Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

3/25/2010

Where Goes Our Republic? Where Goes My Daughter?

Filed under: General,Health Care,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 9:19 am

I'm worried.  I've been fighting this feeling for awhile and tried to avoid appearing reactionary or overreactionary to recent events, but I'm worried.  Something is happening here and it isn't pretty.

I've grown to distrust modern liberalism.  Its adherents keep changing the U.S. into something it's not supposed to be and wasn't meant to be.  While they claim the changes are consistent with the spirit of America's promise and are making it better, they break it down and rebuild it into something bearing no resemblance to what has made it great.  Where they find nothing broken, they break it so they can repair it.  Where they find something broken, they dash it so they can replace it.

I have always considered America to be something great on this good earth.  Where the rest of the world lived by the grace of kings, we lived by virtue of our own efforts.  When others were ruled by despots, radicals, and the shifting powers of wars, we held firm trusting that our ability to govern ourselves was the answer.  We demanded nothing but the rights of life, liberty, and property and a government composed of our own citizens who would not only protect our rights from foreign and domestic threats, but would also respect those rights itself and not threaten them.  But our social contract isn't what it used to be.  We'll give up some liberty if it means some personal security.  We'll give up some property, especially someone else's, if it means we can get something else in return for little effort.  We have sacrificed so many others in our society for our own gain and in the name of justice and generosity, never realizing that we were really sacrificing ourselves.  We've given up our obligations but expect to keep our rights.  We've given up the rights that make us citizens so that we can enjoy the pleasures that make us hedonists. 

America is not perfect and has never been perfect.  But in a world of deep darkness and oppression, by God, our light, no matter how dim or imperfect it's been at times, was a blinding beacon on a hill, beckoning others to us and to like us.  Our light is now dimming more than ever and we threaten to pitch ourselves into the same darkness the rest of the world inhabits.  We will no longer be exceptional and we will no longer be able to help others or ourselves.  The beacon, the great hope for humanity and the great pro-human force for the past 220 years will be snuffed – not by anybody else.  No external power could ever have defeated us.  Instead we will die the only way we could have – we will have killed ourselves.

Our decline will be slow, but it will be certain.  Those other nations across the Atlantic that so many of our citizens envied will go down with us, and they'll realize the hyperpower they so long criticized, looked down on, and which they celebrated the more it became like them, was the only thing that made their arrogance possible.  With no military to protect it, a hampered economy, and a lack of innovation, they'll have no one to be parasitic upon.  They'll also realize that in America's defeat, they are now subject to the whims of an increasingly despotic Russia, an expansionary China, and aggressive foreign immigration.  They survived in the valley by basking on our light, but they will no longer have it.

So where goes our good republic?  I honestly don't know, but with fiscal time bombs, unsustainable entitlements and ever more people wanting something for nothing, it doesn't look good.  But I'd like to talk about somebody else.

I have a little girl.  When I found out I would have a daughter several years ago, I saw the future stretched out in front of her.  I saw her as a toddler and a young girl.  I saw her as a difficult, but talented teenager.  I saw her going off to college and doing what she found productive and fulfilling.  I saw her contributing to her community and being a good person, friend, and citizen and as someone who would be a credit to the nation that had raised and done so much for me, my father, my grandfather, and my immigrant great-grandfather.  I saw her get married to a good man.  I saw her having children of her own for whom she would see a future like I saw for her.  I saw her grow old and I saw her finish a life well-lived.

Someday, I'd like to sit her down and tell her the future I saw.  None of it specific, more like a cloudy haze. It's a future that exists based upon a society that does not restrict her, that protects her freedoms and allows her to make choices.  I'd like to tell my daughter that it's a great future; that it's cloudy, yes, but she may choose her path and all the side-paths and detours she wants.  I'd like to tell her that the best path will always be found with hard work, with skill, with duty, with being productive, with contributing to the society that protects her, with willingly giving of herself to help those around her, that reason will be her best guide and that virtue is never wasted.  I'd like to be able to tell her that with all this, that haze before is bright and that what lies ahead is better than the cleared area behind us.  That, just as my ancestors had covered so much more of that ground before I began my walk, was cleared ground I had advanced upon so she could go farther.

