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Monthly Archives: October 2012

NYC-bound

On the way to New York–pictures speak louder than words…

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VP Debate: Ryan vs. Biden

Vice-Presidential Debate: Paul Ryan versus Joe Biden

You are probably getting ready for the debate between the current Vice-President Joe Biden and Mitt Romney’s running mate Congressman Paul Ryan, aren’t you? Well, if you are not, you should. In a few short hours, it will kick off in earnest, and millions of Americans will be tuned in to see how this debate goes.

Let us rewind. It was just a week ago and Obama was getting ready for his first nationally televised debate against Mitt Romney. At that time, Obama was clearly leading most (if not all) of the head-to-head polls against Romney especially in the critical swing states. It seemed all hope was lost for the Romney campaign; even some of his campaign staffers and big money donors began to take to the hills. Something dramatic desperately needed to happen to infuse his campaign with energy and optimism—maybe an unfortunate gaffe from the president; or perhaps devastating foreign policy news—whatever that was going to be no one could have easily guessed that it was going to be the debates.

And who would have guessed anyway? It was not like Obama had, prior to last week’s debate, shown himself to be helpless at debates. Besides, the punditocracy reminded us that these debates seldom change hearts and minds therefore they may not have a huge visible effect on a hardened fiercely and firmly partisan viewing public.

Somehow the prognostications have turned out wrong. Not only did Romney win, but he won big and with it came a tremendous boon for his campaign. Owing to Obama’s dismal performance, the polls are now currently showing that Mitt Romney has closed the yawning gap, and is surprisingly leading Obama in some of the polls! What a difference one debate makes, eh? Yes, Obama’s disastrous outing cannot be exaggerated for even by the most conservative estimates, the Romney campaign experienced a 5-8 point swing. The figure may even be higher amongst women. It is essentially game on now.

I have read various post-mortems of the debate and one thing seems to be a common thread in all of them—Obama was far too detached and perhaps too meek to take Romney to task on what seemed at the time to be transparent volte-face with regards to Romney’s previous policy positions. It was indeed as though Obama forgot that it was a debate and not chit-chat. Perhaps, he was far too uncomfortable with the whole debate undertaking and lacked the fire in the belly to make the crucial point that Romney was nakedly pivoting on the issues. Perhaps, he was told to be simply presidential and to protect his lead by not coming across as disagreeable. Whatever the strategy was, it clearly did not work.—so I am going to guess that we shall see something remarkably different when Joe Biden and Paul Ryan step out to the stage tonight.

And there can be no overestimating the work that the vice-president has before him tonight. Essentially, he has to staunch the bleeding of the Obama campaign as well as re-ignite the belief and passion of the democratic base that their vision for the country is better than anything Romney and Paul can offer. Biden has to be on the defensive to answer and clarify essential differences between Obama and Romney—something that Obama seemingly avoided or hesitated to do in his first debate when it mattered—but he also has to play offense and be seen and understood to do so. In short, he has to win this debate or at least be perceived to tie it. Anything less will spell disaster for the Obama campaign as it will strongly cast doubts in the minds of people on the question of whether this current administration still has the right vision and persuasion to steer the ship of state.

Paul Ryan is still largely an unknown quantity to most people outside the beltway. He is the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a senior member of the House Ways and Means committee; he has been in Washington D.C for over 10 years. He is seen as a ‘numbers’ kind of guy and extremely wonkish on fiscal policy.  Can he be able to translate the technical aspects of the discussion or answer pointed debate questions in a language that is easy to understand—one that can fit in the allotted debate time constraints and moreover appeal to the millions that will be watching on TV? That might be his greatest challenge. Unquestionably, he has considerable chops and experience in fiscal, budget or economic matters but how versatile is he on foreign policy? This remains to be seen also. If he can capitalize on his experience and can match Biden toe-to-toe on foreign policy matters despite the possible perception that foreign policy is beyond his ken, he will prove a tougher opponent than Sarah Palin was for Biden 4 years ago.

Both men have a huge task for them in this debate. For Ryan, he has to show that he is not only knowledgeable on the issues but that he is also prepared on day 1 to be the president if it ever came to that. This was generally perceived to be Sarah Palin’s downfall in the 2008 election. He also has the unenviable task of guarding all the precious gains that Romney made last week—a lead that can rapidly evaporate if Biden is able to establish unpreparedness and inconsistency of message with respect to Paul Ryan in the minds of the public.

