Analysis and rationality in a nonrational world

February 10, 2011

What’s really wrong with education?

Filed under: Government, Media, News reporting — analysis @ 3:28 pm

I agree with George W. Bush in his general belief that we need a way to measure the effectiveness of our nation’s schools. I disagree with the state-by-state approach, which defeats much of the purpose and allows for the use of poor and biased measures, but I agree with the general idea of universal testing — which, incidentally, is the how nearly every other nation does it.

But let’s say No Child Left Behind worked perfectly, which it doesn’t (as a great big unfunded mandate with all sorts of odd provisions.) It would still only mean that we were teaching our children the wrong things, but doing it well.

Let’s look at our schools’ curriculum. We are generally very good on science trivia — what’s the temperature on Mars? Which planet is biggest? What are the rings made of? — but almost no American understand how science actually works. The scientific method is not something politicians usually like, because it replaces ideology with pragmatics. In short, the scientific method is a way of figuring out whether your belief system works or not.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a psychology or a physicist, the basic methods are the same — test your idea in a manner designed to eliminate your personal bias from the equation (this is most important in social science), and publish your methods along with your findings, in detail, so others can find flaws in your research. It’s that type of science that has brought us to the point where medicine helps more people than it hurts, but that type of science is hated by ideologues. After all, how can you say that vaccines are dangerous and irresponsible if you’ve read the research? How can you justify trickle-down economics — which no conservative should ever have endorsed — when there are so many studies showing it to be, as George H.W. Bush said, “voodoo economics”?

All sorts of policy decisions from both Democrats and Republicans would disappear if the scientific method was commonly used. But it’s rarely used, because very few people understand it. You practically need to apply for a doctorate to get starter courses — you can graduate college without understanding the first thing about research and testing.

So we teach science trivia well, but we don’t teach science at all in most schools.

Likewise, we teach pointless math. I’m not just referring to the University of Chicago’s insane method of teaching six ways to do addition and five ways to multiply — when everyone does it one way. That confuses students and causes needless studying and pain and probably hurts learning overall, versus the tried-and-true methods (including, by the way, learning the multiplication tables by rote.)

No, I’m referring to teaching trigonometry and calculus in high school, and ignoring probability and statistics. I believe that every student should be able to learn how probability and statistics work, to the point where they know when to apply a mean versus a median, a t-test (and what kind of t-test), when you have enough cases in the sample (or in each cell), how correlations work and don’t work, and all the other useful aspects of statistics. I would not care if they could calculate standard deviation by hand, but I’d want them to know how to use PSPP or another free statistics program, and I’d want them to be able to use it well and responsibly to test real data. Only then can ordinary people really understand how research is done, and then evaluate studies reprinted by the mass media (usually by people who don’t understand them) — and conduct their own research to test their own theories.

We’ll get on to language and culture later…

July 29, 2008

Football

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 3:08 pm

The economy is bad, states are short of cash, and Homeland Security is still playing “pretend to be secure” games with our airports and shipping ports. So where’s your money going? Here’s one place… Today’s Star-Ledger (New Jersey) disclosed that the State is now conducting an audit of the Rutgers University sports department, including stadium funds. The reason is a coach who gets $2 million per year in salary, plus a house and limousine, plus an apparent $250,000 per year bonus. Rutgers is a state university of New Jersey and receives massive infusions of tax dollars. Yet, the university has in the past managed to escape any serious scrutiny, even after the University of Medicine and Dentistry was found to be a cesspool of corruption and waste. The millions of dollars essentially embezzled from UMDNJ are not likely to ever be recovered; nor will most of the culprits end up in jail, if the past as any indication. Rutgers, which claims poverty on a regular basis and, like most universities, puts education into the back seat when they can have cheap grad students and adjuncts teaching, has no excuse for this lavish excess. Nor do we, as a society. Americans tend to tolerate this kind of wastefulness, as well as the professionalization of college sports. 

I believe now is the time for the Federal government to proclaim that any university that takes its money – in terms of financial aid or research grants – must de-professionalize their sports teams. That means going back to the days when there was a single coach who did not make more than the highest-paid professors; back to the days when games were played on fields, not in massive stadiums; back to the days when students were not recruited and given scholarships based on their athletic abilities. 

Universities love to pretend that sports are a profit center, and Rutgers will show you that inquiries rose dramatically when they started to throw money at the sports arena. What they won’t tell you is that they were already selective, and that the extra inquiries just waste money and paper. A precious few colleges or universities benefit from sports, but most lose a fortune and gain nothing. 