But I can't tell my daughter any of this.  Not anymore.  How can I tell her to follow hard work when hard work will only be exploited?  Shall I point to her mother, who worked hard for seven years to become a doctor, sacrificed so much and accrued debt, who started working and making decent money at age 30 by treating the children of her community only to be called rich, greedy, selfish and then be claimed by a bureaucracy that will dictate how she exercises her career and from which she cannot escape while remaining a doctor?  Shall I point to the small business owners who invested money and worked hard only to have so much of their work's reward stripped away, to be called greedy and exploitative of their workers?  Meanwhile, those who do less receive rewards for their lack of effort, with their laziness subsidized, handed the fruits taken from the ones naive enough to still work hard.  While handed the fruits, they're told they're the victims and that they're the ones being exploited by the hard workers.  Worse, the lazy, the exploiters, begin to believe they are victims.  Worse still, the hard workers, the victims, begin to believe they are exploiters.  And worst of all, they both begin to think of the lazy as deserving of the fruits.  Shall I tell my daughter that hard work prevails?  Or shall I be honest and tell her that hard work makes her the rube?

How can I tell her to follow duty when her duty is continually narrowed down to being little more than rank obeisance to those who govern her?  What duty has she to others when her duties are taken from her and given over to the anonymous collective?  She'll have no duty to help, to do what she knows is right while risking everything for it, to willingly give of herself for others, to teach, to learn, to fight.  Those responsibilities will not be her's.  The collective will do those things.  It will tell her what is right, it will take from her for others, it will teach.  And should it fail?  No matter.  In the collective, no one is to blame.  All that will be required of her is to do as told.  Shall I tell my daughter to follow duty?  Or shall I be honest, cut out the pointless middle step that has turned into nothing more than a controlling faleshood, and tell her that she need only obey?

How can I tell her to be productive and contribute to the society that protects her when so much of what she produces is taken away and when her society preys upon and exploits her?  Shall I tell her to produce and contribute?  Or shall I be honest and tell her it's better to prey on others?

How can I tell her that reason is her best guide when emotion, base appeal, irrationality, and lies rule?  Why tell her to search out what is in a world that no longer searches for it or believes it's there?  Why tell her to even think in a world that says thinking is nothing more than believing and, worse, feeling?  People don't look for truth, they look for what's "true to them."  They turn inward, gaze at a hollowness they never filled, then look back out to commit themselves to what they feel is right, not to what they think is right and certainly not what is right.  They appeal to their bestial sides, banishing what about them is most human, and maximize freedoms available to any common weevil.  The rationality occasionally rediscovered and championed throughout the West's history has once again been surrendered.  Shall I tell my daughter to follow reason?  Or shall I be honest and tell her to just follow emotion without the threat of ever being wrong (since it can't be wrong) and to enjoy the lies of the moment while new lies will always be available when the old ones are exposed as false?

How I can tell her virtue is never wasted when the only courage shown by leaders is the courage to defy the will of citizens?  When intemperance and self-indulgence are celebrated except when they get in the way of state priorities?  When the virtue is not taught or expected, but is merely compliance with rules she will be forced to follow?  When temperance makes you the rube whose goods and savings will be taken for others?  When generosity disappears amid the collective doing what was once the duty of the individual?  Shall I tell my daughter to practice virtue?  Or shall I be honest and tell her that it will be cold comfort when her virtue will be taken advantage of?

And so I look back at her future.  What was once a bright haze with any number of paths darkens and the paths narrow.  Many paths have been closed off and she is no longer free to pursue whatever makes her happy.  Those liberal elites determined they know better what should make her happy than she herself can and so those paths are no longer acceptable.  They cannot make her happy and it's not best for her, they might say, but more likely those paths are considered contrary to the good of the collective as determined not by the public, but by the elites themselves.  Or perhaps those paths are still open, but they are far more difficult and rocky than before and the costs of taking them outweigh the benefits.  And so I must set my daughter forth not into a future of promise like I originally envisioned for her, but into a future filled with trepidation, soft smiling tyranny, and exploitation by the worst of society.  A future ruined by the hubris of the liberal elites who think they can direct humanity to its betterment, but who fail always and then create more failure to fix their mistakes.

I want my daughter's future back, you sons of bitches.

7/14/2009

More Things I Think I Think Right Now

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 9:06 pm

As we prepare to pass a massive health care entitlement program that will destroy the quality of the current system and exponentially increase the size of the federal budget, the federal debt, and the power of the federal government in our lives, let's consider a few things.

1. Name me a successful (or, as most actually are, seemingly successul) socialist program or system that is not parasitic on the private sector. On health care, for example, many people hold up Medicare as being great template for a quality government-run system, even though it about to go bust. If you can find a doctor who wants more Medicare patients or an all-Medicare practice, then it is highly likely you will next find a unicorn ridden by a leprechaun. Doctors and hospitals tolerate Medicare and the loss they take on the system because they are still able to make a profit from private insurers. Private insurance subsidizes Medicare. Should you take away the private insurance so that you only have a universal Medicare-type plan, what will subsidize it?

