In the revolt of the Arab peoples the U.S. should lay low…

January 29, 2011

It seems to me the best thing for the United States to do in relation to the situation in Egypt is to lay low and let things play out, and the same for Tunisia where the current revolt of the Arab people began and in other parts of the Arab world where the unrest over the old order seems to be spreading.

At last report I read it looks like what could be an all-out revolt of the oppressed masses (ADD 1: which seem to include young and old and middle class and lower class) in Egypt against a long-time dictator supported by the U.S. It seems a little late to be urging Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to be nicer and more attentive to the needs and rights of his people. Where were we on that all this time as we helped him militarily and economically?

Unfortunately, the United States has a long history of supporting brutal dictators. At one time the thought was it is better to have a non-communist dictator as our ally in power than a communist in power. Now we seem to look for anyone who might hold back the Islamic fundamentalists/terrorists.

I recall that back in the late 50s many people contended that we should have supported Fidel Castro whose forces eventually ousted our anti-communist dictator Fulgencio Batista. The story goes that Castro was not yet a communist but our opposition to him threw him into that camp. Actually, from what I have read about his sidekick Che Guevara, that revolution was going the communist way anyway. But we sure had egg on our face when our bully was kicked out.

It is not our business what the Arab world does with its governments. It is only our business what they might eventually do to us — but we are not going to be able to engineer things the way we want them to work out, nor should we.

Many probably don’t recall or ever paid attention to the fact that Saddam Hussein was at one time our boy on the block, simply because he was against Iran. And the Iranians had pushed out our other boy, the Shah of Iran.

This time around, let’s just keep out of it.

And good luck to the oppressed masses in Egypt or Tunisia, or wherever.

I don’t care how many tanks, or to be more accurate, armored vehicles (I used to be a tanker), or riot troops the Egyptian government has, if enough people are unhappy, the current regime or president will not stand. Also, there are even indications, from the story I read from the New York Times, that as in Tunisia, the military is or might ally itself with the protestors (to a certain extent anyway). And, some Egyptian protestors actually applauded the military troops when they were dispatched to guard certain public places, it was reported. And in one case riot police in Egypt gave up and threw off their badges, it was reported.

Add 2:

I don’t know if I have this quote exact, but I thought I heard a protestor in Egypt say for the benefit of the camera: “we don’t want this bunch anymore. We want them to go out of Egypt.”

Meanwhile, sometime after midnight after a long day of violent protest, Egyptian president Mubarak said he had asked (told) the government ministers to step down and he promised to continue to work on reforms but refused to step down himself and warned against outright insurrection or anything but peaceful protest (and this is my interpretation based on the reports I read). It seems to me that he has had enough time to do something since he has been in office for 30 years. If I were an Egyptian I’d say don’t let the door hit you in the rear end on the way out!

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CORRECTION:

In the original version of this post I erroneously referred to the former U.S.-backed Cuban dictator as Juan Batista, but it should have read Fulgencio Batista.

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Obama has the right ideas, so what is stopping him? So far it’s Republicans and Democrats and the national debt…

January 26, 2011

President Obama has the right ideas, as presented in his State of the Union message, so what is stopping him or what has stopped him? Answer: bickering in his own party. That is not how political parties are supposed to work. Parties are supposed to be where varying ideas coalesce into action — well we did get health care reform (maybe, to some extent, not sure).

Now it appears that the Republicans are acting like Democrats with a deep schism in their own party — the old guard vs. the Tea Party.

And it now strikes me the day after that the president was certainly right to push for drastic reforms in education with a renewed emphasis on math and science. But I think a lot of the push for that has to come from the people at the local level, the citizens themselves. Do we want excellent public schools or not and do we want to pay for them? Local taxpayers who resist paying the bill for their local schools do not show the commitment that will be needed.

The president is certainly meeting the Republicans half way by offering to make changes in his health care law but not gut it and by offering to cut out the red tape and excessive regulations for businesses without sacrificing public safety and other legitimate public concerns and protections.

I actually think the current division in government with neither solid majorities for the two major parties and the Tea Party (their crazies notwithstanding) nipping at both of their heels, is a good thing. It should force the necessary compromise that might ensure what we get is neither regressive policies or far too so-called progressive policies that would lead to an overbearing socialist state.

