The 4th of July is a date. Independence Day is a holiday.

July 2, 2010


 thanks to

This Sunday we celebrate our nation’s founding. Specifically, we mark the occasion of the July 4, 1776 adoption of the Declaration of Independence, which formally separated the American colonies from British rule and established the sovereignty of the United States.

Today, most Americans call it the “Fourth of July”. They have a long weekend off from work, drink beer at a family or friends barbeque, maybe catch a ball game, eat hot dogs and of course, watch a fireworks display.

As such, the day has become more “USA Day” than anything else. The requisite patriotism is there, but it’s empty. Wave a little flag, wave a little sparkler. Watch the kids run around. Relax at the beach. Get drunk.

There’s nothing wrong with all those things, and Americans should certainly take a day or two every year to relish in all the good that being an American citizen offers. Were blessed to the point where we can relax, play, eat, drink and giddily light off colorful explosives.  It’s a benefit.

But all that comes from somewhere and something. It’s when the somewhere and something aren’t what the focus of the celebration is about, and you’re just left with the superficial byproducts…that’s a problem. Because eventually, if the “Fourth of July” just keeps going on as a day to use an excuse to party…then it’s just going to become a date on the calendar, a holiday with no real meaning.

The somewhere is of course that time 234 years ago, specifically at a meeting in Philadelphia, but spiritually up and down all of the colonies. The something is the fact that our forefathers had had enough. Had enough of being taxed with being represented. Had enough of being occupied. Had enough of being silenced. But most importantly, had enough of being dependent.  

Man’s natural state consists of a desire – a yearning – to be independent. Even as young as at the age of 2, humans take demonstrable actions to make clear their intention not to have to rely on anyone but themselves. This proves to be impossible at first, but after fighting for it for years as teens, as we become adults the goal of independence becomes, to a significant degree, attainable. The process of becoming independent – and all that comes along with it – is the “pursuit” of happiness. It’s the root of human existence.

The Declaration of Independence isn’t just a great political document – more importantly, it’s a great humanitarian document. It outlines not just the rationale for why the colonists were justified in separating from King George, it highlights the spiritual underpinnings of why man has the natural right to live his life the way he wants to – a large part of that being the right to (necessarily) be governed the way he wants to.

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

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We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

Thomas Jefferson’s words bring chills to the spine – not just because of their poetic majesty, nor their patriotic nostalgia. It’s because they are among the truest words ever thought, written or spoken. The greatness, nay the promise of America, is captured right there for all the world to read. By virtue of the Declaration, the independence of man is mirrored in its most ambitious and fortuitous form – the Uniting of the States of America, whose grand vision, under the guiding principle of liberty, is of a people never more to be dependent on anyone but themselves. This idea, come to fruition, is known as the American Experiment.

Which, so far, has worked pretty well.

That’s what should be celebrated this Sunday.

You can read the full text of the Declaration of Independence here.


16 Years Ago Today: Two Cities, One Wild Ride

June 17, 2010

thanks to

June 17, 1994. With all that’s happened in the world since then, it really does seem like a long time ago now.

That day, the surreal developments in the OJ Simpson murder story had suddenly gone from “unfolding” to “overflowing”. While of national interest, the events were taking place in Los Angeles, and from the TV coverage it seemed as if that entire city was hypnotized by the slow-speed chase from the LA freeway to Brentwood. But for us sports fans in New York, the day was just as incredible – if not more so.

The Rangers Stanley Cup victory parade was held that afternoon down the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan. While the night of the clincher against Vancouver in Game 7 was thrilling, seeing the players hoist the Cup in front of millions of fans on the parade route really symbolized the culmination of not just an incredible season, but the end of decades of frustration. Needless to say, emotions were running wild.

thanks to

The Knicks, meanwhile, were in the midst of slaying demons of their own. With Jordan off playing baseball, Knicks fans were on the precipice of the promise that winning Patrick Ewing in the ’85 draft lottery always held: the return of the NBA Championship to the “Mecca of basketball”, Madison Square Garden. On that Friday night, the Knicks hosted the Rockets for Game 5 of a deadlocked Finals.