Colleges and universities are educational institutions. I see no reason why my tax dollars should be funding sports; that’s what Budweiser is for.

February 1, 2008

Insane passport security idea comes to fruition

Filed under: Government, Terrorism — Tags: , , — analysis @ 2:08 pm

If you visit http://travel.state.gov/passport/ppt_card/ppt_card_3926.html,you’ll find a glowing description of the wonders of our new American passports. Now they contain RFID chips, the same technology used to track pallets of widgets. This is an absolutely terrific idea for identity thieves. Now, thanks to our wonderful new technology, falsifying passports has become just a little bit easier, assuming that border guards use them the way they’re supposed to (to speed things up by relying on the information from the little chips). RFID is hardly one of the most secure technologies on the planet, at least if dozens of articles in eWeek and other magazines are to be believed. But the important thing is that it’ll let the White House fire a few low-paid, loyal employees. Putting aside for the moment the wisdom of basing security around a radio device whose signal can all too easily be impersonated, has it never occurred to anyone that those in other lands seeking a passport to steal can now acquire a cheap device that tells them when they’re near one? What’s more, the clever thief can now figure out whether the passport is in the luggage, the handbag, or the pocket. Oh, the miracles of modern technology with no intelligence behind it.

May 2, 2007

State’s rights are great, except when they aren’t

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 1:46 pm

Remember when President Reagan was still in charge? He was a big states’-rights fan. Really hated it when the Federal government stepped in and made the states conform to national rules – wanted to make the Federal government very small, like the Founding Fathers wanted it. Except, of course, when he didn’t. Reagan loved the FBI and CIA, especially when they investigated harmless people like the Sierra Club, and when they would plant explosives in various anti-war or environmental groups (in one case, years of prosecution ended when the judge discovered that the only violent member of a small green group was the FBI employee who had infiltrated it). States’ rights mattered, except when they didn’t, and they didn’t when he made the drinking age 21 across the country. Oh, states could resist, as long as they didn’t mind losing all their billions of dollars in highway funds. The Federal government was too strong, Reagan argued, as he used the CIA to train people like Bin Laden and countless South American thugs in torture and terrorism. But that was okay, because we were fighting communism, and the ends always justify the means. It must have been okay, because Reagan had an airport named after him. So did John Foster Dulles, incidentally.

Now we have the same issues. George W. Bush, who likes to pretend to be a conservative (though organized crime boss seems more appropriate, given all the billions given away to his friends, no strings attached, in the Iraq war – and the fact that most of what we have been supposedly building at phenomenal expense has recently been exposed as substandard and useless – and that he has blocked any form of auditors from preventing war profiteering). Bush also stood up for states’ rights, again and again. Except now, when he insists that the EPA is responsible for all pollution regulation and that states cannot overrule it or enact more strict rules. At issue is carbon dioxide emissions, which the Supreme Court – remember them? They appointed Bush in the first place – has ruled that the EPA must consider. The EPA, incidentally, has chosen to believe that while the Supreme Court can make the Chief Executive, it cannot tell the Chief Executive’s agencies what to do, and is refusing to do anything of the kind. Did you ever wish you were like the EPA or Microsoft and could ignore any judge in the land?

Several states have stepped in and decided that they would start enacting carbon dioxide caps, because for anyone not paid by ExxonMobile and the American Petroleum Institute (that’s hundreds of individual “researchers” as well as at least 40 different “research” institutions – including many people who used to work for the tobacco firms telling us that there was no link between smoking and cancer), there is a serious, real, imminent danger coming up. Global warming doesn’t mean that it’ll be 100 degrees in Saskatoon winters; it doesn’t need to. The climate doesn’t need much of a change to raise sea levels uncomfortably high, kill off lots of the fish we eat, greatly increase the savage intensity of hurricanes and tornados, create droughts and floods, and in short do all sorts of nasty things to us and our economies. So the states are starting to work on slowing down the rate of change. Unfortunately for them, and us, George W. Bush and his so-called conservative friends have decided that states’ rights only exist when the states agree with them, and they are pushing back in court, demanding that the Federal government prevail over the states.

States’ rights when they agree with you is hardly conservative thinking. The Republican Party should be ashamed of itself for leaning more and more away from conservatism and into the “corporate state.” Unfortunately, it seems that Ayn Rand would need to write several more novels for the average Republican to see this clearly – that corporate states are no better for individual freedom than union states.

