10 reasons why socrates is still relevant today

Leaders in Europe and America have to take out dusty books of philosophy and check why Socrates and his ideas are still valid today:

  1. They’ve Never Been Rendered Obsolete
  2. He Taught Us to Question Everything
  3. He Taught Us That Life is Worthless Without Happiness
  4. He Taught Us to Ask if There’s Such a Thing as a Just War
  5. He Advocated True Freedom of Speech
  6. He Invented Philosophical Ethics
  7. He Was a Champion of Human Virtue
  8. He Warned Us of the Follies of Materialism
  9. He Taught Us the Value of Civil Disobedience
  10. He Taught Us to Stand Up For What We Believe

random about modern america and historic china

Modern America looks as below:

  • 4 million cups/day on airline flights (not reused/recycled).
  • 40 million papers cups/day for hot beverages.
  • Has the largest percentage of population in prisons (2.3 million in 2005).
  • >400.000 (1.100/day) Americans die of smoking annually.
  • 384.000 American women (vast majority <21) opted for breast augmentation surgery (the most popular high-school graduation gift).

Historic China personifies:

  • Fortune cookies (considered Chinese) invented in 1920 by a noodle-factory worker in SF.
  • Kites (1000 BC, to frighten enemies), soccer  (1000 BC), natural gas (used as heat source by 4th century BC), parachute (4th century AD), ice-cream (Marco Polo).
  • Stamp collecting (#1 hobby).
  • Red (happiness) and white (sadness).

Noah, human irrationality and vision of Communist America

Noah got drunk drinking wine (yayin) – God told him to enjoy it. Bible says that God gave wine to make men glad.

Wine makes us irrational, or does it? Even without it, there is much evidence that we are irrational. Halo effect, cognitive dissonance, Chameleon effect (mimicking increases/decreases likability), and so on and forth.

How else to explain Yo-Yo world cups since 1932?

Talking of irrationality, Trotsky  conducted a thought-experiment about America becoming a Communist country. He predicted that, by 2037, America will produce a new breed of Man and in Communistic America, Americans will stop chewing gum in 3 years!

Failures of United Nations (part 1 – Security Council)

January 1, 1942. WW2 is raging. There is misery, chaos and destruction. Representatives of 26 countries, including America, are gathered and pledge in “Declaration by United Nations” – Franklin D. Roosevelt coins the term “United Nations” – to continue fighting the evil of Axis powers.

1945. War is over, but the term coined by FDR lives on as representatives of 50 countries meet in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter, which has the following pre-amble.

  • To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
  • To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
  • To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
  • To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

What about results it has achieved in its 60 years of history? According to one groundbreaking report UNICEF conducted in 1996:

  • Increasingly, wars are fought in precisely those countries that can least afford them. Of more than 150 major conflicts since the Second World War, 130 have been fought in the developing world. The per capita gross national product (GNP) of war-torn countries in 1994 included: Afghanistan (US$280), Angola ($700), Cambodia ($200), Georgia ($580), Liberia ($450), Mozambique ($80), Somalia ($120), Sri Lanka ($640), the Sudan ($480).
  • Since the 1950s, more wars have started than have stopped. By the end of 1995, wars had been running in Afghanistan for 17 years, Angola, 30; Liberia, 6; Somalia, 7; Sri Lanka, 11; Sudan, 12.
  • The global case-load of refugees and displaced persons is growing at alarming speed. The number of refugees from armed conflicts worldwide increased from 2.4 million in 1974 to more than 27.4 million today, the report notes, with another 30 million people displaced within their own countries. Children and women make up an estimated 80 per cent of displaced populations.
  • In 6 out of 12 country studies prepared for a research report … the arrival of peace-keeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.

The UN’s elephant in the room that no one pretends to heed is the infamous UN Security Council (SC), which issues resolutions, which – the SC is the only UN agency with such power – are binding by law for all UN members. Not only the balance of power is tilted towards the UK, France, the US, China and Russia – the veto-wielding powers that can block any decision even if remaining ten non-veto members vote yes – but this tilt itself is archaic, driven by the then political and economic realities, and not representing 21st century power distribution.

