy probably sucked more hope from the average American than ten nine-elevens would have. Imagine having to overcome a debacle of that magnitude. But a time is coming when the truth must come into the light. And then we’ll need ideas. Debt will come due and bills will have to be paid and the lying must stop. Liberals have shown great difficulty transitioning from generating hope to producing practical solutions. Will Barak Obama be a great leader or just another liberal failure? I have high hopes if only because it best having low hopes.

-Futbol Guru,

Why Conservatives Fail

The things conservatives say make sense. They really do. Why stand in the way of people who are trying to innovate? Lower taxes on success. Deregulate as much as possible. Give people the tools they need to succeed widly. These things, conservatives say, will keep America strong and progressive. Think about how you would run a school. People who make bad grades and cause disruptions shouldn’t be rewarded for their bad behavior. And those who get good grades shouldn’t be forced to give part of their GPA to those who party when they should be studying.


So why, time after time, if their ideas have such merit, does the conservative approach fail? I will admit I had high hopes in 1994 when the Republicans swept congress. And a few things did happen. But for the most part their tenure came and went with few lasting changes. Were they responsible for the economic boom of the 90’s? Some say yes, but it is far more likely the 90’s were due to an emerging technology that generated enormous entrepreneurship. And those emerging technologies had been emerging since the end of World War II, so to give any current group credit is a bit of a stretch.


Conservatives make the mistake of thinking that people are rational. They tend to believe that if an idea makes sense that people will adopt it and their lives will improve. While this might make sense to a person that claims to be rational it ignores the dynamics of groups. Consider smoking. It is a good idea to stop but is harder than it sounds. In my line of work this is called, Systems Engineering. Just because a component works doesn’t mean it is going to work well within the system. And just because a particular configuration worked well on one system, doesn’t mean it will work as well on another system. The reasons for this can be highly non-intuitive, but if not carefully considered and mitigated, the system will fail to meet expectations, often spectacularly as the Space Shuttles Columbia and Challenger both showed.


What conservatives lack is a failure to understand groups. Conservatives are generally highly motivated people who are often self-starters, which is why they are so often small business owners. If they hear of a good idea they will put it into practice and it will occasionally pay off. They expect all people to do the same. But people don’t need good ideas, they need leadership. Never has this been better stated than by Jesus, who used over and over, the analogy of sheep. Not only will sheep follow a leader, sheep need a leader. They are domesticated animals and without care will die. They can’t survive in the wild. Show them a good idea, say, an enclosure where they can run if a predator arrives, and they will huddle together in the open and be slaughtered unless they are led into the enclosure. As K said in Men In Black, “A person can be smart. But people are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.”


Conservatives don’t understand that people don’t need good ideas, they need leadership. People are looking to their leaders to make them feel secure. Conservatives laugh at this, but it is the reality of humans. Feelings are very important and if humans feel uneasy, they will make poor decisions. If they feel secure, they will make better decisions. To ignore this reality or dismiss it as weakness is the height of stupidity. Okay, so it is a weakness. Then you damn well better do something about it.


Mr. Bush proved this point better than I ever could. Moral in our armed forces stayed high even though he invaded the wrong country using bad intelligence and thousands of people died. Despite the fact that his military plan was an utter disaster, our military continued to function well, and even win, because he was a spirited leader. He understood that THOSE people needed leadership. But when it came to assuring the American people, he was, to use someone else’s phrase, “A miserable failure.” A great leader isn’t someone who always makes the right decisions. A great leader is someone who can inspire (and occasionally shepherd) people past the mistakes to a new dawn.


Liberals get this. Just this week President Obama is fast-tracking legislation to limit compensation for banking executives. Will this help the economy? No. At least, not directly. But what it does is show the American people – that dumb, stupid, panicky group – that the guy at the top, AKA, the leader, gives a damn. As a result they will ‘feel’ better, and in time, those good ‘feelings’ will help the economy improve. After all, that is what drives a consumer-based economy. Not good ideas, but good feelings. I don’t even like to admit it myself because I’m squarely in the rational thinking camp. But the experiment I watched over the last twenty years has convinced me that pure conservatism can’t work. Without a thorough understanding of feelings on the part of the leader, and acknowledgement that groups require and need spirited, empathetic leadership, a group can not survive. And that is why conservatives fail.

-Futbol Guru

Futbol Monograph #1

Occasionally it is good to back away from the doom and gloom of daily life, like torture, economic apocalypse, and government malfeasance, and look at something that doesn’t matter. It just so happens that these two criteria – something that doesn’t matter and isn’t gloomy – intersect at one of my true passions in life.