January 2, 2007

Logical failure in the antitrust division

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 3:20 pm

How’s this for logic: Microsoft, having been found guilty of violating Federal law and illegally maintaining an effective monopoly, was released with a touch of the wrist (I wouldn’t call it a slap) and a promise not to do it again. Just like the last time the Justice Department settled similar charges. Yet, Microsoft continues to subvert standards so files and Web sites only work with Windows; refuses to make versions of its office software for any other platform (I’m talking Access here, though Mac users who want to read current Word and Excel files are also out of luck); and when it does make a hobbled version of its office software (free of Access, a key component, and unable to run Windows VisualBasic-based software based on Office) available for the Mac, it seems to make sure it leaves out key components and provides subtle incompatilities absent from, say, Adobe’s cross-platform products.

But this isn’t the time to talk about Microsoft violating Federal law, then committing perjury to cover it up, then being released without punishment after making hefty contributions to the right politicians. This is about Microsoft pushing their bought-and-paid-for politicians to go after Apple.

That’s right, Apple. You know how Microsoft has its own proprietary formats – two of them – for music? Neither one will work on iPods, because they’re not open to Apple, and won’t work on any Mac or Linux computer – unlike Apple’s DRM-version of AAC, which does work under Windows, albeit not under Linux.

Well, that doesn’t matter. Because Apple is being sued for its monopolistic practices, in keeping iTunes a closed system. That’s right – because Apple won’t pay Microsoft for a license to Windows’ DRM format, which is unusable on Macs, (let’s repeat this here – that’s unusable on Macs, which are Apple’s main reason for being in business) – Apple is being sued for monopolistic practices. Never mind that unlike Microsoft, with its huge bag of dirty tricks, Apple did not actually break the law to gain its market leader status. Never mind that you can play iTunes-encoded music on Windows PCs, and can load any MP3 encoded tunes, as long as they aren’t loaded with a proprietary Microsoft (or other proprietary) DRM which Apple would have to pay, onto an iPod. Never mind that you can even record music in AAC format – quite easily, in fact – and play that on an iPod.

Because Apple refused to pay for a license for Microsoft’s DRM software, which would not work on Macs, making Apple the maker of a music device that wouldn’t work with its own computer, Apple is now accused of monopolistic practices.

And it’s not like Apple, say, spread vicious rumors about competitive products (DR-DOS). Or deliberately altered the operating system to prevent people from running competitive products. Or bought out competitors to destroy them. Or paid other companies to engage in frivolous lawsuits (Linux users know what I’m talking about). Or charged companies license fees on software they didn’t install. Or subsidized money-losing products to gain dominance, successfully (XBox) or unsuccessfully (MSN). Or gave out massive campaign contributions to have lawsuits dismissed.

This one would defy logic, but it’s so openly corrupt and obvious the only thing that defies logic is how a judge refused to dismiss it.

August 15, 2006

Bush let the terrorists win – and is still letting them win

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 5:18 pm

The Bush administration likes to have people believe that if Al Gore had become president, based on the popular and electoral votes (as opposed to selected by the Supreme Court, then re-elected by means of more subtle electrion fraud), our response to 9/11 would have been different. The evidence shows that this is completely correct. We would never have fought Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan. We would never have fought and beaten the Iraqi regime. We would never have implemented tougher security measures for air flights.

We would also not have lost the World Trade Center and a chunk of the Pentagon, because the terrorist attacks would never have occured.

The evidence of the 9/11 Commission and other sources is conclusive and hard to refute. Bush was briefed multiple times about security problems, even the specific “plane as bomb” scenario, in ways that make what was to happen nearly as clear as his fore-knowledge of Hurricane Katrina. His reaction was identical: ignoring the problem, because his own personal experts thought it irrelevant or even attractive. (And attractive 9/11 certainly was to George W. Bush, who had no popular mandate, who was down in the polls, and who had no popular following to speak of. After 9/11 he automatically became a hero and had a unified country behind him that gave him near royal powers; without 9/11 he could never have invaded Iraq, saved Halliburton from bankruptcy, and assured his and Dick Cheney’s continued wealth and power. Re-election was out of the question until 9/11.)