It is not only this but the fact – and this is the most important factor in deciding the “usefulness” of the SC – that scrambling over each other at times and staying mum at other times and closing their eyes and ears at yet others is a typical mode of functioning of this UN body. Furthermore, if it were only numerous debates with foregone decisions, meticulously planned and executed-to-perfection speeches containing no sense or petty, nitpicking droolings over a single word resonating in the halls and assemblies around the world, that would still be bearable. Reality is different. The result is a list of failures, lack of actions sanctioned by and plain inactivy on the part of the SC, notably:

  • UN voice re Hungary and Czechoslovakia was ignored by the Soviet Union in 1950s.
  • No emphatic role/inefficiency/late action in crisis of worst kinds such as  Sierra LeoneCuban Missile Crisis, Korean War, Vietnam War, Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan, the US-sponsored Islamic Jehad via Pakistan on Afghanistan against the Soviets, the three Gulf Wars and the wars leading to the break up of Yugoslavia.
  • Number of nuclear powers (and their nuclear activities) has been increasing despite UN’s and its nuclear watchdog IAEA’s best efforts. Notably, China’s assistance in development of nuclear weapons and its supply of nuclear capable missiles and missile technology to Pakistan, assistance in building up of DPRK’s long-range and nuclear capable missiles, and finally, Pakistan’s supply of nuclear weapons technology to DPRK.
  • Iraq (American intervention was bereft of a UN SC mandate) and Afghanistan have large contingents of UN peacekeepers – yet the situation has become worse despite – or perhaps because of – their arrival and inefficient operations.
  • Inability to resolve/mediate in politically unstable or conflicting situations diplomatically.
  • Inability to define, grasp the scope of and resolve the war on terrorism.

According to the UN entry on Wikipedia the main issue is the UN’s intergovernmental – and that’s 192 governments with different agendas – nature, which defies its consensus-based logic. The UN itself published and acknowledged its two biggest blunders: Rwanda (1994) and Srebrenica (1995). UN peacekeepers in Rwanda stood by as Hutu slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsi. In Bosnia, the UN declared safe areas for Muslims but did nothing to secure them, letting the Serbs slaughter thousands in Srebrenica.

Additionally, petty disagreements, procrastination and narrow-minded bureaucracy of the SC delegates failed to provide humanitarian aid in the Second Congo War, failed to relief starving Somalia and Uganda, failed to intervene and save countless lives in Sudan, failed to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue.

The UN was the very reason, back in last months of 1947, reluctant to decide upon partitioning of Jews, the minority, and Palestinians when the UK handed it the sovereignty mandate that caused Jews to take on all strategic administrative posts – they were better educated thus more fit – the subsequent outcry of Arabs who were a majority to take to streets with weapons, ushering in a full-fledged civil war, which in May 1948 turned into a war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries.

The much touted and hope-inspiring UN peacekeepers have been marred with problems of their own. They were accused of child rape and sexual abuse during various peacekeeping missions in Congo, Haiti, Liberia, etc. Around 100,000 UN peacekeepers make up UN peacekeeping operations – currently, Pakistan, Bangladesh being the biggest contributors – are sent by a number of contributing governments in exchange for a monthly stipend of about US$1,400 per soldier – a significant amount for main contributing countries. Trying to coordinate all the disparate, differently-trained and equipped, multi-lingual units is quite a challenging, if not impossible, task.

The only interventions that achieved anything worthwhile in the 1990s were conducted outside the standard UN “jurisdiction.”  They were achieved through great-power action and traditional balance-of-power calculations – both anathema to orthodox UN mentality. In Bosnia, a Croat onslaught and NATO bombing and artillery bombardment combined to roll back Serb forces and to push Slobodan Milosevic to cut a deal. In Kosovo, a rebel ground offensive, NATO air power, and the threat of a NATO invasion again bludgeoned Belgrade into submission. The UN’s role was negligible in both cases.