The great socialized medical systems of other countries are also parasitic on the U.S. The newest wonder drugs and most medical innovations come out of the U.S. because companies can make a profit here, but not elsewhere. And yet the other countries still benefit from innovations that come from the U.S. The massive socialized welfare systems of western Europe are the result of half a century of U.S. military protecction of the continent. They had the luxury of drawing down their militaries and building up their welfare states. They currently hardly have the ability to even defend themselves, let alone project any significant power abroad. If the leaders of western Europe had any sense, they would persuade the U.S. NOT to join the socialist democratic fold. If the European pattern were to hold here so that military spending will be replaced with welfare spending, we will no longer have ability to militarily secure Europe and the Europeans will suddenly be responsible for themselves without an assured back-up plan in the U.S.

1b. I also marvel at how people are so willing to allow the federal government to so intrude in their lives that they will allow it to dictate to them something as fundamental as their own health care and how they use it. I've always been baffled at how people complain about insurance companies and HMO's and then their solution is to create one enormous monopolistic HMO run by the federal government, that paragon of efficiency, meritocracy, and friendly reliable customer service. When Obama talks of lowering costs, hwo do they really think that will be done? When the supply of available medical care remains static, but demand skyrockets and there's no longer any price mechanism to ration the supply, how do they think the rationing will be done? How do they think new medical innovations will come about or new drugs created when there's no longer any profit to be made in them for companies? How do they think the government will distribute money and resources through the system? By need? By merit? By consumer demand? By voter appeasement? By political influence? When Obama talks about "evidence-based" medicine and decisions, what evidence, chosen by whom, to effect decisions for what goals? What motivation will aspiring talented sudents have for going into the medical field when they can no longer make their own medical decisions, when they can no longer act on their own judgment and training, when they become bureaucrats executing options on a flow chart, when they cannot produce a meaningful income to reflect their education, training, and service provided, and when patients see them not as talented professionals from whom they are receiving a valuable service made valuable by what it costs the patient, but as an extension of the government system as surely as a glassy-eyed dullard sitting at a DMV window? Why go through that pain when instead they can become, say, lawyers with less investment of time, talent, and money and greater reward on the other end? Why contribute to the medical field when there are oh so many ways to become parasitic on it?

2. The role of proper government should be to preserve and protect individual freedoms and let individuals define and pursue their own versions of happiness and the good life (within bounds, of course, e.g. not allowing joyful murderers to exercise their hobby). The more instrusive the government becomes, however, through taxation, regulation, mandatory services, etc., the more individual freedoms are eroded and persons are forced to comform to the versions of happiness and good life decided on by the government as being best and proper. It doesn't matter if my versions are different, I will be forced through either lack of choice and options or through coercion to comply. On health care, I may prefer a certain doctor or have a certain procedure done or make some other conscious choice that I think best, but under a government system, I will be constrained to doing what the bureaucratic rules say I can do.

2b. I would dearly love if some politician out there would articulate the case for economic freedom being general freedom, which I think is one of the best cases to be made against increasingly excessive taxation. The more of your own money you keep, the more you can pursue your own aforementioned versions of happiness and the good life. You can donate to charities, tithe, take educational courses, buy a ski boat, travel, play XBOX, contribute to political candidates or political causes you support, etc., etc. Whatever your version is, money allows you to pursue it. The more of that money that is taxed, however, the more your ability to pursue it is restricted. and is necessarily an infringement of what is supposed to be an unalienable right, the pursuit of happiness Again, erosion of individual freedoms.

3. I sometimes wonder if, though we are a common law society, we are becoming more civil law in tone and structure. Rules and laws are becoming exceptionally complex in their layout. Older real estate agents can tell you housing contracts are much longer than they used to be. Older profesoors will tell you how syllabi were once a page or two and now universities require they have sections on disability, discrimination, tardy policies, grading policies, reading schedules, et al, until a syllabus constitutes a packet. In all things, all bases must be covered and no loopholes left open.

The problem with all this is that rules replace judgment. People become afraid to make judgment calls because they fear they'll leave themselves exposed to litigation or discipline if they choose wrongly. If there's a rule they can follow, however, then they can do whatever it says and not bother using judgment, no matter how illogical, inconvenient, inefficient, immoral, or nonsensical it may be in a given situation. They are absolved of all personal responsibility. No matter the outcome or incomprehensible the decision, they are justified so long as they conformed to the rule. And then responsibility has been to displaced to whom? To the rule? Where is the accountability in the system? Suddenly, no one is accountable and no one is responsible so long as every one followed their own respective rules. The buck stops nowhere because it never started going anywhere at the start.