Had Al Gore been president, there is no question but that measures would have been taken to prevent the 9/11 incidents. Al Gore has never been known to be ignorant about important national security matters; nor has he put his own wealth ahead of the national welfare again and again. Whatever else you might think of him, and he isn’t my hero either, Al Gore does have a high degree of intelligence and can add two and two and come up with four – or, in other words, he can read intelligence reports and respond to them.

What’s more, there’s the infamous NORAD “call off the planes” command that has been wiped out from the nation’s history. When planes go off their courses and transponders suddenly disappear – very suspicious acts – the military is ready. War planes are supposed to take off and, if needed, destroy the wayward jetliners. The nation’s Air Force was definitely prepared for the 9/11 strikes before they happened; our generals are not morons. (I have enough respect for our troops and their military leaders to know that they had thought of this problem long before 2001.) But a command was apparently given to countermand this. All records of that command have been destroyed, according to our government, even though they would have been invaluable for prevention of a repeat episode.

After 9/11, Bush half-heartedly searched for Osama Bin Laden, but that search seems to have ended now. The troops are needed in Iraq. He also gave in to Bin Laden’s main demand, leaving our base in Saudi Arabia. And needless to say the war in Iraq is something Bin Laden would approve of: he toppled a secular dictator, killed tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, blemishing America’s reputation for at least the next few decades and bringing many new recruits to the loony terrorist fringe, is destroying America’s economy by putting is into hopeless levels of debt, and started a civil war in Iraq that may very well be won by Islamic extremists. Overall, an excellent haul for Osama Bin Laden.

I suspect G.W. Bush doesn’t mind at all. He’s been in power long enough to get electronic voting machines installed all over the country; redistricting and changes in election oversight nearly guarantee that his party will stay in power indefinitely; he himself will get paid for those hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer money diverted to crooks and profiteers once he leaves office; and it’s all been one big party for him. Most of those killed in the terrorist attacks were New Yorkers, and New Yorkers usually elect Democrats; and the majority of those killed in Katrina appear to have been Democrats as well. Since Democrats are liberals and liberals are communists and communists are traitors, it all worked out quite well for Bush and his crowd, who only care about (some of) the Americans they know.

Shamefully, the political experts who coordinate hack columnists and commentators across the country have set up their talking points to insinuate that the recent election in Connecticut – where Al Lieberman lost the primary because he supported Bush’s actions to fight an endless war in Iraq instead of to protect the homeland – will weaken this country. Leaving Iraq would not weaken America. Spending all our money – and borrowing recklessly to spend money we do not have – weakens America. Diverting money from homeland security – making it impossible to protect our ports and chemical plants, and not even checking cargo sent on passenger airplanes – weakens America. Kicking out a guy who doesn’t care about his constituents is called democracy, not weakness.

If Bin Laden and his terrorist gang intended to destroy the united States, they did a great job of it so far. This country united against Bin Laden, but since then has been led down a path that leads to failure, dictatorship, and perhaps theocracy.

To think, if the Supreme Court had done their job and waited a mere 24 hours before choosing a president, the worst thing we would have to fear would be socialized medicine.

July 31, 2006

Who cares about stolen elections?

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 1:38 pm

When the Supreme Court officially ended a recount that was leaning dangerously close to having a competent President, rewriting the Constitution by appointing George W. Bush to the Presidency, most Americans closed the book on that election. Sure, a few newspapers did their own recounts and found a clear mandate from Florida for Al Gore – despite the elimination of 20,000 voters from the rolls because their names were vaguely like those of convicted felons in other states – all 20,000 being from Democrat-voting areas. But after all, didn’t LBJ win a Senate seat in a tained election? Wasn’t Chicago, well, Chicago for all those years? So Democrats did it too. That somehow made it all right that Republicans stole one election. It was making up for LBJ’s Senate seat.

Evidence for the theft of the election kept piling up – but precious few Americans had access to it. The BBC ran a complete exposé along with the confession of one of the election thieves, and as noted newspapers did a recount later, discovering that Gore really did win the election (no matter how the ballots were recounted), but that was old news. The election was over and we were told to get over it. After all, the Republicans wrote an election reform bill. That would fix things.