Today, in my first monograph about soccer, I begin comparing the Beautiful Game to America’s Sport. For those who already think I’ve jumped into some kind of commie camp, I suppose this will only add fuel to the fire because as everyone ‘knows’, soccer is a commie sport. I’m not really sure where that came from because neither the Russians nor the Chinese have ever been at the top of the World’s game. North Korea actually got to the quarter finals of the World Cup one year but that was a fluke. And as far as I know, Karl Marx spent all his time writing silly books. Nevertheless, soccer has that reputation in the USA, while Americans themselves generally view football as something that reflects America’s values, whatever those values happen to be any given week.


I’ll admit I’m biased. I’ve played soccer since I was about eight years old, back when soccer wasn’t cool. Or rather, even less cool than it is today. I’m pretty good. I’ve played in the premier division of local clubs and, after a long bout with nagging injuries, am back on the pitch. Until I get injured again – which can’t be far off. So when you’re good at something, and enjoy it, it only makes sense that you like it.


But even though I’m biased, I’ve always enjoyed watching football and occasionally playing a good game of touch. There are few things in life that give you the thrill that a last-second touchdown or clutch, third-down sack. I’ve sat in my favorite stadium many times surrounded by tens of thousands of crazed fans and cheered my team to victory. And it’s always fun when they win more than they lose, which has been true of my boys over all these years, though not so much this year.


Last summer all that changed. While I’ve played soccer my entire life, following soccer has been more difficult. I’m glad the MLS is here, and it is getting incrementally better, but it just hasn’t grabbed me. Perhaps if I lived near one of the teams and could watch them in person it might be more fun, but frankly, the quality isn’t there yet. And finding good European soccer on TV has been like scanning for reruns of Firefly. What finally pushed me over the edge was last summer’s European Cup – Euro ‘08. Game after game was the best soccer I’d ever seen. Tons of goals, numerous last-second goals, come from behind victories, blow outs, blood – lots of blood – it had it all. And most of the games were on ESPN. When it ended, I signed up for digital cable so I could get Fox Soccer Channel and Gol TV which show loads of English, German, Italian, and Spanish premier soccer. I’ll go into the beauty of the game in a later monograph, but today I want to focus on something that caught me by surprise.


I watched a lot of soccer last summer for the first time in my life. But I was still looking forward to the start of the fall football season. I always enjoy watching my team - a college team. And I usually eat lunch on Saturday to a football game. Relax in the evening to a football game. Often sit up till midnight watching a West Coast matchup. You know the drill. Games you don’t care about, which are often more enjoyable than the ones you do care about.


But when I started watching football this fall something quite unexpected happened. I found that all I was doing was watching commercials. And every game is NOT the Superbowl. A fifteen minute quarter got stretched into forty-five minutes. A one hour game took all afternoon. Now I knew this of course, but suddenly I couldn’t stand it anymore. Why? Because soccer is commercial free! They play the whole first half, from start to finish, in about forty-seven minutes. Then you have a few highlights and about ten minutes of commercials, an excellent chance to empty and refill. Then they play the entire second half, from start to finish, in another forty-seven minutes. For the first time in my life I’m actually watching the game. And the whole thing takes a little less than two hours. I can get two whole games in while a football game is still in the fourth quarter, stretching that last minute into ten or more.


If you enjoy seeing great athletes doing what they do best, you might want to give soccer a chance. If you enjoy watching commercials selling cheap beer and deodorant, stick with football - which, I'm afraid, do seem to be our current values at the moment. But I caution you, be very careful when signing up for a soccer channel. Make sure your house and cars are in good repair, plenty of wood is stacked for the winter, and you have somebody else to mow the grass. By the way, I’m switching from digital cable to satellite to get more soccer. I’m having it installed in my doghouse.

-Futbol Guru

If It's Wrong, It's Wrong

America means something.


America is different. It really is. As far as I know, and I don’t know everything – close, but not all – there has never been a situation where a man from a class of people imported as slaves, has risen to be leader of that nation, without a violent rebellion, in just a few generations. My last blog was about that and I stand behind every word.


When our forefathers started this nation, they conceived of a place that would be different than the Europe from which they were fleeing. Europe to our ancestors was not a kind place, full of ruthless monarchies in which freedom was virtually non-existent. Mobility between classes was basically impossible. Religious persecution was widespread. And racism was like nothing we’ve ever seen – vestiges of which live in Europe to this day.