NBC was facing the unprecedented challenge of juggling the game broadcast with live updates of the OJ chase. On summer break from college, I was watching the game at home with some friends and can recall multiple frustrating moments of drunkenly yelling at the TV: “C’mon, switch back to the game!”, followed minutes later by, “C’mon, what’s going on with OJ?”. It felt like we were all glued to the TV for hours – a simple bathroom break needed to be carefully planned and expertly executed so not to miss whatever happened next – which honestly could have been anything. You had no idea what to expect, and it was simultaneously thrilling and nauseating. Eventually, NBC put the chase in a small picture-in-picture box at the bottom of the screen with the game audio on…or the other way around. Things were happening so breathtakingly fast at the Garden and so maddeningly slow in LA, it’s hard to remember what was what. The Knicks played a great first half, then blew a second half lead only to pull it out for the W in the last few minutes (they would eventually lose the last two games in Houston).

thanks to

Overall, it was day in sports – and American history – truly unlike any other. As if ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentary series wasn’t fantastic enough already, last night’s debut of “June 17th, 1994” should win them an Emmy. Director Brett Morgan artfully pieces together news clips and raw footage of that day’s events (including the Opening Ceremonies of soccer’s World Cup in Chicago, and Arnold Palmer’s final US Open round). Especially emblematic of the tenor of that day is the off-air footage of Bob Costas, hosting the Finals at MSG, frantically trying to figure out how to best handle the transitions between him and news anchor Tom Brokaw in the studio. If you didn’t catch it, you can find the broadcast schedule for the replays (and watch clips) here. The film cements what was a noteworthy day for the whole country, and an unforgettable one in NY and LA.

Kim Jong-Il? How about Fi-Fa Ill.

June 8, 2010


This weekend, the FIFA World Cup begins in South Africa. The World Cup (held every four years) is considered to be the top international championship in the sport of “football” (aka soccer). As soccer is the world’s most popular sport, the World Cup is pretty much the biggest sporting event in the world. Like the Olympics, it defines international athletic competition. It is truly a spectacle, and it’s scope is practically overwhelming. What other event on the planet conjures up the same intensity, emotion and pride from both snooty Parisians and starving Nigerians?

But FIFA, soccer’s world organizing body who holds the World Cup, has behaved shamefully and hypocritically in this incarnation of the event. Hiding behind their non-discrimination policy in regards to politics, FIFA lets any country, no matter what, enter and compete for their championship. Specifically, they have allowed North Korea, lead by their totalitarian dictator Kim Jong-Il (who recently made another brazen power grab), to compete and qualify for the Cup “Finals” tournament.

 thanks to

I’m not suggesting that North Korea shouldn’t be allowed to have a national team that competes in “friendlies” and other regional tournaments. But the World Cup is an entirely different matter altogether. Because of it’s extremely high visibility and scope, by allowing North Korea to participate, FIFA is basically legitimizing, and yes, celebrating a country that has perhaps the worst human rights conditions in the world.


– The group Human Rights Watch this year reported that:

Despite lip-service to human rights in the constitution, human rights conditions in North Korea remain dire. There is no organized political opposition, free media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees, and lack of due process remain serious issues. North Korea operates detention facilities including those popularly known as “political prison camps” where hundreds of thousands of its citizens – including children – are enslaved in deplorable conditions for various anti-state offenses. Collective punishment is the norm for such crimes. Periodically, the government publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other “anti-socialist” crimes.

– Amnesty International currently has “long-standing concerns about human rights violations in North Korea”, including the “near-total suppression of fundamental freedoms”. Last year, they reported that “Millions of people faced the worst food shortages since the late 1990s” and that “widespread violations of human rights persisted”, including the fact that “North Korea’s widespread policy of enforced disappearance…continued. North Korean family members of suspected dissidents disappeared under the principle of “guilt by association”.”

– The website featured North Korea in their “Worst of the Worst 2010: the world’s most repressive societies”. In it, they report that last year:

the government announced a major revaluation of its currency and restricted the amount of old notes that individuals could exchange, effectively wiping out many citizens’ cash savings.
and that
North Korea’s parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly (SPA), is a rubber-stamp institution that meets irregularly for only a few days each year.
plus, “Corruption is believed to be endemic at all levels of the state and economy”, “All media outlets are run by the state”, “all publications are subject to strict supervision and censorship. Internet access is restricted to a few thousand people with state approval” and “freedom of religion…does not exist in practice. Nearly all forms of private communication are monitored by a huge network of informers. Freedom of assembly is not recognized”
and to top it all off:
There have been widespread reports of trafficked women and girls among the tens of thousands of North Koreans who have recently crossed into China.
But wait folks, that’s just what doesn’t get reported by the mainstream media. North Korea recently amped-up decades-long tensions with South Korea, with an unprovoked sinking of one of the South’s naval ships (killing 46). And we can’t forget to throw in a little nuclear-warhead testing belligerence, right?
FIFA wants to keep politics out of the World Cup, but they also say they “shall promote friendly relations…in society for humanitarian objectives”. It’s quite clear that this is not a political matter, and is a humanitarian one. As such, they are not holding up to the responsibility they have to the immense soccer-worshiping international community. Most soccer experts would say the North Korean squad is relatively pretty weak, few are predicting them to win even 1 game. But what if they were a legit title contender? What if one day, they won the World Cup? It baffles me that FIFA wouldn’t fear the day they were forced to celebrate that: imagine the despicable scene of North Korean officials – probably Kim Jong-Il himself – being presented with the trophy and congratulated! What kind of message does that send to other despots and dictators? And more importantly, what kind of message does it send to the rest of the world? Listen kids, North Korea is a bad place, they treat their people in horrific ways. But they have an awesome soccer team, so it’s no biggie!
By allowing North Korea to participate, they are basically saying that there is nothing – literally nothing – a nation can (or cannot) do to be prohibited from the chance to win soccer’s highest honor. Say two years from now, Kim Jong-Ill nukes South Korea (which, at this point, is not a far-fetched possibility at all). Would FIFA disallow them from qualifying for the 2014 Cup? Where is the line? 
It seems to me FIFA, like North Korea itself, doesn’t have one.