We've replaced minds with rules. Whatever happened to producing people with good judgment and good character who can choose wisely instead of merely stamping out drones who can do little more than offensively exploit loopholes and defensively cover their asses? We don't want men of thinking, we want men of process.

4. Last, I was ruminating this morning on the rather contradictory positions of those who support higher taxes. On the one hand, they support higher taxation of those in the higher income brackets in order to generate revenue for various government spending. They do so on the supposition that those who are wealthy will continue working at the same pace as before and work with the same effort to increase income, productivity, etc., and also that they will not leave the jurisdiciton of the taxing entity. That is, they expect the higher tax to generate more revenue while having little to no adverse effect on the behavior of those being taxed.

On the other hand, these same people will turn around and purposely use taxation as a tool for behavior modification. They argue, for example, that gas taxes should be higher so people will push for and buy more fuel efficient vehicles. They push through higher taxes on cigarettes saying that doing so will make the cost of smoking prohibitively expensive and smokers will quit.

So, which is it? Does higher taxation change behavior or does it not? You can't have it both ways. I haven't decided if the attempt to do so is the result of naivity, convenience, or straight-out lying.

And that's about all I think I think right now.

Various Things I Think

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 9:03 pm

Any one of these deserves greater attention, but the real world is currently demanding a great deal of my time.  But here a couple of things I think I think.

1. Obama is turning out to be exactly who I thought he would be and yet I dislike him even more than I thought I would.  His efforts at various reforms of the society are wrong-headed and perilous.  He is also abusing the executive branch and has concentrated power in the presidency to a degree that I'm not sure has precidence.  Currently, a man with one year of experience in the business world (as a financial advisor) is the effective uber-CEO of the world's largest budget, two major automotive manufacturers, large national banks and investment firms (and a number of smaller ones), and is also trying to become the head of a nationwide HMO.  I don't know why people aren't more worried about this than they are.

2. What depresses me is that I'm not convinced that if McCain were president and/or if the Republicans were still the majority in Congress, they wouldn't be doing many of same boneheaded things Obama and the Dems are.

3. Regarding the auto companies, we're witnessing what happens when the government takes over a business: it screws it up.  Anytime the government meddles in a market, it disrupts how that market operates.  A free market should be a meritocracy where only the best succeed and the good survive.  Politics, though, is an aristocracy of influence where the best connected succeed and the well connected survive.  I greatly fear that GM and Chrysler are going to become like Amtrak.  The companies will continue to operate inefficiently and will lose money (all the more so now that the unions have such a big stake in them) and they'll just continue extorting Congress for more money.  After as much taxpayer money as has been invested in the companies, no politician wants them to completely fail on his/her watch and so they'll just keep pumping more money while always claiming the automakers will become solvent, profitable, and independent tomorrow.  Would anybody like to buy a Trabant?

NG Explorer on Executions

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 8:47 pm

I'm currently watching National Geographic Explorer's episode on executions, with a (understandable) focus on the Texas death row in Huntsville.  I've always like the Explorer series and they tend to play it pretty straight without taking sides (or at least without being too overt about it).  One gets a vague feeling of disapproval.  In times like this, though, I like to note the crimes for which these were executed.

Johnny Ray Johnson: Johnson confessed that he offered to give Leah Smith some of his crack cocaine in exchange for sex. After Smith smoked the crack, she refused to have sex with Johnson. He became angry and grabbed her, ripped her clothes off, and threw her to the ground. When she fought back with a wooden board, Johnson repeatedly struck her head against the cement curb until she stopped fighting, and then raped her. During the punishment phase of his trial, the State introduced evidence, including Johnson’s oral and written confessions, revealing that Johnson raped and/or murdered numerous other women on several occasions in much the same manner.

Willie Earl Pondexter: Pondexter and accomplices Ricky Bell, Deon Williams, and James Henderson met together and discussed robbing Martha Lennox, a wealthy 84-year-old woman in Clarksville. They parked a few blocks away. On their first attempt to enter the house, they saw a patrolling police car. The men ran back to their car, but later returned to Lennox's house. After Pondexter kicked in the front door, all four of them went inside and went upstairs to Lennox's bedroom. The victim was there, sitting on her bed. Williams then took $7 from the victim's coin purse. Lennox was then shot twice in the head with a 9 mm pistol. The intruders then fled in the victim's car. Pondexter and his companions drove Lennox's car to Dallas, using the money they stole to buy gas. The day after the murder, they were arrested after attempting to rob a man on the street. At Pondexter's trial, Deon Williams testified that Henderson shot Lennox in the head first, then handed the gun to Pondexter. Pondexter then shot Lennox in the head and said, "that's how you smoke a bitch." James Lee Henderson was also convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. He remains on death row.