Biden on his part has to get the wind behind Obama’s campaign sails once more by demonstrating in an abundantly clear fashion that he has a thorough grasp of the facts and the figures. He also has to paint the opposition as not only wavering and unreliable in their overall message, but ultimately as ill-equipped to perform them. He basically has to paint a choice for the masses—a choice that leaves one in no doubt as to how the Romney-Ryan administration will hurt the economy locally and worsen the US foreign policy and actions internationally.

Who Created God?

In some religious cum philosophical discussion forum, a discussant trying to understand the concept of God throws out this question and makes the following comment:

Who created God or how did God come into existence? This question has been bothering me for some time now and I have found that it is beyond human comprehension. So I just want to get you guys’ views. This is for those who believe there is a God.

For starters, it wasn’t readily apparent whether the gentleman asking this question was an agnostic, a skeptic or a fully committed atheist. It helps to know the philosophical persuasion of a person  asking these sorts of questions so as to know how best to respond to the query. Anyway, since his tone did not sound hostile, dismissive or confrontational, I am persuaded that he just might be a truth seeker who genuinely has some difficulty understanding the concept of God. I’ll try to answer the question as clearly as I can with the hope that this would help to clear the mental cobwebs regarding this all-important question.

Usually when atheists scoff at the God concept, it is usually because they fundamentally have an ill-thought out caricature of the subject; they have not invested adequate time and mental resources into examining a proper classical theistic treatment or analysis of the concept. That is to not to say however, that if or rather when they do, they will definitely agree with the concept, but at least their denials and objections to the God concept would rest on a deeper philosophical plank and not on obvious and simplistic misrepresentations—and certainly not on knavish ridicule or buffoonery.

When theists talk about God, what exactly do they mean by the idea of God? In classical theism—the mainstream theistic view which follows after the rich philosophical tradition of Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, St. Anselm, Maimonides, Averroes and Thomas Aquinas—God is defined or understood as the “absolutely metaphysically ultimate being”; God is understood or postulated to be “the greatest conceivable being”; God is that being of which nothing else can be greater. The classical theistic conception of God is that “God is that which exists necessarily and not contingently”  which is to say that God exists of a necessity of His own and thus did not derive his existence or essence from anything outside of himself. He is that which not only happens to exist but could not in principle have failed to exist.  In fact, if you could point or identify anything which in principle gave rise to or caused God to begin to exist, then that thing which you have identified is what God properly is by definition; it will simply mean that the entity which you previously called God was erroneously identified owing to the fact that it began to exist at some point, and it had an explanation for its existence outside itself—namely in that entity which gave it its existence and essence.

God is the metaphysical ground of all existence—in other words he is Existence himself in the most basic sense. God is the answer to the question “why does anything exist”? In other words, for us to even talk about the existence of contingent things or things which derive their existence from some other outside itself there had to be something which exists of his own nature and MUST NOT as a matter of principle derive its existence from anything else. If there was not a being like this, that is, something or a being who is Pure Actuality then there simply will not be anything in existence at all. At this point, serious seekers should begin to get the idea of what God is posited to be.

Contingent beings have potentiality which had to be actualized for them to exist. For example, if I am a carpenter and I want to build a chair, I may for instance draw it on a piece of paper. On this piece of paper, I’ll have the specified dimensions of the chair and a certain kind of chair pattern that I hope to erect. This piece of paper containing the sketch of a chair is in a state of potentiality—it has the potential to become a chair; and only when it is finally fashioned by a carpenter does it become actualized. In other words, it is possible that the chair never becomes actuality if for instance, I decide to toss the paper into a fire. This is a classic example of every other thing in existence (save God) for like the chair in my example, every other thing is contingent (except God) and thus they need someone or something to actualize them. This incidentally is what it means to talk about things having   a cause or having an explanation for their existence outside themselves.  God, in classical theism, is thus understood as Pure Actuality—he never had any potentials of any sort that needed to be actualized in the very first place.

At this juncture, it is important to understand that the classical theistic conception of God is not a case of special pleading. It is not as though theists arbitrarily claim God to be these things, and it might be possible say to imagine or conjure up a God that does not meet these criteria. Anything which does not meet all these criteria by which a classical theist (incidentally this covers the monotheistic faiths) understands and characterizes God is thus hopelessly unworthy of the name. The fact that some might have other conceptions of God which might strip God of this exclusive category and perhaps deny his divine attributes (I discuss these attributes here) offers no headaches for most classical theists.