NATO won a victory in Kosovo and unwisely turned over its management to the UN and its chief Bernard Kouchner, who faced the challenge of running Kosovo but inability to prevent its eventual return to Serbia, resulting in delayed schedules, lags in reconstruction and suffering/dispossessed population.

Thus the SC is clearly problematic and not in some aesthetic or theoretical, but in a manner that caused and causes suffering, death and abuse in many corners of the world, the very opposite of their claimed objectives.

But what other alternatives are there, at least as far as global peace and security are concerned? “Might Is Right” cause is as arcane as one country being the leader of world peace. What government would accept that? Also, we can safely assume that no country has the moral high ground or a universally accorded carte-blanche or even a sheer logistical capacity to become the world police, peacemaker/keeper/sustainer.

There are proposed alternatives (a bit paraphrased and complemented by links).

David Rieff has argued for the US and its allies to undertake “liberal imperialism,” while William Kristol and Robert Kagan have called for the US to assume a “benevolent global hegemony” – which will imply fighting wars in places like Kosovo. Contrary to received wisdom, this would not be a new role for the US, for it had been involved in other countries’ internal affairs since at least 1805, when, during the Tripolitan War, the US tried to topple the pasha of Tripoli and replace him with his pro-American brother. US Marines landed abroad 180 times in the period of 1800-1934. In the 19th century, they stayed only a few days but still helped open up the world to Western trade and influence, their most spectacular successes being Commodore Perry’s mission to Japan and the defeat of the Barbary pirates. After 1898, US forces stayed longer in order to run countries such as the Philippines, Haiti, and Cuba. The US rule was not democratic, but it gave those countries the most honest and efficient governments they have ever enjoyed.

Another way that the UN shows its archaic nature is its inability to cope with the new and increainslgy popular networked terrorism. The UN does not formally recognize any country as a terrorist state, nor has its own definition of terrorism, vowing for “operational definition” of a specific terrorism act.

“Is it worth (read: pros/cons analysis) having a Security Council at all, given all its past and present fails?” is the question we need to really think about.

Obama fails – America fails

A famous story from IBM told of a man who made a $10M error. He was hauled up before the big boss where he expected to be sacked. Pre-empting this, he apologized and offered his resignation. Refusing the resignation, the boss said ‘Goodness, man, we can’t lose you now! We’ve just spent $10M on your education!’

Have you heard? America and EU – the developed, 1st world, civilized West – is on decline.

Let’s focus on America and its incumbent leader, the 1st ever African-American to become a president of the US. Do you remember his promise and inspiration he induced in the entire world? Internet was abuzz with positivity, hope and visions of a truly positive America. That was back in 2008.

We are in the 3rd quarter of 2011. A quick search of term “Obama failures” brings in an excess of 12 million search results on Google. Isn’t this something?

There is “Obama fail blog” which aims to document all Obama blunders and eventually publish a book with all stories.

There is also “Obama lies” which features an impressive list of lies and failures – videos and articles from WSJ, Huffington Post, CNN, and other non-scam or radical/extremist-type media – in addition to a “Submit Editorial” section, which starts off by saying that the online visitor is likely to be on that page “by searching for ‘Obama Lies’. ObamaLies.net is a stage for people upset with the unkept promises of this administration to share their frustrations.” Its “Obama lies directory” section contains a big number of resources, including blogs, video links, and articles. Not forgetting about its own “commercial” side, the site sells branded t-shirts with “Obama Sucks” and alike for $20-30 apiece. This site has been up – if blog archive is any indicator – since March 2008 but contains entries starting June 2008, in itself a telling sign.

Curious about this “blog,” I had a quick look at Alexa.com, the web ranking engine of the Internet.  According to Alexa.com, the audience (with an estimated 86% being in America) of this website comprises mostly of 35-64, predominantly male visitors with some college education who have no children. Doesn’t this sound like a middle class, average-educated, unemployed/freelance divorced/single American?