David Martinez: Martinez lived with his firlfriend, Carolina Prado and her two children, 14 year old Erik and 10 year old Belinda. On July 10, 1994, Martinez beat Carolina to death with a baseball bat in her bed, and used the same bat on Erik in the living room. Belinda was left tied up but unharmed and had seen her brother beaten to death by Martinez. She escaped and returned with her Grandmother who discovered the bodies. Upon arrest, Martinez confessed to the murders, bragging that he had killed them like cockroaches. No apparent motive for the murders was revealed.

I've always had a rather unsophisticated argument for the death penalty and it goes like this: Some people just deserve to die.  That's pretty much it.  No nuance about justice, costs, etc.  These guys commit horrific crimes and their lives become forfeit.  They simply deserve to die.

3/17/2009

The Problems of Government Control

Filed under: Politics,Society — Tags: — Dangerous Dan @ 10:37 pm

The latest populist outrage du jour is the $165 million in bonuses AIG paid out to its executives.  Since AIG is a recipient of tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer bailout money meant to shore it up, Obama and other politicians are in full bluster mode about the payouts.  They shouldn't be.  AIG was contractually obligated to pay that money to its employees.  Just because the company gets funds from the federal government doesn't mean that it is suddenly at liberty to violate the terms of its contracts with its workers, whether it's an extra $20 to a guy in the mail room or several million to a vice president.

It's also not as if this suddenly snuck up on anybody.  The White House is claiming they didn't know about the bonuses until earlier this month, but this is likely a CYA move.  It's difficult to believe that the administration didn't have some idea of the extent of the bonuses before official word got to it.  Even if the benefit of the doubt is given, the alternative explanations are either incompetence or shoddy work for, respectively, not thinking to investigate bonuses or going about getting the information slowly.

The problem for AIG if it had cut the bonuses, aside from getting sued by those who were stiffed, is that the business requires skilled, qualified people in its ranks.  It cannot get or retain these individuals if it is unable to match the compensation packages of competing firms.  This is part of a larger worry of mine whenever Obama and other mostly Dems talk about limiting the executive compensation of the companies that have received federal relief.  That sounds quite nice but such a policy puts the businesses at a serious competitive disadvantage for personnel.  If you're a skilled corporate manager, salesman, broker, etc., and you have the opportunity to make, say, ten times as much money at one firm than at another, the choice is obvious – you go to where you can make big money.  The firm that is legally unable to match salary and bonuses will increasingly get less qualified workers, i.e. the leftovers after all the other firms have picked over the available labor pool.  Considering these companies are already troubled (that's why they got federal money to begin with), this will only exacerbate the troubles.  Rather than use taxpayer money appropriately (something I consider was already not done in bailing them out at all), the politicians will waste that money by creating a non-competitive company that cannot succeed against rivals and will either go down with that taxpayer money or it will keep demanding more to keep it afloat.

This last option is a worrisome one.  There's a decent chance the government will continue pumping money into failing companies only because it has already sunk so much into them.  No politician wants to admit AIG or some other entity is going to go down in flames with billions in taxpayer money never to repaid.  The pols would rather keep propping it up as long as possible, a bit like the gambler who keeps gambling because he's already "invested" so much cash and holds out a futile hope of getting it back and keeping his wife from divorcing him.

So what would become of such companies?  That they become wholly dependent and functioning arms of the federal government?  This would certainly seem to be the case.  One of the lines the American people were given during the initial round of bailouts is that the government was buying stock without voting power and the banks, firms, and companies would not be controlled.  Not surprisingly, that didn't last long.  The fool populists now feel at liberty to exert ever greater control on these businesses, always on the justification that the companies received federal funds and the politicians, never good stewards of taxpayer money in their own spending, must ensure the U.S. investment is being used appropriately.  So far, only executive compensation packages are targeted, but there's no reason to stop there – not given the above justification.  What if a bailed out bank wants to foreclose on a number of houses owned by the poor, or refuses to lend to the "disadvantaged," or does business with the politically unpopular (let's say, a whaling group or a questionable foreign regime)?  There seems little to stop the pols from declaring that the bank needs to act correctly – that is, to act according to what the legislators have determined is politically advantageous or socially right – because, as a recipient of taxpayer money, it owes the taxpayers its subservience.