Now, in order to press home the point of this God concept, it is useful to remember that this classical theistic understanding I have spelled out is EXACTLY the same understanding that most atheists and skeptics had/have of the universe for a long time. They maintained that the Universe just is, and has always existed of a necessity of its own—sort of like a brute fact. In other words, this God-concept that is now vituperatively and ferociously denounced amongst nascent New Atheists is in a sense hypocritical and nauseatingly duplicitous for they’ve always ascribed to the Universe the same attributes that a theist ascribes to God. This idea that something just had to exist without being caused by something else and which in turn provides sufficient reason or explanation for everything else that now exists (i.e self-existent or metaphysically necessary) OR that something never began to exist at some point in the past and has thus existed throughout all time (i.e eternal) is NOT foreign to atheists at all—on the contrary, this is exactly how they used to describe the Universe or the Cosmos for many centuries.

Theists down through the ages (and I might add deists of some stripes) have laid down powerful philosophically-sound arguments for a creator. The atheist now has to reach for fantastic and unproven multiverse theories to prop up his disbelief in God now that science has also lent its voice in forcefully and powerfully demolishing the age-old atheistic presumptions that the Universe was eternal. As a matter of fact, I make bold to say that any atheist currently stuck on the idea that the Universe did not begin to exist (with all the rich scientific findings and discoveries we have on that issue), or that tries to paint  the current scientific findings and pronouncements on this matter as inconclusive is hopelessly ignorant or worse intellectually dishonest.

Therefore, it amuses me greatly how any rational thinking person, especially one who purports to have a sufficient grasp of the issues being discussed, would ask something like “Who or what created God?” or “how did God come into existence?” That is like asking “what caused that thing which cannot in principle have a cause?”—and that, I maintain, is a meaningless question. It is like asking “what is that which actualized that thing which in principle is Pure Actuality and thus never needed to be actualized?” or to give another example, it is like asking “what is it which gave essence or existence to that which in principle is said to be Pure Existence and which in turn gave essence or existence to everything else?” or perhaps to ask “what is that which caused to come into existence that which in principle has always existed of a necessity of its own nature?” At this point, I believe you already get my drift. To be honest, one has to be colossally limited in one’s mental processes to fail to grasp this fine point.

Indeed, my experience with skeptics and atheists of all stripes is that the intellectually dishonest ones fully understand the point even when they flatly deny it for other self-serving reasons. Then there are the philosophically and scientifically naïve but vociferous atheists who cannot be prevailed on to pause for a moment of sober reflection in order to fully understand the issues at hand—such are usually best left to their own vain and noisy effusions when it becomes clear that they have opted not to engage their thinking faculties in their rabid defense of their atheological worldview. Perhaps, the only ones worthy of heartfelt sympathy and diligent explanations of these concepts are the open-minded non-theists who through no fault of their own are mired in confusion resulting from the sometimes imprecise articulation of this God-concept by theists or the cartoonish misrepresentations of  the same subject by the God-deniers.

Sci-Fi Premiere: Farscape

If you are interested in science and sci-fi, please check out this sci-fi series to see if this is something you might  be interested in.

You may no be able to find this listed on current US TV or Cable programming; so you have to see the rest of season 1 on Hulu.  I gather that about 4 seasons of this show were actually made—surprising to me how I never heard anything about it until now. Enjoy!

El Clasico Foreboding

El Clasico

The biggest rivalry in the world of sports, the Clasico, is here once again. And I am worried.

Tomorrow, Real Madrid FC and FC Barcelona will met in an epic clash in Barcelona’s Camp Nou—a bitter rivalry that has in recent times come to be known for its fierce competitiveness as well as its symbolism. It will be watched by an estimated 400 million people all around the world. You couldn’t ask for a bigger stage if you were a professional. Football stars from other leagues are going to be tuned in to see what the two biggest clubs in Spain will do.

So far Mourinho and Xavi have been trying to manage expectations. In all reality, it is just a game, but it is a game that really matters. Let us consider these facts:

  1. Real Madrid, the league winners last year, are 8 points behind Barca in the league standings this year having won three, lost 2 and tied 1 of the six games played so far this year. Barca by contrast has won all 6 matches to be at the top of the league table.
  2. Real Madrid has been outperforming Barca in recent head-to-head matches.  Ronaldo has scored against Barcelona in their last 5 meetings. Also, you might remember that Real Madrid defeated Barcelona to take the Supercopa earlier this season.
  3. Unlike Real Madrid that has a relatively healthy collection of eager and motivated players especially players in fine form waiting on the bench (what we call a deep bench), Barcelona by contrast has been plagued by injuries. Since the season began Pique, Puyol, Thiago Alcantarra, Iniesta, Alves etc. have had one injury or the other put them out of action. As the Cules get ready to battle the Blancos, I must point out also that they will not have the services of Pique and Puyol at the back.