Is this all? Few blogs and other peripheral hate-mongering – even Mohandas Gandhi and even till now has his haters gather here, or more social ones here.

There are high flyers. Last year, Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffington Post who ranks 28th on “The world’s 100 most powerful women“, gave an interview to the Time magazine about her book “Third World America,” in which, the first 165 pages look like a catalog of horrors describing the decline of America and an undeniable and obvious role of Obama 2008 campaign and its subsequent “execution.”

There are the Republicans. Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who currently leads in early polls for the Republican nomination, issued a video of a shuttered steel plant (that closed down in January 2011 after struggling for years) Allentown Metal Works, which Obama visited in 2009, to attack the president.

There are heavyweights. Nouriel Roubini aka Dr. Doom, the influential Italian economist who predicted the current economic recession, was forthcoming when he said, among others, that Obama’s presidency was heading for “fiscal trainwreck,” that his economic proposals “won’t make a difference” and that Obama’s spending freeze is just a “spare change.”

There are creative Wall-Street types too who churn out both wheat and chaff. A recent WSJ article, features “Snapshots from President Obama’s efforts to improve America’s standing in the world, 923 days into his administration” and an alphabetic list – all English letters are present – of info snippets offering statistical details, historic comparisons (not in Obama’s favor), and broken promises. Conspicuous are some comparisons such as the fiscal deficit of 3% in 2008 as opposed to an estimated 11% of GDP in 2011 and the then (November 2008) president-elect Obama’s promised creation of 2.5 million new jobs by 2011, whereas having shed 3.3 million jobs by October 2010.

Let’s be frank. We all commit mistakes, some big, some small; our employers, families and spouses, being considerate, shoulder those mistakes and think of them – best case scenario – as “investments” in our education like in the opening story about IBM or sunk costs/wasted resources – worst case scenario – which entail lay-off/other forms of downgrading.

Obama is no exception. Admittedly, he made and still makes errors, but with the particularly burdensome fiscal debt, the reeling economy, the ever-increasing unemployment and the real scope of the 2008 economic crisis finally unraveling itself, his (under) reactions might eventually have an even more grave consequences for America and the world. As it succinctly points out here, it is not clear

which tragedy is the more troubling: the failure to see the true scope of the disaster when accurate numbers weren’t available, or the failure to see it now that they are.

If Obama only did?

Curiously though, does Obama Google his name from time to time? What would he think/do if he saw what there is to see?

How and why America is declining

“One man with courage is a majority.”  Thomas Jefferson

My last post was about the disarray in Europe. What about America?

Let’s start with some interesting statistics. The famous American “fruit” company, Apple, according to the latest financial report, now has more cash to spend than the American government. While in itself not a critical factor, this still poses a sort of dilemma – is business so much ahead of the government in America?

In the backdrop of the on-going debt debate, Barack Obama looks like a man who picked a fight he is unable to finish. But wait. Obama just announced that Republican and Democratic leaders reached an agreement on raising the US debt limit and avoiding default. The deficit reduction is meant to happen over the period of 10 years. And both sides went to a seemingly lose-lose compromise just to get the deal. Will it hold or even pay off?

The debt-related stand-off in Washington is political in nature, having been initially thrust upon incredulous investors. Increasing America’s overdraft (which, according to Government Accountability Office, GAO, has been increased 74 times over the past 50 years) beyond $14.3 trillion (or facing the very 1st default in its history) should have been relatively simple. But Republican congressmen, furious about big government, have recklessly used it as a political tool to embarrass Obama.

America’s fiscal problem is not now — it should be spending to boost recovery — but in the medium term. Its absurdly convoluted tax system (allegedly changed 579 times only during last year) is very inefficient, and there is speculation that ageing of its baby-boomers will push its big number of entitlement programmes into bankruptcy. Obama set up a commission to examine this issue and until recently completely ignored its sensible conclusions. For long time, Obama also held the illusion that the panacea to the deficit is to tax the rich (top 5% who already pay 60% of taxes).