And what of that?  Doesn't a company owe obedience to the wishes of its investors and stockholders?  Of course, but what is the nature of this investment?  Ordinarily, I voluntarily invest my own money in a company and take on the risk should the company fail.  I can also voice my displeasure with the company's actions and try to direct it to act differently according to what I think is the best course of action.  None of this is the case with the government bailouts, however.  My money is being invested in companies regardless of my wishes.  Politicians are investing it for me, and against my will.  The pols also risk no monetary capital of their own should the investment go poorly.  All they risk is nebulous political capital, which can still be salvaged in case of failure.  I also have no say, as an investor, in the direction of the companies.  Instead, those same politicians act as my intermediary.  But the interests of those politicians are, again, less profit and more political (remember what it is they have at risk).  If it is political gains those pols wish to make, then they will pander to the poorer majority.  Since many of the poorer majority do not pay income taxes, they haven't any money at risk in these government investments.  The result is that my money is invested, but that investment is controlled by politicians for the benefit of those who have invested nothing.

Let's bail out all sorts of business entities.  Other than loss of taxpayer money, effective nationalization of companies, destruction of normal competition, and a bizarre distortion of investor-company relationships, what could go wrong?

12/25/2008

The Economy and Ignorant Uses of Labels

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,Society — Tags: — Dangerous Dan @ 12:04 am

Ariana Huffington is someone whose naked ambition is impressive but her intellect is not.  I can't say I've ever read anything by her when I thought the woman was sharp.  This isn't just because I almost universally disagree with her politically and ideologically, but also due to her constant intellectual vapidity and sloppiness.

The latest example of this is her piece at Real Clear Politics.  In it, she claims that the current economic crisis is proof-positive evidence of the death of laissez-faire capitalism.  Indeed, she equates its failure and death with the failure and death of Marxism.

The collapse of Communism as a political system sounded the death knell for Marxism as an ideology. But while laissez-faire capitalism has been a monumental failure in practice, and soundly defeated at the polls, the ideology is still alive and kicking.

The only place you can find an American Marxist these days is teaching a college linguistic theory class. But you can find all manner of free market fundamentalists still on the Senate floor or in Governor's mansions or showing up on TV trying to peddle the deregulation snake oil.

A few points.  First, people in Cuba, Nepal, China, Venezuela, Bolivia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and various other places would probably be quite surprised to discover that Marxism is a dead political ideology given its impressive vitality in those locations.

Second, it's bizarre to assert that the crisis proves the failure of laissez-faire capitalism considering that laissez-faire capitalism doesn't exist in the U.S. or virtually anywhere else in the world and hasn't for some time (if it ever truly existed at all).  It's a bit hard to argue a policy has failed when that policy was never in effect.

Huffington is actually being extremely lazy with labels.  She refers to "free market fundamentalists" as laissez-faire capitalists and then goes on to name several such individuals on the right.  In actuality, however, you will find very few real laissez-faire supporters who believe the government should be completely hands-off on the economy.  The vast majority of free-marketeers believe in some kind of government regulation, but that lighter regulation is better while heavy regulation is harmful to individual businesses and the economy in general.  Calling free market folks laissez-faire proponents is a bit like when know-nothings call libertarians anarchists.  Anarchists believe in the complete abolition of government while libertarians argue for the fundamental necessity of government, though its scope should be limited and its powers restricted.  Conflating the two is laziness or foolishness and so is conflating modern supporters of the free market and those of laissez-faire capitalism.  The conflation, however, serves her rhetorical purposes and so she uses it.

I'd like to give Huffington the benefit of the doubt and say she's merely talking about people whose ideology is closer to laissez-faire and so they're discredited by ideological proximity.  She nowhere makes such a subtle distinction, though.  Instead, she asserts the laissez-faire line rather forcefully.

It's time to drive the final nail into the coffin of laissez-faire capitalism by treating it like the discredited ideology it inarguably is. If not, the Dr. Frankensteins of the right will surely try to revive the monster and send it marauding through our economy once again.

Even if she wants to push the subtlety, it only damages her since the point can easily be turned around to argue that she and statist heavy regulatory supporters are also discredited since they're much closer to the failed Marxists she already mentioned.

Also, while Huffington repeatedly claims that laissez-faire capitalists (or, though she doesn't deserve it, we'll be generous and say laissez-faire 'attitudes') caused the crisis, she never draws the causal link between the two.  It is an assertion that is no more than asserted and is accepted as fact.  Without making the case, she cannot use the crisis as proof of anything's failure.