All these lead me to conclude that Barca must have to be exceptional form if they are not to come away with a loss at home to a physically less depleted, stronger and hungrier Madrid team.  This is compounded by the fact that Barcelona seems to not have a reliable Centre Back. Like I pointed out several times last season, Barcelona desperately needs to fortify its back line, and since it hasn’t done so, it is actually within the bounds of reason to expect that Real Madrid’s rapid fire offence will cause a lot of headaches to Barca’s weaker defensive line. As a matter of fact, I am expecting a Barca loss tomorrow strange as that might sound to come from a fan.

We have struggled to win these matches unlike the Barca of a few years ago. One might even say that other teams have somehow managed to fashion a winning strategy or formula when faced with Barca’s tiki-taka. Do you want to know what this winning formula is? I’ll tell you. In any game with Barca, you automatically know we will dominate the possession. You know we’ll surely pass the ball around more often than your team. Our problem now seems to be that since Messi has suddenly decided to feature more prominently in mid-field (one wonders if he has lost his scoring drive or if he is trying to share the stage by assisting other’s to score), Barca will continue passing the ball at the edge of the goal seeking for a way to break down Real Madrid’s defense in other to score. Madrid simply has to defend aggressively in order to frustrate Barca’s slew of passes which ultimately go nowhere. While the passing is a good strategy to lure out sit-tight defending, it has its own downside.

First, Alexis Sanchez and Cesc Fabregas aren’t as sharp as they needs to be when faced with clear goal scoring opportunities. Pedro on his own part shoots too hastily and misses or else he is just passing the ball rather than trying to intimidate the opposing defenders with fast runs down the flank and the occasional cross. Messi uncharacteristically makes little effort to score. It is as though he is trying to de-emphasize his goal-scoring form this year, and besides, I have seen him complaining and arguing with referee decisions more often than he is used to.

Secondly, Real Madrid is fast on the counter-attack. They should use that often to stun or force Barca into defending their own portion of the turf. If Barca passes a lot of balls that are quickly converted into quick goals by Madrid, they may have to reconsider the strategy. In fact if that happens, it will so much dampen morale that Barca might eventually lose the match. Therefore it is crucial that Madrid does not allow Barca to get into their usual free passing mode. If Barca dominates early, and gets ‘into sync’ with their passing, it will be a long night for Madrid. That means they should always be sending balls forward to test the ability of Barca’s defense tomorrow.

Now, you might wonder why I seem to be giving these points to Madrid, and supposedly exposing the flaws of my own team. The answer is simple—this seems to be open knowledge to many teams now who have used them to great effect against Barca. Furthermore, like I pointed out, I will be surprised if Barca wins tomorrow with the depleted team they seem to be fielding against the Merengues. Of course any Barca win will extend our lead to 11 points, but that will not necessarily mean that the title has been won. We have been winning matches but not with the same flair, style or dominance like we are used to; something is clearly off. For now, I am putting it down to injuries and the lack of rock-solid defending.  After this encounter, we’ll know how well Barca is prepared for the rest of the season.

Finally, I expect a mature entertaining match devoid of fighting, pushing, shoving, bickering and all the other unwholesome shenanigans that we have come to expect out of a match of this stature.

Go Barcelona—surprise me if you can!

Taken 2

 

Liam Neeson: Taken 2

I glanced at my watch. Only 20 minutes before the movie begins. Am I going to get there on time with weekend traffic already beginning to form? What if I do not get there in time, do I have a backup plan? Is it better to postpone this till tomorrow? These and more queries raced across my mind as I got into I-495 on my way to the movie theatre. I had been waiting for the movie Taken 2 for about a month now, and goodness knows I did not want to be late.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I have a particular odd thing about me when it comes to watching movies. It is that I want to be seated down comfortably BEFORE the movie begins. Any regular movie enthusiast knows that there is usually that 15 minutes of previews for movies that are coming out later in the year AFTER which the movie one comes to watch starts to show. I am such that if I missed these previews and then let’s say the real movie has proceeded by as little as only 2 minutes, I cannot watch that movie for that allotted time—I’ll simply go and get a refund or get tickets for the next scheduled show! I don’t know why that is, but that’s how I am wired. So, you can tell that I was flying like hounds out of hell as I raced towards the theatre. Weird?  If yes, then I am guilty.

