Now If We Could Only Pump Out the Bilge…

The Ninth Circuit–of all judicial bodies–has ruled that the State (dare I say "People’s Republic?") of California cannot regulate on their own emissions from ships entering California ports:

A federal appeals court Wednesday rejected a state regulation that reduced emissions from ships, dealing a blow to California‘s attempt to combat one of the major sources of smog-forming pollution in the Los Angeles region.

The ruling means that the state must seek federal approval before imposing pollution limits on the thousands of cargo ships, cruise ships and other marine vessels that visit its ports.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that California’s new regulation is preempted by federal law. The Clean Air Act allows California to set its own standards for various vehicles and engines if it receives waivers from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The state argued that in this case it didn’t technically need a waiver, but the judges disagreed.

Perhaps this will stave off outsourcing our ports to Mexico.  Perhaps not.

Old Labour Is Back After All

Ten days ago, I opined the following in the wake of Northern Rock’s nationalisation:

The Brown government’s decision to nationalise Northern Rock takes us back to the days when Labour governments in the UK were wont to nationalise just about everything that moved–literally in the case of British Rail and British Leyland…If the Brown government allows this kind of mentality to spread to other aspects of policy (especially taxation,) they will oversee the running down of the UK as they did following World War II, as capital goes elsewhere.

It hasn’t taken long for the markets to figure this out:

The collapse of Northern Rock and the proposed tax crackdown on non-domiciled residents are making the UK less attractive to overseas businesses, according to the City of London Corporation, which commissioned the survey.

A separate survey, also commissioned by the City, said the UK tax system had lost its competitive edge over other financial centres. The UK had become increasingly unpredictable and uncertain, complex and unnecessarily aggressive in its approach to taxpayers, it found.

Thursday was the last day for submissions to the Treasury on the government’s plans to charge non-doms £30,000 a year if they wanted their overseas income to remain outside the UK tax net after seven years’ residence.

City leaders have already warned that the proposals, which include a crackdown on offshore trusts, will provoke an exodus of foreign investors and professionals who have contributed to its pre-eminence as a financial centre.

It’s also a salutary warning to those on this side of the Atlantic who would advance an "Old Labour" agenda over here.

The Problem with Obama Negotiating

George Bush’s attack on Barack Obama’s idea of negotiating with the likes of Raul Castro makes an earlier piece, The Problem with Americans Negotiating, worth repeating:

The Iraq Study Group report highlights something that deserves better treatment than it receives in our political/media system: the problem with Americans negotiating for anything.

Basically, Americans look at negotiating with Iran, Syria or anyone else the same way they do business deals: the negotiators go in, they apply whatever skills they have at “doing the deal,” but they get the deal done. Failing to do so results in the perception that the negotiations were a failure, and thus the negotiators are failures. This is a tag no American can stand to be stuck with.

People in other cultures are just as keen in “getting something done” in negotiations. But they approach the problem with two very different perspectives than Americans do. The first is a longer view of time than Americans have, which isn’t saying much since Americans define the “long term” as after lunch. The second is that most people outside the U.S.–especially in non-Western cultures–put a higher degree of value on relationship developing first before they get down to business.

The reason for the second is simple: without the imposition of the legal and social system that exists within the U.S., they start with a complete lack of trust for the opposite side. That trust has to be developed, which takes place with the development of a relationship. If and only if and when that relationship is developed–and that can take a lot of time–substantive negotiations can begin. It’s easier for foreigners to walk away from a deal for the reason that “they can’t trust these people” than it is for Americans.

We found this out in arms negotiations with the Soviets. The Americans were under higher pressure to “get the deal done” than the Soviets were, which automatically strengthened the Soviets’ position. Only Ronald Reagan managed to bring himself to realise that he couldn’t trust the Soviets and thus curtail negotiations with them until his own position was stronger. The memory of this deeply influences George W. Bush, which is why he is adverse to starting discussions with Iran and Syria.

On the face of it, there’s no problem in negotiating with just about anyone.  But in a system where results–and preferably fast results–are considered mandatory, the pressure to cave is too great.  And, of course, if your objective is to cave–a distinct possibility in this case–then the need to stay at home is even more important.