Then, we had 2004. The newspapers told us that everything was just fine so we went along with it. Now we know that the voting machines in Ohio and other battleground states were rigged. Exit polls, before accurate to within a fraction of a point, suddenly veered off-track by 5.5%, and always in the same direction. Massive quantities of non-Republicans suddenly chose to vote Republican while all Democrats seemed to stay at home in some districts. Some areas ended up with more voter than voters. But Kerry, in an attack of gutlessness which thankfully he never showed in Vietnam, let it go, and the people agreed. Sure, we had the uncomfortable knowledge that one voting-machine company head had proclaimed he would do whatever it took to get Bush re-elected; and the evidence to show that he had fulfilled his pledge. Sure, we knew that most election-machine makers conformed to no laws in testing and operating their equipment, and that some were run by convicted felons, and that all were faithful to the Republican Party. But the election was over and the losers were being whiners. Get over it.

We have another election in 2006. We can expect the same dirty tricks we have gotten in the past: voting machines in poor districts suddenly moved without any notification, people thrown off voting rolls if they happen to be the wrong color or party, and of course those great, unaccountable, uncontrollable electronic voting machines. And I’m sure that no matter how it turns out, anyone who protests will be told to get over it.

So I ask my fellow conservatives, even those who continue to vote for Republicans knowing that there are practically no more conservative Republicans on a national level, — when will it be enough? When the Republic is declared obsolete? When the Constitution can be rewritten at will because there are no real votes? When there is a single party?

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.
— Martin Niemoeller

To put it another way, do you believe in democracy only if you win?

July 5, 2006

Common sense immigration

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 7:27 pm

The pundits are out to distract us again. Yes, the war is way overbudget; yes, the rich are getting more tax cuts as the debt balloons out of pay-this-generation proportions; yes, the schools are still pretty poor; yes, the government is pretty clearly listening in on phone calls and e-mail without warrants; and yes, the NSA is kidnapping citizens and exporting them for torture without trial. But that’s OK, because The Protectors of Big Government are here to save you from flag burning (not that anyone does that any more), gay marriages (not that they’re legal in most states), and illegal immigrants.

The solutions to illegal immigration seem pretty simple. Take the money and energy that went into to Communist witch-hunting for all those decades since World War II – the insane fervor for eliminating an unpopular form of government which led us to train, arm, and fund Osama Bin Laden – and put it into making Mexico free and economically viable, so that Mexicans, at least, will not need to escape to the US. (You’ll notice nobody really worries about the influx of illegal Canadians.) Put people who hire illegal aliens into jail unless there are clear extenuating circumstances. Put up the cheapest possible fence with warning devices so that the border patrol will know where to go. Pay the border patrolmen more so they’re less corruptible. Put the FBI onto the scent of the human-smuggling industry.

Why is it that the methods used to fight illegal alcohol and tobacco, prostitution, and organized crime are seen as unfit for illegal immigration?

Why is it that it’s horrible for a Mexican to try to sneak to America to earn a living, but somehow perfectly fine for landscapers to make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year exploiting these same Mexicans?

Let’s face it, there’s a double standard here. The people running this country loathe the minimum wage because it’s government interference with business. (Government interference with humans is perfectly fine to them; in fact, the more the better. They reserve the right to dictate our religion, to listen to our conversations, and to open our mail, and to put us in jail without trial; but they hate anyone telling BUSINESS what to do.) If you have a never-ending supply of illegals, the minimum wage falls – and unions fail, too.

If they cared about illegal immigration, they could slow it to a trickle. Don’t be fooled by the talking points. Congress and the White House are trying another side-show to distract us from their wastrel ways and their erosion of the Bill of Rights. Take the opportunity to write to your Congressman right now and tell that civil servant exactly what you think of their shameful shams.

June 29, 2006

Who represents the conservatives?

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 2:52 pm

There was once a time when conservatives were represented by, well, conservatives.

That day has long gone. It is the era of the chickenhawk.

No longer do we have real conservatives acting as official spokesmen for the conservative movement; now we have people who, were they Democrats, would be called hippies and traitors.

First, we have the war profiteers like G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney, stealing millions now and no doubt getting hundreds of millions when they graduate from the White House.

Then we have the peacetime profiteers like Tom DeLay and all those others who use their positions in Congress and the Senate to reap millions off clearly illegal deals. No wonder they refuse to use their powers to investigate George W. Bush’s multiple felonies; they themselves are terribly vulnerable to blackmail and extortion.