The problem, in America like in Europe, lies not just in the weak/inconsistent leadership and inability to commit to radical economic measures necessary to cure the ailing economy, but also in the political structures. Just like in Japan, its dysfunctional politics were stemming from its one-party system, in American Congress, the (moderate) centre — conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans — has collapsed, in part because partisan redistricting has handed over power to the extremes, ushering it into a radical quasi-one-sided system, not unlike the Japanese.

But American politics is less broken than many think or allege. Since 2009, Congress has passed a huge stimulus bill, ARRA (although there are 1.3 million fewer private-sector workers today than when the ARRA was passed), aimed at economic recovery, evidence that the legislature is still able to get things done.

American economy is becoming increasingly vulnerable. New data continue to reveal just how weak growth was in the 2nd quarter of 2011. The economy has expanded at a 1.3% annual pace. Markets are declining, and businesses are building up cash reserves as insurance against the worst. After two years of pitifully slow recovery, while tens of millions of workers are unemployed (currently at about 14 million) and wages are flat, the government is doing little to get back to economic growth.

Some possible solutions to the ailing American economy include:

  1. Government size to be reduced (public sector, expenditures) in order to put a dent in this debt.
  2. Congress to accept cuts on entitlements.
  3. Government to create a favorable environment for job creation; the private sector does the rest (recently, McKinsey conducted a research asking, “What is the single most important step the U.S. should take to create more jobs” and published the responses here).
  4. Continue pursuing/following-up with taxes for the top 5% (to be invested, for example, in increasing financial aid for college students).
  5. Move some (according to certain criteria) of 46% of American population, who pay no Federal income tax, into the ranks of the remaining 54%.
  6. Impose a national sales/VAT tax. Tax consumption (not investment) and reward savings.
  7. Let the capitalism (supply and demand) solve the housing problem instead of introducing artificial measures.
  8. Let the zombie (aka bailed out) banks/firms go, which might result (for some of them at least) in chapter 11/bankruptcy and making them (in majority of cases) downsize and restructure rather than liquidate.
  9. Wind down American military engagements abroad (two wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, would save up to $150 billion/year in addition to withdrawing, at least partially, 53,000 military personnel from Germany, 36,000 from Japan and thousands more in another 133 countries).

I started by quoting Jefferson and so I shall finish, hoping that Obama and Congress will act before it is too late.

“I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” Thomas Jefferson

To work or not to work

Work brings a sense of content and fulfillment, or so claims the traditional wisdom. Those who have work seem happy or satisfied or both. Those who are unemployed usually have an air of depression, despair, and one can always tell there is something “missing” about them. But there also those who work but, besides financial and other inherent benefits of having a job, do not get satisfaction.  As one such person confessed (back in November 2007) – he knew full well that there are many who starve and die every day – he has a work but he considers himself a failure at work

…which is not to say that I can’t do my job – I’m actually quite good at it. But work, as a lifestyle, eventually wears me down. In the past I have started out at each new job with optimism and pleasure. After a few years working in the same location, I am completely burnt out. I have no desire to go to work, when I’m there, have little desire to do anything but go home early. I am a bear of very little ambition.

When I took my current job, I had decided to finally ‘grow up’, settle down, and stop looking for the perfect job. All it would take, I thought, was an attitude adjustment and 150 mg of Effexor/day. I’d stay in my job and enjoy the fruits of stability, for a change. I would focus on my personal life (another area where I am kind of a failure, but that’s for another, longer, more irritating post.)

In the 90’s I took a brief stab at being self-employed, but I was completely unsuited. Not only am I bad employee, I am a terrible boss. I lacked the confidence and skills needed to carry it off. I eventually went on strike, and finally had to let myself go.