But here’s a thought: let’s just stop the constant offense in our defense. We are not fighting international communism anymore. China, our biggest competitor (but also our banker), poses a far bigger challenge than Nikita Khrushchev and his 1950s/60s Soviet Union ever did. Mr. k vowed to bury us (he meant economically, I am told) but old-style communism just has never been up to the challenge (just ask Senor Castro, or maybe he is still in denial). China has combined domestic socialism with a robust form of capitalism, proving that it may not be an either or situation (and no I don’t want to live in China).

Islamic terrorists have replaced the communist threat, but like the communists if they get control over various dominions they will have a hard time keeping their people happy when they see how the other half, the free half, lives. Instead of meddling in the affairs of other nations we ought to let them stew in their own juices.

We of course do have to draw the line when they come on to our own soil.

I feel so fortunate, though, at 61 to have a steady job. But unemployment is above 9 percent and in my state, California, it is I believe 12 percent. That remains the number-one concern of the American people. If Obama, with the help of his own party and the other, cannot deal effectively with that situation, people just won’t be listening anymore.

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What follows is what I originally wrote offline while having computer problems:

So maybe not having my computer working the way I want to helps me sort out what I just heard, rather than going to a lot of hurried work to post what I think or thought I just heard from President Barack Obama in his State of the Union speech.

I listened to the speech on radio so I did not see the body language of the speaker or the audience and I did not get to witness the coziness of Democrats sitting next to Republicans, unlike in past years when they sat on their respective separate sections. But I liked the speech as I heard it, enough to move him from a C to an A.

And then some of the commentary afterward jolted me awake, so to speak, and I wondered if I had not been in a dream and gone back to his presidential campaign. They seem to be reminding me that he was in his campaign mode — he’s a great speaker, but is he a great doer? — the last two years seem to leave that question a bit open. And of course the main thing is that he cannot do it alone. Up until recently, the health care thing notwithstanding, or maybe withstanding, he was having a hard time getting his own party to go along with him. Now he is dealing with a Republican majority in the House.

Obama I think in one way is in that time of the JFK thing where the question is do we cling to the ways of the past and stay mired in stagnation or do we move forward. Kennedy’s answer, as I recall, was that we “move forward with vigor “. At the time we had been recently embarrassed by the Russians seeming to have surpassed us in space by launching the first man-made satellite they called Sputnik. Kennedy instituted our moon program, the rest is history.

With that in mind Barack Obama said we (the United States) are in a Sputnik moment where we can fall behind the rest of the world in technology (and he said we are indeed beginning to lag in some areas, particularly education in math and science) or we can maintain or retain our world leadership.

But I sense a new mood among the populace. At one time a lot of people assumed government had endless resources, but now even people who think government ought to be there to help them and see a major role of government in society now see the nation’s gigantic deficit a major limiting force.

So even though Obama talked about a government partnership with the private sector in which the government would give financial support for new innovations — he said sometimes businesses cannot afford to fund research and development on their own — people now wonder where all that money is going to come from in the continuing stagnant world economy (not to be confused with corporate or bank profits which are reportedly soaring — I know it makes little sense, except when you remember that people make a lot of money producing nothing, just trading paper, I call it. A minority at the top feed like parasites off the working class, just as a minority at the bottom of society feed off the working class).

But if we get past all that there are two major competing views in politics: one is that there is a major role of government in society and the economy and the other is that government should have but a limited role, except that I have yet to see evidence that those who talk limited role are all that sincere (with the exception of pure libertarians, maybe,) My view is that those who talk limited role really mean government should be there for them, but not for you.

Somehow I don’t think the United States became the leading economic and military power in the world with minimal government.

It was a government and private enterprise partnership that created the railroads that expanded our nation west to meet its manifest destiny. It was the government that ran the space program which in turn had major implications on technology and commerce that it spawned. And don’t let me forget Ike’s interstate highway system — that’s how I and so many others make their living, that’s how you get everything you get at the stores.

Just as in the time of Sputnik when there was a major push for improved math and science education, Obama wants to start that all over again. And that is a good idea.

We need to move forward with vigor, we just have not figured out how to pay for it.

One way, though, is to simplify the tax code cutting out all the loopholes that help some but overtax others, as Obama called for, and by doing so widen the tax base — yes in effect increasing taxes but also making the system more equitable.