So they left and started a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. America really did, for most of it’s history, have a stranglehold on the moral high ground. Yes we have our black marks, among them slavery and the genocide of the native peoples. But the very fact that a black man is now president is proof positive that these evils are gone, and even when they were being committed always faced a strong opposition that, unlike Europe, couldn’t be imprisoned for their opposing view.


Sadly, America has allowed fear to steal much of the moral credit that we had built up over the years. We have stooped to what the founding fathers felt was one of the most abhorrent of evils – torture. At least five of the amendments in the Bill of Rights was aimed directly at eliminating torture. Why? Because Europe tortured. Nazi Germany was just the last incarnation of a continent overflowing with torture since time immemorial. And while it isn’t torture, you can add denial of due process to that as well. In America, you don’t simply hold people, indefinitely, without due process. Stories of people rotting in castle dungeons in Europe are legion. But Not Here. Because We Are Different.


Were different. We torture now, too. And we also confine people indefinitely without due process. And somehow, we justify it. The question goes something like this, “If you could stop the deaths of thousands by torturing, would you do it?” This implies the answer is, “Yes,” but it also exonerates the North Vietnamese from torturing our downed pilots. It exonerates the Nazis for torturing those who they thought might have information of Allied actions. Both of these groups were defending their countries, and while we may not agree with their governments, we seem to have adopted their methods, and in so doing, associated ourselves with them.


The most amazing thing about our new found methods, however, is how it has split along partisan lines. The people who are most strongly in favor of torture and indefinite incarceration are on the Religious Right. The very people who should be most concerned about human rights and morality! While the people most strongly denouncing torture are on the Left, which is much less religiously influenced and has a far higher percentage of atheists. And even though I have to count myself as having far more right-leaning tendencies than left, the people on the left are completely correct in this regard.


In point of fact, torture is wrong no matter what you use it for. This can be proved through the following simple exercise called, “Where Do You Draw The Line?” Suppose you have a ‘torture’ that doesn’t do any physical damage. Say, waterboarding. Waterboarding doesn’t hurt anybody. It just uses the body’s natural physiological responses to break down will. At least, that’s the argument. Okay, so that kind of torture is alright. I guess rape as torture is okay then, too. Rape doesn’t ‘hurt’ the victim. And used as torture it just uses the body’s natural physiological responses to break down will. Rape a woman, or a man, enough times and maybe they’ll tell you what you need to know. Even you waterboarders have to balk at that. Or, maybe not.


So you get a little information waterboarding. But you’re only doing it to save lives. And you know there’s more information. Well, you’ve already said that it’s okay to invade the body of your subject, so what’s to keep you from taking the next step? You know the information is in there. You know people are about to die. Or at least you think they are. Close the door. Turn off the cameras. How is this any different than the methods used by the Gestapo to get information on invasion plans. To save millions. To protect their country. Some of the intelligence gatherers in America actually envy the liberty that other nations have to torture! And send people there to be tortured. Inconcievable.


I can’t think of anything more un-American than torture, under any circumstance. But I’d be wrong, because indefinite detention is even worse. We’ve gone all the way back to the Dark Ages now, where feudal lords and caliphs would hold enemies in their dungeons basically for the rest of their lives. Yes, they were enemies of the state. But does this make indefinite detention okay? America was founded on the pretext that it does not.
In fact, by protecting the freedom of speech, we are in effect giving protection to our enemies, who are free to speak out against us in our own country. On the surface this seems insane from an internal security standpoint. But it goes to the very core of what makes America different. The ideas of Freedom and Liberty. America is not about security through silencing her foes. America is about winning them with her shining light. Doubtless some of them will not be won and we may have to fight them. But they should die on the field of battle, looking in our eyes, not rotting in a prison cell wearing a blindfold. That is the act of a coward. Are we not strong enough to survive the ranting of a terrorist? Has detaining them without due process actually helped or hurt our cause?


It is time for America to return to her core values. Not the values of family and God. Those are not our core values. In fact, our values of Family and God flow from our core values of Freedom and Liberty for all. It is only when we begin to curtail our most precious values that others begin to suffer. Do we trust the Founding Fathers in their wisdom born of hardship and suffering? Or will we make the mistake of thinking that we, born in luxury and raised in a life of ease, know better? Have not America’s values been the gravity that has attracted immigrants the world over for two hundred years, and kept us powerful and strong? Will we so easily abandon them for a ragged band of terrorists who managed to score one, grotesque victory that will live in history as perhaps one of the most heinous acts of all time? Right up there with torture.

-Futbol Guru