So I’m caught on the horns of dilemma, as they say. I have a job I no longer want, and no longer want any job. On the other hand, I do enjoy the benefits of having a job. I’m not sure whether I should take the plunge and do something incredibly out of character, or hunker down and stop whining.
In the mean-time, millions of people around the world are being tortured, starved, and dying from lack of drinking water. I hope none of them read this post, I would die from embarrassment.

Nearly a year later, in the wake of the current economic crisis raging all over the world and America not in the least, he wrote a sequel to his original post.

The more I observe the workings of the average administrator, the more convinced I am that the concept of competence in the American business is a myth.  For instance, administrators in my workplace do little but attend meetings all day long.  When I express my opinion that meetings are mostly a waste of time, they agree heartily.  They don’t seem to worry that what they do all day is waste time.  Why should you?

The current state of American business is a perfect example of why the lowly worker should relax and go with the flow.  Corporate CEOs are raking in millions in bonuses without any proof of competence.  If they are fired, they will easily find a similar job elsewhere.  How?  Because other CEOs and future CEOs sit on the hiring committees of American corporations.  These people certainly don’t want to start a trend of businesses demanding results as a condition for gargantuan golden parachutes.  To do so would be to ensure smaller payouts for them in the future.

So administration has the game rigged.  Workers do not enjoy the same power.  So the least you can do is stop believing the lie, the lie that you are somehow required to attain a level of competence unnecessary for your “betters.”  All they have that you don’t have is a $1000 suit and an old-boy conspiracy network.

What he says, especially about CEOs and their disproportionate salaries and bonuses versus their overly long time spent in meetings half in slumber half in dream, rings true to my ears from the personal experience and from what I have read and seen.

To work or not to work, this is the question.

Remembering American presidents

Who was the worst, the most failed American president? This question is undoubtedly all the more actual in the wake of current economic and political developments and considering that the presidential elections are only ten days away.

First ever rankings of American presidents started by a renowned Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger Sr. in 1948, who asked 55 historians to rank American presidents on a scale from “great” to “failure.” Changes in presidential rankings reflect shifts in how we view history. When the first poll was taken, the Reconstruction era that followed the Civil War was regarded as a time of corruption and misgovernment caused by granting black men the right to vote. As a result, Andrew Johnson, a fervent white supremacist who opposed efforts to extend basic rights to former slaves, was rated “near great.” Today, by contrast, Johnson is duly considered a failure due to currently prevalent views that Reconstruction was a flawed but noble attempt to build an interracial democracy. Another American president who has been regarded ambivalently, according to Alan Brinkley, is Richard Nixon, who said “There are presidents who could be considered both failures and great or near great (for example, Nixon).” Nixon became notable for his accomplishments and defeats in domestic and foreign policy, but is mostly associated today with disdain for the Constitution and abuse of presidential power. He was paranoid about national security and obsessed with secrecy and media leaks. Nixon always considered himself above the law.

There are nonetheless few American presidents about whom the public has consistent and unaltered views regardless of historic perspectives. Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Franklin D. Roosevelt always figure in the “great” category. Most presidents are ranked “average.” Franklin Pierce, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, James Buchanan constantly occupy the bottom rung, and George W. Bush is a leading contender to join them. A look at history of his policies will explain why.

At a time of national crisis, Pierce and Buchanan, who served in the eight years preceding the Civil War, were simply not up to the job. Stubborn, narrow-minded, unwilling to listen to criticism or to consider alternatives to disastrous mistakes, they surrounded themselves with sycophants and shaped their policies to appeal to retrogressive political forces (in that era, pro-slavery and racist ideologues). Even after being repudiated in the midterm elections of 1854, 1858 and 1866, respectively, they ignored major currents of public opinion and clung to flawed policies.

Harding and Coolidge are best remembered for the corruption and scandals accompanying their years in office (1921-23 and 1923-29). They slashed income and corporate taxes and supported employers’ campaigns to eliminate unions. Members of their administrations received kickbacks and bribes from lobbyists and businessmen. “Never before, here or anywhere else,declared the WSJ, “has a government been so completely fused with business.” Current presidential hopeful John McCain, according to certain views, is considered not unlike Harding.