 


Great speech or same old same old…

January 26, 2011

Before the State of the Union speech I was giving the president a C in his performance, but after hearing it I would now give him an A if words could be future deeds. I think it was inspirational and hopeful and he reached out to the Republican House majority without humbling himself.

But I’m hearing from his detractors that it was just same old same old.

I’m still having computer problems so I’ll have to hold it at that for now, and that is hard for me. See previous post. Thanks.


Obama so far and what is to like…

January 26, 2011

I’m having computer problems, so I will try to sneak this by my gremlins in advance of the president’s State of the Union speech. Wish me luck. I may not be able to blog again until the morning after, but I’ll try after the speech anyway.

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So wouldn’t you know it? Blogging and current events and political enthusiast that I am, I have the time to listen to the president’s State of the Union address but my mobile computer connection is not working where I am and I have no other access, so I will have to work offline. Maybe that’s better, maybe I’ll pay more attention to the speech.

I think it could be pivotal in that he needs momentum going into the year before he goes up for re-election and he needs to take advantage of his recent increase in approval ratings

(Actually, he just probably has to hope the economy improves and he makes no major blunders and he should win handily, despite the Tea Party.)

So what do I think of his performance as president so far? Well I’d give him a strong C at least.

I don’t care for the way he handled the banking and mortgage crisis. He seems to have caved into the Wall Street bankers who used taxpayer money to get solvent again and are lavishing themselves with bonuses — really on the public dime.

He definitely has not resolved the problem of the continuing war in the Middle East. He has served notice on the enemy that we eventually plan to quit (something any of them who have read the history of Vietnam could have figured out). Meantime he lets American soldiers die for a cause that is hard to put into words or to justify.

I know some Americans think we are in a standard conventional war against a force who attacked us on 9/11. That is not exactly what is happening, but do we have to go through all that again? Well, okay, just a little. We are heavily into nation building under the theory that if we can create nice nations we can all live in peace — would that it were.

From my limited perspective, I personally think he and the Democratic Party botched the health care thing overall, even though some limited good might come out of it.

For one thing, it is just too darn complicated. For another I sincerely wonder if mandating citizens do business with private companies is really constitutional. I did suggest in a blog that it might be just as justifiable as mandating you buy car insurance. But really, you have a choice on whether to operate an automobile and pay all the expenses that go with it. Are we suggesting you have a choice to live and do business with XYZ Health Insurance Co. or die?

Really, how do you control medical costs in a private enterprise system? If you controlled costs it would not be free enterprise.

Obama had his Katrina in the Gulf Oil spill and handled it no better than George W. did Katrina. While there may have not been much he could have done — it’s perception.

So what do I like about Obama? Well for one thing he is not John McCain, an old man who seems to have little mind of his own or little pride in his principles, witness his panicked run to the far right in his recent senatorial election, when previously he had been more moderate, and when he does have a bright idea, he does things like choose Sarah Palin for a running mate — in essence he created the monster.

Joe Biden is not that hot either, but he is relatively harmless if he can be kept quiet and out of the way, as good vice presidents are supposed to be.

I think a lot of us were hoping for a Franklin Roosevelt to put people back to work or a Give ’em Hell Harry Truman to give Wall Street what for, when instead what we got was a cerebral, but admittedly cool and reasonable, and maybe even a little crafty, Barack Obama.

Give ’em hell Barack!!!

 


Extreme situations can call for extreme measures, but you still have to be careful not to shoot the innocent…

January 25, 2011

Terrorism in terribly frustrating, as well as dangerous. Anytime there is a lack of law and order it is frustrating and dangerous.

I bring this up in relation to the latest airport bombing in Moscow where 35 people were killed and 185 injured, and then of course in relation as well to all terrorist acts and all break downs of law and order.

The frustrating thing is that terrorists are hard to catch, especially when they kill themselves in the process of committing their terror. Of course someone usually sets them up, but they usually work in secret. Except sometimes they don’t work in total secrecy. What about the imams or whatever they call themselves who fairly openly preach hatred from their mosques? And I am not picking solely on Muslims or factions of Muslims. There are Christian terrorists and terrorists of all kind of creeds.

