Monday, March 27, 2006

Is there a valid argument against a playoff system in college football? No

This article accurately sums up my feelings on the absurdity of college football's BCS system for deciding a national champion.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

An Arab Company Running US Ports

Recent debate over the national security of the US has heated up in the past few days as political figures, the media, and the public have all expressed their concerns regarding news that a company based in the United Arab Emirates purchased the British company that runs some of our American ports.

I, frankly, have never even thought about the fact that like most other industries in the US, our nation's port system was privatized and as such, available on the open market to be owned and operated by companies on or off shore. I suspect many in the public, particularly those who have reacted negatively upon hearing this recent development, are likewise coming to this realization.

Critics are also blasting Pres. Bush for allowing this even though the foreign companies have been conductiong operations at US ports for decades. I read that many ports in the US are run by companies from outside the US. In Los Angeles alone, companies from China, Denmark, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan lease port operations. This doesn't concern me as I realize that on the whole, the US got out of the international shipping business back in the 60s and 70s to make way for more efficient foreign companies.

One thing to remember in this debate: the company that operates the port is not the agency over security. Our coast guard and customs agency are still in charge of monitoring security, regardless of which company is loading and unloading containers.

While continuing to allow any foreign company to run US ports is debatable, critics, including Sen. Hillary Clinton, must not make the mistake of equating this practice only to Bush administration policies, as foreign companies have operated ports under all administrations going back decades.

Sen. Clinton was critical of Bush administration officials and was quoted in the AP calling the process of the transaction approval a " failure of judgment because officials did not alert the president, the secretary of the treasury and the secretary of defense that several of our critical ports would be turned over to foreign country." Obvioiusly she was also not aware that several foreign companies have been and are currently running our ports.

I believe in capitalism and the success open-market economies can provide, nevertheless, I acknowledge the compromise we must make on our civil liberties and open-market economic principles in order to preserve and protect American lives from those who want to hurt us. Because of this contrapostion of two of our important ideals, open-market economics and safety, I have yet to fully take sides on either side of this issue, although I am leaning towards supporting the Dubai shipping company. Nonetheless, I welcome any further insight to help me make up my mind.

My initial reaction to the news was negative, as scenes from one of my favorite shows, Fox's "24," depicting terrorists smuggling WMDs through our nations ports, flashed through my head. I also envisioned the potential headlines in the news when some unforeseen terrorist attack kills innocent lives on US soil by means of smuggling the weapons through the ports owned by a company based in the UAE. All fingers would point to the government, and specifically, President Bush, for not interfering in the open-market and legal transaction of the port. The argument would be even though it is a legal open-market transaction, because it relates to issues of national security, the government should have gotten involved, and thus should bear the blame for the innocent lives lost (outside of the terrorist who is actually responsible, because as recent events have shown us, we ask, "Who let this happen?" before and more often than we ask, "Who did this?"). The fallout of such an event would be worse than that of FEMA and hurricane Katrina, and perhaps justifiably so, as the hurricane was a natural event and the rescue and recovery effort by FEMA was the first of its kind in the United States, so FEMA, while not guiltless, was operating without any sort of precedent of similar magnitude.

Based on the reaction I had as described above, I was initially against the transaction allowing an Arab company to run some of our ports. However, I read Bill O'Reilly's "Talking Points" today and it changed my mind.

He brought up points relating to security, racism, and international politics that I had not previously considered. Among those was the argument that we need the help of moderate Arab nations in winning the War on Terror and breaking down barriers between Arabs and Westerners. Firing the company from the UAE simply because they are Arab would be considered racist and would only be fuel to the fire for the Arabs to hate us more. Demonstrating that we can work along side with them in open-market activities would be a strike against the Islamic radicals and the Bin Ladens of the world. We need to remember that currently, the ports in question are currently being run by a foreign company from the UK. The public and media took little notice to this fact until just recently. Is it because we trust Westerners and not Arabs? Yes. No doubt about it. Otherwise, there would be no outcry.

Sometimes, though, we have to be a bit racist when safety is a priority. Consider, for example, the neighborhoods around Milwaukee where I live. I would never entertain the idea of moving into some predominately black neighborhoods in Milwaukee out of my concern for the safety of me, my family, and our belongings. It is a fact that these neighborhoods, especially the poorer ones, are more dangerous than my, predominately white, suburban neighborhood. By definition, it is indeed racist and discriminatory, but we have to make such decisions when trying to protect our families.

For this reason, I think the argument against allowing the principles of fair and free open-market economies to rule in the case of our nation's ports bears significant weight and validity. At this moment, though, I am leaning towards the argument allowing the Arab-owned company to run the ports by our guidelines and safety regulations, just as the British company and other foreign-owned companie have done in the past. To stick it to the company just because they are based in an Arab nation just wouldn't be a step forward in breaking down the feelings that fuel terrorism, I don't necessarily believe that it would make America any safer.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jon Huntsman Sr. Speaks with Fox News

Neil Cavuto of Fox News is a big fan of Jon Huntsman Sr., so much so that he praises him in his interview with the billionaire last Sunday. The subject of Mormons, and in particular, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his potential 2008 presidential election bid came up. I've commented on Gov. Romney's presidential future in a previous post, but an excerpt from the text of the Fox interview with Huntsman is below.

