Category Archives: Bongos

Islamophobia is bad but it is a good step

A national ban on an architectural element seems silly but the vote to stop the construction of minarets in Switzerland is a real accomplishment. The people of a mature country have peacefully expressed a strong collective feeling against what they perceive as a grave threat. The tragedy is that they identified the threat as the Islamic religion.

The real threat is more general, more widespread, and more dangerous than Islam. It took something as extreme as Islamic extremism to trigger a cultural awareness of it. Unfortunately, like the ringing of an alarm clock, the first thing to awaken consciousness is for a time the only piece of reality about which we are aware. Islamic extremism is the alarm clock.

The supporters of the minaret ban see the growth of the Muslim population as an aggressive cultural invasion. They don’t see an immigrant minority that deserves state protection. They see settlers from a destructive culture claiming their country. They feel vilified within their homeland by outsiders and they are afraid that their politicians will continue to insist on irrational “religious tolerance” despite the intolerant attitudes spread through Islam.

National Islamophobia is a phase whose time has come. It is extreme, prejudiced, and wrong, but it is the natural reaction against the wrong actions of extremists trying to universalize Islam. Two wrongs do make a right when everyone learns a lesson. The lesson here is that no protection for status, be it religion, race, sex, or what have you, is deserved when it is used for harm.

Religions have been invoked to excuse atrocious behavior since ages before the life of Muhammad. So have other statuses such as race, color, nationality, and sex. The world tends to absolve these harmful trends after a reform and some generations. And the human race eventually learns a lesson.

I see the minaret ban as a sign that the world is just beginning to reject religion as an excuse for bad behavior. Peaceful Muslims will work with non-Muslims to prevail over the radical perversion of Islam. This time will pass into history and be replaced by a time of rational discrimination and careful tolerance. I hope I’m right, the sooner the better.

Persepolis 2.0

The animated feature Persepolis is one of my favorite blu ray movies. Writer and director Marjane Satrapi was a nine-year-old girl living in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The movie covers her struggle to deal with her country’s evolution from fundamentalism to religious extremism. It is a beautiful telling of an emotional life story.

A few days ago there appeared Persepolis 2.0, a mashup of the original graphic novel and the recent election protests in Iran written from the opposition viewpoint. What would it have looked like if the authors had supported the incumbent regime?

To Time Warner Cable

What’s wrong with charging internet subscribers per gigabyte? When you pin your rates to an index that is guaranteed to rise faster than costs in order to increase profits, your risk remains pinned to customer retention. This business is sums, not rocket calculus.

The first thing you did wrong was to pick a margin so greedy as to be unjustifiable. Many consumers know or at least feel that half a dollar is too much to pay for a gigabyte of network traffic. Moderately savvy consumers would complain if rates were more than a few cents per gigabyte.

The second thing you did wrong was to try to profit most on the subscribers most likely to feel the inequity. The more bandwidth a person uses, the more likely they can understand their own usage habits in terms of gigabytes; the more likely they have a reality-based idea of the costs; the more likely they are to voice their righteous complaints publicly, educate other consumers, and threaten to subscribe elsewhere.

Many of them also know that they are good customers; they don’t consume your low-value, high-cost call center or web portal resources, they just want cheap, reliable bandwidth. These are the very people you should have favored when crafting your rate plans. Instead you underestimated and insulted them. Now they are clamoring to the competition, it is time to show them consideration. Whatever rate you settle on, it well be easier to swallow because it involves a concession. It was wise of you to test high rates on small markets.

The trump card that allows free consumers to demand a fair deal is the ability to decline the deal. Are consumers free if they believe your service is a necessity of life? Assuming people need your service, you can get away with outrageous rates if the competition colludes rather than competes. This would leave an opening in the market for low-rate providers if you hadn’t already locked it shut by lobbying for fixed-cost regulations that only established providers can afford. You’re pretty smart after all.

Smoke… for the children!

The health of American children will rest on the shoulders of a dying breed if President Obama signs the SCHIP Reauthorization Act of 2009. Click the PDF version and scroll to page 265, Title VII—Revenue Provisions. Taxes on tobacco and related products will increase by as much as 3,057%. Here’s a sample:

SEC. 701. INCREASE IN EXCISE TAX RATE ON TOBACCO PRODUCTS.

(a) Cigars- Section 5701(a) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended–

(1) by striking `$1.828 cents per thousand ($1.594 cents per thousand on cigars removed during 2000 or 2001)’ in paragraph (1) and inserting `$50.33 per thousand’,

[…]

(c) Cigarette Papers- Section 5701(c) of such Code is amended by striking `1.22 cents (1.06 cents on cigarette papers removed during 2000 or 2001)’ and inserting `3.15 cents’.

Funding child health care by taxing smoking, an activity which is increasingly targeted for eradication by government campaigns, creates an indirect conflict of interests. You can’t have it both ways. But according to the rhetoric of our times, individuals are morally compelled to sacrifice themselves for the good of the collective.

So find a place where it’s still legal and light up, smokers! Spread the good news to your non-smoking friends: to quit is to condemn future generations. These are the times that try men’s lungs.

If you smoke a non-tobacco substance, put away the reusable smoking paraphernalia and puff your stuff in papers taxed under 5701(c). Better yet, use the wrapper from a cigar taxed under 5701(a) and remind yourself that you did it for the children.

Paid Straight

There is so much talk about how the government must fix the economy. The teetering corporate giants loom over our vulnerable cities, foretelling the doom of everyone who lives in their shadow. Woe is us, brother. We put too many eggs in too few baskets and now look where we are: proving once again that we would sooner repeat our mistakes than take the consequences and learn something. Are we really too far advanced to learn anything?

I’ll tell you the truth in the next paragraph. First let me tell some lies. Nobody is happy with the situation. Nobody is immune to it. Nobody wants to see good people take the fall. Nobody is seeking to profit from disaster. Nobody elected to their office would take this opportunity to suck federal money into their local communities to guarantee their election for another term. Nobody on the public payroll would take a bribe. Never forget those lies.

Now the truth. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. To get your way in this country you have to pay for it. Always remember that truth.

Now a fresh idea. Let’s start bribing our politicians openly. We could take up a collection to pay our representatives to balance the budget, for example. Would that even be a bribe? A reward for the correct performance of a sworn duty… why, that sounds to me like the definition of fairness. But isn’t that why we pay them in the first place?