Then again, as I suggested earlier, he could make a tee time…

Conflict Resolution, Then and Now: the Indian River School District Decision

I have to confess that I was a little "buffaloed" by the story of the school district in Delaware which (mercifully) came to a settlement in litigation concerning religious expression in schools.

One line, however, caught my special attention:

Mrs. Dobrich’s decision to leave her hometown and seek legal help was made after a school board meeting in August 2004 on the prayer issue. Hundreds showed up to protest her position.

Her son, Alex, then 11, had written a short statement that said in part: “I feel bad when kids in my class call me ‘Jew boy.’ I do not want to move away from the house I have lived in forever.”

Contrast this with the following (from my 2005 piece Join the Club (Maybe Not!):

All through my years in school in South Florida, Jewish and Gentile kids were together. I had many Jewish friends and classmates. Sometimes things didn’t go according to plan. My brother made the mistake of calling a Jewish classmate a "Jew boy," and same son of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob responded by fracturing his jaw. (That’s one way to deal with anti-Semitism!)

Needless to say, my brother’s Jewish friend had no thought of leaving Palm Beach!

Defining What the United States Means

In the middle of my debate with "DJ" over what it means to be patriotic, another debate has surfaced: is John McCain, who was born in the Canal Zone, eligible to be President since he was born in the Panama Canal Zone, which is outside the continental United States?

Let’s take this issue apart on a number of levels.

The first thing we need to do is to dispense with the criterion of "inside the continental United states."  Next year Alaska and Hawaii will celebrate fifty years of statehood, and both of these states are outside the continental United States.  After all this time, the hour has come to stop thinking of this country ending at Port Angeles or Key West (actually, some of us who were raised in South Florida think that it ends at Stuart, but I digress…)

And that leads to the central point: there are many places in the world which are certainly United States territory which are neither in the continental U.S. nor admitted states.  Such places include Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam and others.  Most of these were annexed without the consent of their own people; this has been especially contentious in Puerto Rico.  They are obviously United States territory and, especially with the Fourteenth Amendment (which the right is silly to try to contravene with legislation,) their inhabitants, for better or worse, are Americans.

When John McCain was born, the Panama Canal Zone was part of this country.  The U.S. actually separated Panama from Colombia, then secured the Canal Zone in order to control the strategic Panama Canal, which the U.S. built.  The Canal Zone was part of the U.S.  This stuck in the craw of the Panamanians, who eventually persuaded Jimmy Carter to return the Zone to Panama.  And the backwash of that decision was one reason why Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan.

If the status of the Canal Zone as American territory was important enough to help get a president out of office, being born there should not be a bar to getting into the White House.

A Follow-Up on Barack Obama’s Patriotism

I expected at least some response on my piece on Barack Obama’s patriotism, and I wasn’t disappointed.  "DJ" (as is so often the case with my opponents, from California) expressed unhappiness with it.  So some response is in order.

Let me start at the end of his comment: except for some pieces in the "static" section of the site, this is an opinion site.  My scholarly sites, such as they are, are here (and to some extent here, and perhaps here.)   So there’s no "false advertising" going on.

Second, characterising Obama’s basic attitude as "anti-American" can be interpreted as either "character assassination" (as DJ does) or a singular virtue.  It depends on your point of view.  There are many people in the world today who view whatever comes out of this country as negative, be it military interventions (such as Iraq, and I’d throw in Kosovo, Clintonistas notwithstanding) or the "sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll" and more that comes out of Hollywood, just up the I-5 from DJ.  Should these people be dismissed out of hand?  If such were strictly a foreign sentiment, then Americans could do what they usually do under such circumstances–ignore it. But it’s not; many of the left feel the same way, although they would restrict their anger to the wars.  But many foreigners don’t make such a distinction:  to them, imperialism is imperialism, be it economic, cultural or military.

Beyond that, my point is that any anti-American sentiments that Obama might be concealing are not unique to him.  They are part and parcel with much of the attitude that pervades the upper reaches of this society, and I didn’t need to learn that from Rush Limbaugh.  But the thought of our leaders having this kind of attitude is something that most Americans, of any political persuasion, find very hard to accept.  It doesn’t fit within the ideal construct that many people in the country view their land with.  Ideal constructs, of course, are what public schools are good at teaching, but when students leave reality must be faced.  So it’s better to prepare oneself sooner.