But anyway, the quite understandable immediate reaction is that we have to go after someone. If you’re George W. Bush you just wildly flail out at any convenient target, Afghanistan/Iraq, and you send whole armies to look for one man, Osama Bin Laden, and when that doesn’t work, he remains elusive, you just say you weren’t really looking for him anyway and change your rationale every few months as to why you have sent in the armies. You end up killing and wounding thousands upon thousands of more people — most of whom who are totally innocent– than were killed in the original terrorist act.

And let’s don’t pick on George W., because if you are Barack Obama you just keep the whole thing going because, well, you don’t want anyone to think you are a coward and truth be known, unpopular war(s) or not, if you pull out the American public would turn against you because now you made all of them feel like cowards.

But I am getting off the subject I wanted to address here in the beginning, that is dealing with terrorist acts and mass breakdowns of law and order, such as in Oakland, Ca. (and other urban areas).

I was listening to Dr. Bill Wattenburg on KGO Radio last night and he was saying that he would not be surprised if the Russians got tough now and went directly after terrorist leaders (and the news says this morning that is what they are vowing to do). Now Wattenburg usually talks about scientific matters and math puzzles and helpful hints around the home and ranch and logging camp and cowboy camp and claims to be an expert on or have taken part in everything from designing freeway interchanges and rapid transit systems to missiles and nuclear weapons — he’ll also tell you how to get a caterpillar tractor unstuck from the mud. But when he ventures into politics he sometimes is a little reactionary, although to his credit he can also often be fairly moderate in his views and seems to try to come down on the side of the sensible.

But he seemed to be rooting for something like the secret police (and I don’t mean he said it directly) going after the bad people, something police states have always done in the name of law and order but also for the purpose of retaining their own political power. And I read up on him and saw that he had in the past called for sending in the military and going house to house in Oakland in reaction to the ghetto crimes and drive-by shootings and so forth. And I’m just using Oakland as an example. All the big cities and even small cities have gang and violence problems.

But anyway, why should law-abiding citizens have to live in fear?

In extreme circumstances, at some point, extreme tactics are called for.

Now in the case of airport bombings, Wattenberg says that experts have looked at it and agree that one of the big problems is baggage. Apparently there is no fool-proof way of checking baggage without opening it all (and then ka-boom?). He said ultimately the only practical way of forestalling a bomber, such as the one in Moscow who apparently brought a bomb in with him to the International Arrivals section of the airport (I imagine from the outside, not from an airplane), would be to ban individuals from taking baggage directly in with them when they go to the airports (and he claims people don’t need nearly the amount of baggage they think they do).

Now we have not had a spate of airport bombings here in the United States as of yet, but if we did extreme measures would have to be taken — the public would eventually demand it. It’s already getting tougher to board an airplane, what with body scans and in some cases mandatory feelups — but the call for all of that actually came from the government, not the people, at least not directly, but the government feels it must show the people it is doing something.

(I don’t fly much, hardly ever. Most of my flying was done in the late 1960s and early 70s when all you had to do is buy a ticket at the counter and get on the plane as simple as if you were getting on the Greyhound bus.)

Although I do not consider myself as politically reactionary as Wattenburg, I have often thought myself, ever since the urban ghetto riots of the 60s and into the gang violence of today, that in some cases martial law should be declared and the wrongdoers rooted out. Easier said than done I realize. But sometimes you feel enough is enough.

(I recall reading something a few years ago about how the police in one town in, Arkansas I believe, tried to cordon off a bad neighborhood and do random searches, but I think that was eventually prohibited by court order.)

And do we really want things to get as out of hand as they are in Mexico?

In the case of terrorism there is always the problem of doing more harm in the name of good than was inflicted in the first place (ala Bush). The Russians have a recent history of storming into hostage situations and killing everyone, good and bad.

I recall that during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of the late 1970s when Americans were held captive by terrorists backed by the Iranian government that many folks here at home were actually suggesting that we bomb the embassy where they were being held.

Somewhere in all of this there has to be a middle ground between impotence, doing basically nothing but maybe feeling up innocent airplane passengers, and ham-handed foolishness, starting major wars or storming into schools Russian style and killing schoolchildren and their parents in the process.