Then we have the lazy drug addict who used to abuse welfare, Rush Limbaugh, the man who won’t appear unless he can choose his audience and his interviewees. Coming back from the Dominican Republic, he got hung up in customs with an illicit bottle of Viagra. This is from the man who sobbed about his addiction to prescription drugs fairly recently, and who admitted to being so lazy that friends had to do his shopping for him as he sat around the house on welfare. You know, the welfare he so eagerly wants to take away from people who have real disabilities. Like those people who are nearly killed in industrial accidents because OSHA isn’t allowed to make surprise inspections and often isn’t allowed to levy fines.

Then there’s Anne Coulter, a vile woman who makes up most of what she writes, making her the female literary version of Bill O’Reilly. And all the rest of the Fox News gang, which rather than thinking for themselves, as conservatives – people who espouse the idea that the individual is greater than the whole, that government is not fit to rule over people, that each individual has the responsibility and the right to express only their own opinion and not be “politically correct” – rather than thinking for themselves as conservatives, simply parrot a set of Party talking points.

Does anyone find it at all ironic that the “individual is greater than the state” conservatives of the Republican Party and Right Wing movements nearly always end up parroting the same lines and voting exactly the same way on each law that comes over their desk? That they who publicly espouse the idea of personal responsibility and rule of law have been guilty of the most heinous ethics violations since the Gilded Age, and have dragged their feet and refused to subpoena, much less prosecute most of the wrongdoers?

We need real conservatives to speak up now. Not crazies, not conspiracy theorists, not illogical meandering twits who use long words to cover up their own complete lack of rationality (you know who I mean!), and certainly not mail-order-PhDs (or diploma-mill PhDs for that matter) who wouldn’t know proper research if it slapped them in the face, but actual died-in-the-wool balanced-budget small-government individual-rights-and-responsibilities conservatives.

Where are you? and why do so many people think the various chickenhawks, liars, hypocrites, thieves, corporate apologists, mindless party-liners, and NSA abusers are conservatives?

June 25, 2006

What it means to be patriotic

Filed under: Government — analysis @ 7:50 pm

Being patriotic means asking what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you.
It is willingly paying more taxes so veterans don’t die in poverty.
It is sacrificing your company’s profits so your country can end a war more quickly.
It is buying a flag made in America so that Americans can have jobs and businesses instead of saving a dollar by buying a flag made in China.
It means buying a smaller vehicle – a car instead of an SUV, a smaller car instead of a bigger one – because you know terrorists are funded by oil-producing nations, and because you know our soldiers are dying to keep oil fields open. (In World War II, car production stopped entirely!)
It means buying fewer luxury items made in countries that are fighting your country either overtly, by turning its people against us, or by undermining our economy (Saudi Arabia and Syria come to mind but China is always there as well). Remember, in World War II children sacrificed their toys for the war effort, and adults dealt with food and fuel rationing!

War means sacrifice. We are sacrificing by running up a Federal deficit (credit card bill) of $8 trillion and the main buyers of our debt are our enemies. Not our avowed enemies, but our more clever enemies who know that their future does not lie in a long-term powerful, wealthy, secure America. Being patriotic is being willing to make that sacrifice now, not forcing it onto America’s children and America’s future by running up an $8 trillion tab (to be $9 trillion in the not-very-distance future).

Being patriotic means asking what you can do for your country, not what your country can do for you. (Not that I have any great love for John F. Kennedy, who was by no means a great president, but you have to admire the quote.)

Being patriotic means not having chicken-hawks determine war policy, but listening to the generals who have a lifetime of military experience and training. It means not calling those who sacrificed their limbs for America in Vietnam traitors and cowards. It means not blaming the victims of tragedy for creating the tragedy, and it means not profiteering – not making immense profits from the war while leaving soldiers penniless and in hospitals.

Being patriotic does not mean hating everyone from a country if a small number of people from that country are fighting us. It does not mean rewarding your friends or running your business from the Cayman Islands to avoid paying taxes. It does not mean blindly doing everything a leader tells you to do. Those who truly love their country will defend it from enemies within, even their commanders, if they need to; they will disobey orders that are unpatriotic, that are unethical, that will harm their country. Too many Nazis “just followed orders.” Americans do not “just follow orders.” Americans are expected to be better than that.

Being patriotic does not mean treating people from other countries like animals, vermin, or worse, especially when that will only bring about an atmosphere of hatred and venom that comes back to haunt us. Being patriotic does not mean funding evil people who are fighting a common enemy – people like Osama Bin Laden, cheerfully trained in terrorism and funded by the CIA so he could fight communists.

Being patriotic is hard. Pasting a flag made in China on the back of a Honda Odyssey is easy.

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