The attitude of the elites is fundamentally unAmerican because the basic theory of the country is different from, say, Europe.  In Europe the ruling classes have a social compact with the masses; give the masses reasonable wages, job security and a broad social net, and the masses promise not to pull repeats of 1789 Paris or 1917 Petrograd.  The U.S. was set up to be a "bottom-up" type of society with suitable checks and balances to keep things stable.  It was also meant to be a land of opportunity to succeed rather than a guarantee of success.  Shifting the U.S. towards a more European construct (which is in reality the result of the platform of both of the leading Democrat candidates) may please many on the top and bottom, but it is guaranteed to sap the dynamism that has put the U.S. in its singular position.  Given the competitive nature of the world we live in, that’s dangerous, be it stupidity or treason.

There are two charges the DJ made that are simply false.

The first is that I am an uncritical supporter of Bush’s agenda.  That’s the same mistake that many who have adversely responded to Spengler’s Asia Times Online (is it unpatriotic to read such a site, DJ?) piece have made.  Both Spengler and I are decidedly underwhelmed by Bush’s Iraq policies.  Let me start with Spengler:

The George W Bush administration has squandered a great strategic advantage in a sorry lampoon of nation-building in the Muslim world, and has made enemies out of countries that might have been friendly rivals, notably Russia. Americans question the premise of America’s standing as a global superpower, and of the promise of upward mobility and wealth-creation.

Now for my own opinion:

Those who oppose the war in Iraq endless talk generally talk about things such as the WMD’s, the "lies," etc.  They’re trying to make a moral case out of it.

For us, the matter is simpler: because of the nature of Middle Eastern society, democracy is presently impossible.  Thus the whole premise of bringing democracy to the Middle East was a chimera to start with and remains so today.

To buttress our case, one only needs to consider the following said on Memri by the Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Sa’id ("Adonis"):

First of all, I oppose any external intervention in Arab affairs. If the Arabs are so inept that they cannot be democratic by themselves, they can never be democratic through the intervention of others. (emphasis ours)

If we want to be democratic, we must be so by ourselves. But the preconditions for democracy do not exist in Arab society, and cannot exist unless religion is reexamined in a new and accurate way, and unless religion becomes a personal and spiritual experience, which must be respected.

The second is his charge that I think Obama is a "wolf in sheep’s clothing."  Obama, to use Winston Churchill’s phrase, is in my estimation a "sheep in sheep’s clothing."  Obama’s danger is not his strength (unlike Hillary Clinton) but his weakness, and an anti-American agenda–intentional or accidental–is most easily forwarded by passivity.  In that respect he is like Jimmy Carter.

Starbucks’ Transformation and Leonard Sweet

One of the objectives of many "post-modern" Christian authors is to faithfully echo the style (if not the message) of our culture.  But, even though I read and reviewed Leonard Sweet’s book The Gospel According to Starbucks, I never appreciated how successful he was in doing that until I saw Starbucks’ Chairman Howard Schultz’ address to his baristas in anticipation of their brief shutdown yesterday evening:

Aged Sumatra … that’s what I’m drinking as I write you this note.  Hands down, it’s my favorite coffee.  Aged for three to five years in a warehouse in Singapore, then shipped as green coffee to our plant in Kent, Washington, and roasted to perfection.  The result is a stunning cup of coffee.  The velvety mouthful, the full-body of one of our classic Indonesian coffees, and the subtle but ever-present earthiness and spiciness brought to life by our proprietary aging process.  It’s rare, it’s exotic, and it’s ours.  What a gift … and we get to share it with one another and with our customers…

As Starbucks partners, we are bound together by the passion we have for our coffee and the customer experience.  More than 170,000 of us stand for quality and an uncompromising ethical standard. We uphold our guiding principles by demonstrating respect and dignity for one another, and for our customers.

Sweet replicates this kind of "upward" prose throughout his book.  But there are a few points that need to be made.

  1. Schultz has just resumed his post as CEO to help turn things around.  For Christians, our CEO hasn’t changed.  And, like Schultz, he expects excellence in what we do.
  2. Schultz also says that "We are the third place in the lives of millions of our customers."  Our CEO wants the experience people have in our churches to transform them and make him first place in life.  (The key to that, BTW, is that that experience needs to come from the CEO and not from somewhere else!)
  3. Sumatra is my favourite blend too, but don’t forget to pray for the Christians and Muslims that live there.  Some of them have to harvest the beans!
  4. From a practical standpoint, the best news is that Starbucks will restore free wifi, so I can do things like this while enjoying their coffee.