If the crisis occurred in a laissez-faire environment, she might have something.  Given that it occurred in a regulated environment, the only question is about the degree and efficacy of regulation.  Sadly, the tendency among liberals when something like this happens is to automatically assume that a dearth of regulation is the culprit, while hardly ever examined (or at least too little examined) are the effectiveness of current regulations, the effectiveness of the regulatory agencies, and the effects of current regulations on the markets.  If, for example, current regulations could have stopped a crisis but didn't, then the implementation of those regulations need to evaluated and there's no need for new regulations.  If the effectiveness of regulatory agencies is to blame, then this needs attention and there's no need for new regulations.  If current regulations are to blame, then they need to be revamped.

The latter can happen due to the law of unintended consequences.  Very rarely do laws or regulations do only what is intended.  They also often have unintended and undesirable side-effects.  Regulations such as requiring banks to lend money to certain localized minority groups and to the poor (actuarial demographics that are poor credit risks) was an obvious cause of our current situation in that it altered business practices (the NY Times piece Huffington approvingly references says as much, though it incorrectly lays the blame on Bush, and as confusingly as Huffington, argues for both too much and too little government interference).  Indeed, the left often does not seem to understand how laws and regulations affect business and individual behaviors, even though liberals often use laws for the purpose.  At any rate, it is not at all clear that the crisis results from a lack of regulation since I've mentioned at least three other possibilities and I'd hazard there are more I haven't thought of.  To jump to the conclusion that more regulations or a heavier regulatory environment is needed is foolhardy.

Personally, I argue for a combination of the above factors.  First, the government interference.  There is the aforementioned government sticks compelling banks to approve loans and mortgages to people they ordinarily would shun.  This is the root cause of the mess and the sheer amount of bad paper being issued due to the federal government's compulsion was going to be disastrous regardless of what happened afterwards.

Aside from this, there was also the Fed's interference in interest rates.  When Greenspan dropped the interbank loan rate following 9/11, it also dropped the interest rate on many secure investments, like Treasury bills.  It got so low that capital naturally started trying to find secure investments elsewhere that offered higher yields.  This is when consolidated mortgage packages started looking so good.  And in the beginning, they were good since it was mostly good paper and mortgages, being backed by the collateral of houses, would rarely fail terribly.  As the various brokers realized the gold mine there, more and more money started shifting into them and to supply the demand, CDO's composed of worse and worse paper were sold throughout the financial system.  This is where the Wall Street greed part comes in as enormous commissions were quite appealing.  And for many mortgage brokers, approving bad paper was low risk since the mortgage, and therefore the high risk of the bad paper, was sold to somebody else, making it no longer the mortgage broker's problem.

There was some lack of regulation in that it is very low over the investment banks.  Even if those regulations were there, it's not assured that the regulatory agencies like the SEC could have caught it.  Many smart people work for the SEC, but they're still government employees who are usually not as smart as the high-paid Wall Street folks or who are but don't stick around at the agency long enough since they go on to be a high-paid Wall Street person.  This makes it difficult to spot and handle extremely complex dangerous phenomena like the mortgage mess.  The regulators either don't know what to make of it all, don't have the expertise to put all the pieces together, or they lack employee continuity for the effort.

Frankly, this mess is far too complicated to pin on any one cause and Huffington and those like her are being every bit as overly simplistic as those she vilifies.  We need to proceed slowly and carefully, two things politicians are terrible at doing in a time of crisis, no matter how real or imagined.  Things are definitely going to get worse and I fear measures are going to be implemented that will hinder a long term recovery, not help it.

12/21/2008

They Conquered the Poor. Now to Enslave the Middle Class.

Filed under: General,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:50 pm

One of the devious things about government welfare is that it tends to enslave those receiving it.  This is so for individuals as well as for companies (which is one of my worries about the bailout nonsense, but at least the financial clout of companies better enables them to control politicians as opposed to the converse).  During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt embarked on a massive expansion of the federal government that included instituting numerous work programs, welfare, taxes, anti-business measures, etc., all in the name of protecting the little guy.  We now realize that the New Deal programs actually prolonged and deepened the Depression (that FDR is the one who made it "Great") and thus they did nothing to actually help the little guy.  But the actual result is irrelevant.  The point of it all is that it seemed to be helping, that Roosevelt and the Democrats seemed to be looking out for the interests of the lower class, that the government seemed to be taking actions on their behalf.  In the game of politics, reality plays second fiddle to appearances.