At any rate, I got there just in the nick of time. I hastily pulled into the parking lot, made a wide sweeping arc and came to rest in my parking spot; then I jumped out of the car and was bounding straight into the theatre because I needed to be seated BEFORE the previews begin. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see two women parked in their SUV staring at me in utter disbelief as they leisurely rolled up their windows. They must be wondering whether I had forgotten something in the theatre judging by the way I was hurrying along.

Luckily for me, I did not have to wait long to buy my ticket. Oh yeah, that reminds me—I think I have to sign up with Fandango in order to get my tickets in advance. It does not make any sense that up till now I’ve not done so. In no time at all I found myself slithering to the back of a packed movie theatre.  I found a good seat at the back of the theatre but I have to say that it didn’t make sense that so many people had already come out to see this movie at this time. What in the world were they trying to prove? What was their business out here this early on the weekend? Seriously, isn’t this why there are Saturdays—so that all these over-expectant people can come out in the evening of a Saturday and thus not wreck my Friday movie watching experience? Somehow they must not have gotten that memo.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have the pleasure to announce to you that this movie, Taken 2 was good. Before you decide to see this movie however, do yourself a favor and see the first installment if you’ve not already done so. At this point, I am tempted to break down the movie but I know you would not like me to ruin the experience for you before you got the chance to see it, right?

Liam Neeson may be 60 years old but in this action-packed flick, he was dealing out justice and exacting vengeance with all the grit of a young, daring swashbuckler. This was better than the first installment—a feat that is rarely seen these days. I think I’ll hunt down more movies from him in the past now. Go and see the movie—you might just like it!

 

Presidential Debates: Romney vs. Obama

Question: Gov. Romney, you’ve said that you have a better vision and a better grasp of the economic issues facing our country. Please can you explain to our audience how you propose to bring down the national debt that is now in excess of $16 trillion by means of more tax cuts for the wealthy?

Romney: I can, but I don’t want to bore you with the math…..

Question: I understand that the issue may be difficult but can you break it down for us? Can you explain your tax code? If you are going to close some tax loopholes and cut down spending, what programs are you going to slash in your bid to stimulate the economy?

Romney: You know what? I know I have the better plan. You can read the details on my website www.mittromney.com. As for the rest of that question, uhmm see me after the election…

(For starters, the above discussion is a parody of a possible scenario; it is completely fictional.)

Ever since the Republican National Convention, from which Mitt Romney’s Campaign got a short bump in the polls, he has been continuously trailing Obama in the polls since his infamous 47% remark with about 35 days left before the Election. Now, there are 3 presidential debates left. Romney has to use these debates to reverse his misfortunes. He has to use these debates to show to the over 50-60 million Americans that will be watching, and millions from around the world, that he will be the better person to fix the economic issues facing the country.

Now, Mitt Romney is a seasoned and accomplished debater. All you have to do is just look at his past debate reels to see how prepared he usually is for debates—with a lot of zingers for his opponents. We also know that he is getting ready with a rich arsenal of zingers for Obama as well. He needs to utterly dominate this debate, and show how his vision for the country would be a refreshing departure from Obama’s policies. More importantly, he’ll need to be able to explain his tax code or revenue generation formula in some better detail when pressed or he may find it difficult to beat a certain narrative that is now currently making the rounds in the media according to which he is all promise but ‘no specifics’.

Obama has the most to lose from these debates. He is currently leading in most of the national polls especially in the critical battleground states. He simply has to avoid speaking a costly political gaffe, and hope that there is no October Surprise that may arise so late in the game. He has to come to these debates fully ready to defend his record, and to project himself as the more reliable figure in these harsh economic times. If he allows Romney to clobber him in these debates, or if he appears too cautious as to not project a vision of competence, or worse if he fumbles with his facts and figures, we can see Romney easily reverse the gains that Obama has made since the end of Bill Clinton’s famous speech.

Tomorrow, the politically minded part of the American populace (with all of America’s trenchant punditocracy) will be tuned in to the various media stations and paying serious attention to see who they’ll go with for the next 4 years.  Have you made up your mind yet?

Happy 52nd!

 

This is to wish a happy Independence Day celebration to Nigerians and friends of Nigeria..

There is still much work to be done, but at least on one special day, Nigerians should take the time to drink and be merry and remember the day they were allowed by the Brits to be in charge of their own affairs. Check here for YouTube videos of different people performing the National Anthem.

 

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