Sweet’s response to this was as follows:

Thx! for the link. I think the church ought to consider doing the same: shut down the building/campus for 3 weeks or 3 months or even 3 years to reboot . . . to rededicate ourselves to our lost first love, and to retrain ourselves in the "love, passion and commitment" (in Howard Schultz’s words) to the Christ experience (not the "Starbucks Experience")…

I’m tired of "leadership seminars" . . it’s time for "followership seminars;" it’s time for the lost art of discipleship.

Yes indeed!

A Lift From the East

Every time I get discouraged at the way U.S. Evangelicals operate, it’s good to see some sense coming from somewhere else, as is the case with Sunny Lee’s article about the North Korean commando turned South Korean pastor Kim Shin-jo:

Kim believes that foreign aid to North Korea has its limitations and that true change should come from inside. For example, he suggested that North Korea send talented people to the South to receive education and then return to improve North Korea’s society. Kim said the North should even consider sending young people to study in the US. "China did it, too," he said.

Kim said some day he wants to visit his hometown in North Korea. "If you leave your home in the morning it’s a very human feeling to go back home at night. I’ve been living my life with a deep guilt for my family and relatives," the soft-spoken Kim said.

Yet Kim believes that having too much expectation can drain one’s emotion and that it may take some time for his wish to come true. "I see the possibility. It will come some day. Jesus taught us to be patient."

His testimony’s powerful, too: he was sent from North Korea as part of a plot to assasinate then South Korean President Park Chung-hee.  But you’ll have to read for yourself how he became a Christian and a pastor.

The Explosive Subject of Laptop Batteries on Airplanes

Mike Elgan wonders if the next ban on things taken on a commercial flight are batteries in laptops:

Laptops are the best thing that ever happened to airline travel. They enable you to catch up on your work, play games or watch a movie while you are traveling.

Better still, many airlines are now installing costly equipment that enables you to access the Internet during flights. Most of these systems use your laptop’s built-in Wi-Fi to connect.

Unfortunately, this laptops-in-the-sky nirvana probably won’t last. The problem: Laptop batteries can explode catastrophically. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. It’s only a matter of time before it happens in-flight.

The FAA forbids you to use your iPod during takeoff — do you think it won’t ban laptop batteries?

Another reason to drive, if you can…

A Serious Change of View

Joyce Reingold’s piece on the Everglades Club employee who is suing for discrimination that led to rape brings to mind what is, for me, one of the biggest changes I have experienced from growing up at a church like Bethesda-by-the-Sea to the one I work for: one’s relationship with minorities, some of which work at places like the Everglades Club.

In my early years of working for the Church of God, I got to know the Executive Director of Church of God Black Ministries, Asbury Sellers (photo at right.)  When I tell people I grew up in Palm Beach, most let it pass.  Not Bishop Sellers.  He quizzed me down extensively on where exactly in Palm Beach I had lived.  I ended up giving him driving directions to the place, at which point he was satisfied I wasn’t a poser.  How could he do this?  He had been a pastor at one of our churches across the lake, and doubtless some of his church members worked on the island.

Many of our churches in South Florida are black churches, be they African-American, Haitian, West Indian, or what not.  We also have a rapidly growing (approx. 20% of our local churches) group of Hispanic churches.  We serve these people through conferences (my superior was in North Miami last weekend to speak at a men’s conference at a West Indian church,) support for their men’s and evangelistic ministries, and product sales.  They are our brothers and sisters, and they’re great people (take a look at this posting from a recent leader’s conference in Orlando to see the composition of a Church of God delegation.)

When you are put in a position where you deal with such a diverse group of people as equals, your whole perspective changes.  It’s put me in a position of dealing with people whom I would have never rubbed shoulders with had I stuck with the social circle I was raised in.  But I’m certainly the better for it, and have had a lot of fun in the process.


I’m adding Joyce Reingold’s blog–PB Upd8–to my blogroll.  It will give you a unique perspective of what’s going on in a place like Palm Beach.