And I do think that in the case of lawlessness in the urban areas, governors should declare martial law and root out the gangs. It would have to be done selectively and carefully and unfortunately probably would require sophistication we do not have at this time. But to surrender whole communities to lawlessness in unacceptable, or should be.


Signs that civilization might be breaking down: (1) A man hits but does not run like the others but is beaten and robbed by a mob, even so (2) Second graders in a public school reportedly engage in sex acts in class and the teacher didn’t see a thing…

January 23, 2011

Weird and bad stuff can happen anywhere, in the big city, in small towns, and in the countryside. But today I address to incidents from the big city urban environment:

(My residence is in a relatively, I stress relatively, peaceful medium-sized town in the relatively rural north of California, but I spend most of my time driving to and through the big cities.)

Two seemingly unrelated recent incidents come to my attention as indications, only indications mind you, that civilization as we might have thought we knew it is breaking down.

No. 1:

In Los Angeles — technically Hawthorne, Ca., but it’s all LA to me — a man crosses the street, gets hit by two different cars whose drivers flee the scene (he later dies) and a woman who stops to help him is hit, and a man who accidentally hit that woman does the right thing and stops but is attacked by a mob and robbed. Local police say they’ve never seen anything like it.

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The story:http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/01/hit-and-run-accident-devolves-into-vigilante-beating.html

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This story caught my attention in particular because by eerie coincidence I was at or near the scene, I think, not when all this happened, but maybe on the same day (I’d have to check the story again). It was described as being on Crenshaw Boulevard near I-105. I was at that very intersection the other day in my job delivering freight. And like I always do in the threatening urban jungle environment, I worried about what would happen if I accidentally hit something or someone — of course I should worry, it is not cool to hit something or someone anywhere, but it could be fatal (to me) in that environment. I mean I don’t want to be Reginald Denny.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reginald_Denny_incident

I think the explanation for the bizarre behavior here might have been that low lifes prowl the streets looking for any excuse and opportunity to engage in their nefarious acts. The stories I read did not describe the racial makeup of the actors involved, but knowing the area I suspect race could have been a factor.

No. 2:

Now we get into, did this really happen? or is it all bogus? It’s kind of a journalistic conundrum or maybe paradox is the better word. I mean as a former working journalist I always felt strongly that my job was to report news, good or bad, not engage in covering it up. People have a right and need and a desire to know what is going on around them, well maybe except for this second grade teacher in an Oakland, Ca. public school. Its seems, if you can believe reports originating from some pupils, that some of his charges were engaging in sex acts in the classroom and parading around at least partially undressed without him knowing it. How exactly could this be? Not how could the kids have done this, really, but how could the teacher not know? I think he might get marked down on classroom control in his next evaluation.

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The story: http://www.modbee.com/2011/01/21/1521622/calif-2nd-graders-may-have-had.html

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Children have played doctor (the kind of euphemism for I’ll show you mine if you show me yours) since time immemorial (or at least since their were doctors, and probably before).

There were reports that some of the children engaged in oral sex — second graders mind you. I suspect that such behavior might not actually be all that unusual, if you really think about it, but in a classroom at a public school? Local parents were disturbed, reports said. They said they came to the realization that they did not know what was going on in the place where they send their children to each school day.

Back to the journalistic question. We have all heard several reports of child molestations described in detail by children and later found out that they were apparently not true (although, unfortunately they are all too often true), that the children were prompted by adults who had ulterior motives.

In the current Oakland case, it could be just a false rumor solely from the children or it could even be something concocted by someone out to tarnish the school or the teacher or the administration there, who knows?

One might say these stories should not be reported on until facts have been investigated thoroughly. But people have a right to know if such things are going on with their children. In news you can’t wait both because if you do your competition won’t, and if you waited every time until all the facts were thoroughly researched there would be no news to report or it would be so stale as to be useless.

But it would be a shame if this second-grader sex scandal turned out to be purely bogus after the local school and the local school districts and schools everywhere get such bad publicity over it.