CAVUTO: Let me ask you. You are a Mormon. And Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts, who is a Mormon, we are told, is giving serious thought to running for president.
CAVUTO: Americans don't understand Mormons, Jon. Does he have a chance?
HUNTSMAN: I think Mitt has a wonderful chance.
I knew Mitt's father, George, very well. We were in the Nixon White House together when he was secretary of HUD. But we have grown up together. Mitt is one of the most outstanding young men. He is articulate. He is bright. He is knowledgeable.
And people hear about Mormons, and they think, gosh, they are a different breed or culture. But, you know, we have five U.S. senators. We have 18 in the House of Representatives. We have some of the great CEOs in America. We are just normal people, like everybody else. And, for some reason or another, people mischaracterize us.
I want to tell you, Mitt is going to be an all-star, when it comes to 2008.
CAVUTO: Do you think he will be the next president?
HUNTSMAN: I think he has a very good chance at it. I'm working hard for him.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Super Bowl XL Observations

This year’s Super Bowl followed in suit to many previous “big games.” The game can be summed up in two short words—ho-hum—once again adding another reason why I love watching college football so much more than the NFL. Take this year’s Rose Bowl, a competitive, classic clash of titans fighting it out to the last second, opposed to every Super Bowl that I can remember, a non-competitive game with gratuitous hype where the commercials are much more entertaining than the actual event itself. This year’s Super Bowl featured two teams that played to a mediocre level, at best, but for Seattle, they faced three opponents, not just one: Pittsburg, the Steeler fans, and most damaging, the refs.

I can’t ever remember blaming the outcome of a game on referee’s bad calls, but yesterday’s ref blunders were not just obvious, they hurt when it mattered most. A “push off” which led to a negated Seattle touchdown was non-existent, a ticky-tacky holding call forced yet another Seattle touchdown (actually the pass was caught on the 1-yard-line) to be called back. The Steelers were gifted a touchdown on a play when Big Ben never broke the plane of the end-zone. And finally, a 15-yard “low block” call on Hasselback’s interception, even though Hasselback’s “low block” is what made the tackle on the ball carrier, put Pittsburg close to midfield, setting them up for their next touchdown. Granted, Seattle, having missed two field goals and dropped several easy passes, didn’t play well enough to earn it, neither did Pittsburg, and that’s what left me frustrated.

Even though it’s the same old story every year in the Super Bowl, for some reason, I still keep watching hoping for a game similar in quality to the college bowl games. At least the commercials were entertaining.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Gun Control

Just yesterday, leaders in the Wisconsin State Assembly voted to uphold Gov. Doyle's veto on a bill allowing private citizens to carry concealed weapons, despite the bill having the overwhelming support of the constituents of Wisconsin. The bill would have allowed citizens who completed a thorough registration and training by state-certified trainers to carry concealed weapons in public. Wisconsin is only one of four states in the union with such a law barring citizens of the constitutional right to bear arms. Apparently here in Wisconsin, we are allowed to own guns and keep them in our homes, but if we try and take them with you in public, that's a no-no.

I personally have never owned a gun, and have only used rifles for target practice and a few hunting trips. I have since given up hunting because I found I love watching elk up close, through binoculars, or through a camera lens more than down the barrel of a gun. I have no problem, though, with those who hunt respectfully. My family is full of elk hunters who all respect the animals and the land and use the meat to reduce their grocery bills and use the outing as an opportunity to bond and grow closer to family members. Owning a rifle or shotgun for hunting and owning a hand gun for self protection, though, are two very separate issues.

I believe the right to bear arms was included in the Constitution as the second amendment for a very important reason: to allow free people to protect themselves. You can't protect yourself if you are out gunned. Many criminals have guns, and if you feel you live in a dangerous area and need a weapon to defend yourself, I feel that is your right. I also feel this right should extend beyond one's front door. You should be able to protect yourself in public as well as the home. I, frankly, can't think of too many situations when someone would use a gun in the American public, but then again, I've never been raped, mugged, or attacked, so my opinion may not carry much weight.

Although I disagree with the decision to ban concealed weapons, especially when the voters in the state clearly supported the bill, I also strongly believe in the principle of states' rights. If the federal courts get involved, I hope they uphold the right of Wisconsin to be different from the other 46 states in America that allow concealed weapons to those with permits. State's should be able to legislate according to the desires of the majority of their constituents.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Another reason to get (and stay) married

For those of you looking for more practical reasons to get (or stay) married, check out this article detailing the results of a study showing the financial benefits of a marriage. I'm definately not advocating seeking out an eternal companion as a way of accumulating greater wealth, but the unintended benefits of a healthy relationship, such as the ones detailed in the article, offer motivation for working harder on our relationships and increasing our chances for greater happiness.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tsagaan Sar: the Mongolian Lunar New Year

I want to send my greetings and love out to all of my Mongolian friends and family this Tsagaan Sar holiday. This Sunday marks Bituun, kind of the Christmas Eve of the three-day Mongolian holiday. Tsagaan Sar coincides with the Chinese New Year, although Mongolians will vehemently deny any connection. The word "tsagaan" means white, while "sar" means month and/or moon. Mongolians celebrate the holiday in many different ways, but the most notable tradition is that of visiting the homes of friends and relatives, showing honor and respect to the elderly, while sharing a meal and gifts. Read here, here, and here for accurate descriptions of the holiday. Read here for a description of a foreigner's experience celebrating the Mongolian New Year.

I recently read an interesting article in the UB Post, an English-language Mongolian newspaper. It exposes the financial burden of celebrating Tsagaan Sar on many Mongolians living with meager incomes. It just goes to show how tradition and culture can override common sense sometimes. Click here to read the article, keeping in mind that $1 US = Tg1,200.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

American-made cars

Anyone who knows me personally knows I know next to nothing about automobiles. I do, however, keep a pulse on the way each brand is graded in the media as a feeble attempt to be an educated consumer. I am not loyal to one brand over another (I own a Toyota and a Dodge). I was, though, taken back by the findings of a J.D. Power and Assoc. Long-term Dependability Survey as reported by CNN. Although most of the world would have you believe Japanese-made cars are so much more reliable, American cars may be better than most give them credit for.