New Page: Top Beers

June 1, 2010


Check out the new Top Beers page!

This page will have rankings of my favorite beers by style.

First up: American IPA’s

Is “You Cut” the wave of the future of government?

May 27, 2010


Welcome to YouCut

“You cut” is the House Republicans’ new online tool to get feedback on which bloated federal programs to cut in an effort to save massive amounts of taxpayer dollars.

This seems to be more for show than anything else, since the Republicans are in the minority – but at least it shows they are a) actively trying to do something about the problem and b) actually know how to harness the power of this newfangled thingy they call the world wide intraweb. This exactly is the kind of thing they need to be doing to win the majority in November (so they can actually implement the cuts). And with this, the left can no longer say the right is “the party of no” and “doesn’t have any ideas or solutions”.

Check it out, it’s shockingly well-organized and user-friendly:

On the one hand, something like this starting up was inevitable. But I’m not really sure if I like the whole “everything is up for mass referendum” thing – we’re supposed to have representatives who, you know, represent what’s in our best interests. It’s their job to do the work for us.

But that being said, this is very populist, as well as timely and efficient. And the results are unambiguous. You could envision a day where an advanced version of this becomes almost a norm…e-Congress?

I actually wince at the thought of taking this to the extreme – each registered voter having a password-protected site with the ability “vote” in every legislative matter. That’d stray waaaay to far into a pure democracy model…

Europe’s socialist utopia failed model confirmed by AP

May 25, 2010

Think Rachel Maddow’ll lead with this tonight? Doubt it!

Now the welfare state — cherished by many Europeans as an alternative to what they see as dog-eat-dog American capitalism — is coming under its most serious threat in decades: Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Demographers and economists began warning decades ago that social welfare was doomed by the aging of Europe’s baby boomers.

And remember…

That’s what NBC said…

May 17, 2010


thanks to

 From the New York Post:

NBC bosses said today they were prepared to continue the hit TV show “The Office” without star Steve Carell after he indicated he would not be renewing his contract, reported.

Yeah, wha?

Look, we all love the shows’ ensemble cast. Dwight, Stanley, Angela, Andy, Oscar, Kelly, Jim, Meredith, Kevin. Creed. They’re all great…for the purpose they serve – which is to supplement the insanity that derives from their superior. Most of them are pretty much just one-note characters that decent writing could replace.  Maybe one day Jim and Pam could pull off a spin-off show, but none of the rest of them could. You’d still love ‘The Office’ just as much if any one of them weren’t there. Because they are all satellites orbiting  around one star.

‘The Office’ without Steve Carell as Michael Scott would be like ‘The Simpsons’ without Homer Simpson. He is the engine, the root of all hilarity. The fundamental reason why the show is successful is because it takes the incredibly frustrating, all-too-real relatable situation of the inept boss, and cranks that up to the umpteenth level. Carell’s fearless, unique take on that is what makes it all click – period. Can you imagine one of those gut-busting conference-room “meetings” being run by anyone else besides Michael? Any replacement boss they bring in would be behind the 8-ball from the beginning, and scoring one that fans were ultimately happy with would be like lightning striking twice. Sure, it could happen…

NBC’s move here smacks of desperation. They’re either desperate to hold on to Carell, their biggest star, and they see this as a counter-negotiating point to guilt or scare him into coming back. Or, they’re desperate to hold on to ‘The Office’, their biggest show and only real franchise (now that Law & Order is on the way out), and they feel like its worth the risk to stick it out with any incarnation of  the show.

The prime-time network TV situation comedies’ heyday is long gone, we know that. Sure, a few years from now could someone score the random hit? Yeah, but it’s an obviously dying breed. NBC should just accept that and move on to new ideas and horizons. Coolest move here would be to let ‘The Office’ go down with its biggest gun blazing.