Bush’s (and his VP Cheney’s) disdainful stance towards things lawful and democratic has been much publicized. Be it his decision to go to an unsolicited war on Iraq or his attempt to strip people accused of crimes of rights that date as far back as the inception of Magna Carta: trial by impartial jury, access to lawyers and knowledge of evidence against them. He has asserted the right to ignore the parts of laws with which he disagrees. His administration has adopted policies regarding the treatment of prisoners of war that have disgraced the nation and alienated virtually the entire world. Usually, during wartime, the Supreme Court has refrained from passing judgment on presidential actions related to national defense. The court’s unprecedented rebukes of Bush’s policies on detainees indicate how far the administration has strayed from the rule of law.

Whether the history will judge Bush Jr. as the worst will be known only in future. US News‘s Jay Tolson conducted a thorough research (in 2007) of American presidents and came up with the list of the worst ten American presidents:

1. James Buchanan (1857-1861) – He refused to challenge either the spread of slavery or the growing bloc of states that became the Confederacy.

2. Warren G. Harding (1921-1923) – He was an ineffectual and indecisive leader who played poker while his friends plundered the U.S. treasury.

3. Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) – He survived impeachment after opposing Reconstruction initiatives including the 14th amendment.

4. Franklin Pierce (1853-1857) – His fervor for expanding the borders–thereby adding several slave states–helped set the stage for the Civil War.

5. Millard Fillmore (1850-1853) – He backed the Compromise of 1850 that delayed the Southern secession by allowing slavery to spread.

6. John Tyler (1841-1845) – He was a stalwart defender of slavery who abandoned his party’s platform once he was president.

7. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) – Serving right after Johnson, he presided over an outbreak of graft and corruption, but had good intentions.

8. William Harrison (1841) – He was president for all of 30 days after contracting pneumonia during his interminable inaugural.

9. (tie) Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) – He was known as a poor communicator who fueled trade wars and exacerbated the Depression.

9. (tie) Richard Nixon (1969-1974) – Though politically gifted, he will forever be associated with the Watergate scandal and his resignation.

10. Zachary Taylor (1849-1850) – A political novice, the war hero is entirely forgettable as president.

How things sometimes turn out

This is a story about David, a good friend of mine from university days.

David was an unsmiling, straightforward, lonesome, and very candid person. From day one, it was obvious that his interests did not lie in physics (his domain of specialization). He didn’t have a knack for physics, math or computers. His knowledge of English was scarce. The results of his exams varied from mediocre to average. He neither tried to excel nor allowed himself to fail the courses he took. He floated…during four years of undergrad studies.

He finally obtained his bachelors in physics. After these four years, he had no knowledge, experience or aspiration in any particular field including physics. He didn’t want to continue in physics, but the alternative of serving two years in the army compelled him otherwise. He continued his studies on graduate level. In the meantime, he became restless. He wanted to quit the country and take a job in some place calm where he could drive trucks. “Me, the road and nothing else” he used to say. He preferred solitude.

Seeing many young people going to America, David decided to take his chances. One day he informed me that he found a “great opportunity to go to the US.” It was the American green card lottery. He read that there is a good chance of winning the lottery and getting a green card. He got very enthused and optimistic. He applied for it and some time after, surprisingly for everyone, he received a notification that he passed the first stage of selection. The second stage of the lottery was to take place in Moscow, Russia. David’s family was not financially stable, but he managed to scrap together ticket money, borrowing from friends and family. When he came back from Moscow, he announced that he had a good chance of obtaining the green card. There was a big change in David. A joking, superstitious and overly confident David seemed completely unrelated to the formerly grave, isolated life-hater he once was.

After two years and a Masters degree, David left his family – he was 24 then – and took off to America in search of good career path and money.