UPDATE: And now before I even post this blog, I have to update it. I listened to a talk show on Bay Area radio station KGO last night and it seems to be that now it is believed by authorities that the reports of sex among the second graders is true (of course we do not know for sure, nonetheless). But worse, more than one Bay Area teacher called in to say that other such incidents have happened. One teacher said that she told a reporter about one such incident and later was reprimanded by her principal for talking. The principal reportedly tried to cover the whole thing up, telling everyone that nothing had happened. And that is why in journalism you report things as you get the info, verifying facts and information the best you can, of course. If you hold on to it, those who would be embarrassed or held liable will do their best to cover up and see that the story never sees the light of day, or that if it ever does it will be so long after the fact that no one will be interested and witnesses will forget.

In the discussion on that radio program it was noted that children are constantly bombarded these days with sexually explicit material in the media (primarily television and movies and music), even in offerings aimed particularly at younger people. You know that has to have some effect — wouldn’t you think?

But the real culprits here:

The parents.

P.s.

If you set the example at home, your children should be able to handle the world. Wickedness and debauchery have always been with us and always will be. The Bible tells us of these things, such as in the accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah. The more things change, the more things stay the same — but the foregoing seems disturbing to me even so.


Tiger Mom controversy: Be pushed to excel and excel, that was a secret?

January 22, 2011

It should really be no secret and no scandal that those who put more effort into something and those who are driven, pushed by someone else, often get ahead — although it may not always work out that way.

But as we wonder why Asian students seem to do so well in school, we really should have known the answer all along: they work harder and their parents make them do that.

I write this to add my two cents into the current “Tiger Mom” controversy, and I haven’t even read the book or article that started it. And I’ll stop right here and note that of course the whole thing is kind of manufactured, something they used to call a publicity stunt (Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapped) and nowadays call marketing.

But anyway, a first-generation American-Chinese woman, and Yale law professor, by the name of Amy Chua wrote a book called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. In it she describes the tough love approach Chinese mothers (well both parents) take with their kids — basically all work and no play. But they do it with love. It’s a cruel world out there — you have to be prepared (I could have used that, but then I would have never survived childhood). One commentator I heard said it was something like the old Johnny Cash song “A boy Named Sue”. In that ballad the boy’s father who knew he would not be around named his son Sue so he would either have to get tough or die.

(In an interview Chua pointed out that the Asian immigrants she descried are of a certain class of people, ones who came over here with skills already. I just put that in here in case you might have wondered why all Asian immigrants do not do better.)

Chua is quick to explain that she found this approach was not totally successful with her younger daughter so she had to pull back. And she said she was not writing a “how to” book but instead mostly a memoir.

While she has received much hate mail from people suggesting what a horrible person she is and even some death threats, reportedly, one thing she has proven is that she or her marketers know how to sell a book; it was number five on the New York Times book list, at last report I saw.  And Chua is attractive and dresses nice, that helps with the promotion.

But when you get past the hype, it’s the same old story. It’s all about extremes and what you really want out of life and what you are willing to sacrifice to get it.

The best of both worlds would be the drive of the Asians and the ability to lay back and enjoy life, like Americans or like some Americans, or like the French, oh, heck I don’t know.

But it’s like healthy eating. If you ate as healthy as you possibly could you might starve yourself to death. You have to enjoy yourself some time.

American society has grown kind of weak because not much is expected of the individual. A lot of jobs have been dumbed down both because it’s hard to find people who can think or who are skilled and in turn it’s cheaper to pay unskilled and dumb workers.

And then there is our welfare system, although not as bad as it may often be portrayed to be, it does seem to have the effect of perpetuating generational idleness.

I think the closest some Americans come to the Asian push-your-kids hard approach is sports. I’ve seen some parents pushing their kids (well actually heard about it more than I‘ve personally witnessed it), and it is ugly. But then again, in cases where the kid is really into sports — hey, winning IS everything. Losers don’t get multi-million-dollar contracts.

But of course outright abuse is indefensible.

Some groups who think they do not fare as well in society — and out of politeness today I won’t name names — as others might look toward those who do and emulate at least some aspects of the more successful behaviors, while retaining the best parts of their own culture.

So you might look back on your growing up and say: “it was hell but it was worth it”.

Or you might say: “We was por but we was happy”.

Somehow I don’t think either one of those work. It’s the extremes that get in the way.

P.s.

Sometimes people who are driven to perform are dull. I think Chua said or implied that she suffers from that to some extent. Well at least until she wrote her book.

P.s. P.s.

The following article was the source of the idea for this blog: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/fashion/16Cultural.html