Months passed. I got an email that he settled with a Russian girl and undertook a long chain of short-lived temporary jobs on gas stations, cafés and trade centers. He didn’t sound happy or content. He was surviving. He wrote he spared some money and sent it to his family. No mention of trucks.

More months passed. Another email. He enrolled in a PhD programme in physics. What? Why? He said: “They pay well to doctoral students, and I don’t have to do crappy stuff.” He was in desperate need to bone up his computer skills in order to advance in his studies. He needed to learn computers from scratch, which he didn’t feel like doing. He managed to buy some time from his supervisor. However after six months or so, he quit. His supervisor finally understood that David would not be able to complete his studies. In addition, a sad incident, a quarrel with his Russian girlfriend who fabricated some false evidence, resulted in David’s incarceration in a local prison for a week. He didn’t have money; he was in prison; his family was not aware; few friends were aware and bailed him out. Shortly after, he was put into prison for three weeks, again based on false witnessing. After jail, he wouldn’t be able to find a job in that state because of his criminal record.

Three weeks later, he was out of prison. He had no money and no job. He managed to borrow enough money for a return ticket to Armenia. Four years passed since he left. What changed? David now spoke English fluently. He brought back with him no money, no promises for a job, no valuable knowledge, but many memories of unpleasant experiences, glimmers of which could be seen in his shadowy and grave expression of face.

He was 28… I met him when he was back few weeks prior to my visit. We had a drink and a long conversation. He was looking for a job; he needed a fresh start…

A Museum Of Personal Failure

Americans, it turns out, are not only in habit of establishing durable monuments and institutions commemorating their success and achievements, but also their failures.

Located in the Bucktown neighborhood, American Mini-Storage is one of Chicago’s best-kept secrets, but don’t expect it to stay that way for long. The self-storage facility houses what is arguably the nation’s most impressive collection of personal items accumulated during periods of failure.

A whole museum dedicated to failures. Not by accident many say that we learn more from failures than from successes. Some think that personal failure “becomes not an indicator of personal inadequacy, but a sign that you are expanding your horizons and making progress.”

“There are 250 storage units here, and each one has a different pathetic story to tell,” said Carlos Garcia, one of several client-relations managers at American Mini-Storage. “They run the gamut—from libraries of unread college textbooks to abandoned bolts of canvas to half-restored antique chests of drawers. Each storage locker is like a window into a separate life of disappointment and inadequacy.”

American Mini-Storage opened on Armitage Street in autumn of 1996. Despite being relatively new to the market, facility managers have amassed an impressive collection, thanks to location, word of mouth, and generous contributions from anonymous donors.

It also seems that many people, while not at ease with their present and past failures, still prefer to store or keep these somewhere – perhaps out of their sight – where they can mingle from time to time and be reminded.

“This is the Mueller space,” Garcia says. “It holds a crate of five partially written detective novels. And over here in the Sherman room, we have one of my favorite collections: the leftover inventory from a failed salad-dressing business. Oh, and take a look inside the Curtis collection. It boasts the decaying remains of an entire family’s failure, including a sixth-place intramural-tennis trophy, a moth-eaten gymnastics uniform, and a file cabinet jammed with overdraft bank notices.”

Gymnastic uniforms and overdraft bank notices and everything in between. Imagine that now this entire “wealth” of personal failures of countless types of human endeavors, thoughts and ideas is open to the public. What will be the long-term impact of such an exposition: failures exposition? Would we learn something new?  Or would be be reminded of our own well-hidden failures?

While the storage facility is by no means the only one of its kind, several factors have contributed to the breadth of its fascinating collection.

“Part of the reason for our success is that the neighborhood itself has been in drastic flux over the past 15 years,” Garcia said. “As a result of Bucktown’s gentrification, the Puerto Rican population has been displaced, followed by the artists and musicians, then the people on the first steps to their career. Everyone who has come and gone has needed a place to store painful reminders of the past. We are not just a storage facility, we are a repository for every imaginable setback a person can experience.”

Here is the entire The Onion article.