While Roosevelt spoke nobly about assisting those in need, one of the insidious purposes behind his measures was creating a dependent voting bloc.  He and his advisers were keenly aware that by doling out government assistance to the lower class, the lower class would in turn become dependent on the government and, more specifically, on the political party that had bestowed the favors on them, kept the favors coming, and promised ever more in the future.  Roosevelt and the Democratic party created a group of voters whose votes were dependable because those voters were dependent on the Democrats.  In short, the Democrats enslaved them, not with sticks, but with carrots.  And since the 1930's, the Dems have defended all manner of failing, inefficient, and/or destructive programs in the name of giving assistance to the lower class – assistance they claim is necessary if the poor are to have any hope of surviving or of mere subsistence, let alone have hope of any kind of success.  Despite the falsity of such a notion and despite that the programs far more often do more harm than good to those whom the programs ostensibly aim to help, the programs persist.  Not because they actually help, but because they appear to help, and it seems like the Democrats are looking out for the interests of the lower class by supporting them.

As time goes on, the liberals and so-called progressives need do even less for the poor.  They must only concentrate on appearances.  The lower class has become a dependable enough voting bloc that the Democrats have to do very little for them in order to keep their votes; they just have to make enough noise about helping them to keep them favoring the left.  The Republicans on the other hand, have trouble capturing their votes on anything other than values since it's damn difficult to convince people that receiving less of what they already get for nothing is actually in their best interests.  Increasingly, Republicans have become less conservative and less Reaganite and have sought to shower gifts from the government larder on the lower class and Bush even dubbed it compassionate conservatism.  Other than this being wrongheaded for the above reasons, it was also a politically losing proposition as the Democrats created and own this game and can easily outplay the Republicans at it on reputation alone.

Having conquered the lower class, though, it seems the liberals are finally now ready to move on to their next victims: the middle class.  To be fair, volleys have been fired at this class for awhile, but the full assault looks to be in the offing.  Obama has appointed Joe Biden to be a "working families czar" who will head the White House Task Force on Working Families.  The Task Force (c'mon, 'task force'?) is… ummm… tasked with "raising the living standards of middle-class, working families in America."  First, this is a classic example of political terminology that is practically focus group-driven.  'Working families' sounds nice.  Everybody likes working families.  Though if we apply a few moments of thought to it, the term is empty since ANY family with a working member could be termed a working family and so it's uselessly broad.  At any rate, the middle class will now find itself under assault with carrots (I believe Jonah Goldberg would refer to this as 'smiley-face fascism').  The odd thing about this is that the middle class typically doesn't need help nor want it.  This is a class that has achieved and earned where it is, seeks to do better, and would just as well be left alone.  This is a class that has also traditionally been a hindrance to centralized government in any society.  Historically, in most places, the upper class is wealthy enough to resist threats put to it by the government, is in thrall to state beneficence, or is the same as the power structure.  The lower class in these places is too weak, too uneducated, and/or too disconnected to resist.  The middle class, though, is wealthy enough, smart enough, and important enough to resist too much restrictive government encroachment.  Not being part of the power structure, it also has little interest in preserving it for its own sake.  Thus, in the U.S. at least, it must be conquered in such a way it doesn't realize it's happening.

How?

Obama has set up several key goals for the task force, including expanding education and training; improving work and family balance; a focus on labor standards, including workplace safety; and protecting working-family incomes and retirement security.

These sound like nice goals, but that's the problem.  These aren't government responsibilities and the measures instituted are likely to be ineffective, inefficient, and/or destructive (most will certainly be anti-business and, like most pro-employee measures, anti-employee as a consequence).  But again, reality is beside the point.  All that matters is that the programs seem to work, that they seem to be helping, that the Democrats seem to care about middle class families.  It's the appearances that matter.  Soon, many of these middle class families will become dependent on the measures and unwilling to go without them.  They will also vote for the party which grants them the favors of the state, will keep them coming, and which promises more in the future.  The middle class will be have been conquered and enslaved as a captive voting bloc of the Democratic party, just as the lower class was before it.  The upper class will be irrelevant by this point.

It's hard to resist policies that sound good.  Conservatives and libertarians, though, need to make the case that sounding good is all these policies amount to.  When the cost is assessed, most Americans can and should be repelled by the assault on the middle class.  Nothing comes free and what Obama seeks will cost money, jobs, power, and freedoms.  In future posts (assuming I'll have time), I'll argue this is so for the various middle class "benefits" here being proposed.

11/9/2008

Obama and the Fulfillment of History?

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Tags: , — Dangerous Dan @ 9:56 pm

I've decided I'm the last person in the country who doesn't really care all that much that Barack Obama is the first black man elected president.  Sure, it's a decidedly positive development in America, but I'm annoyed by all the adulation for several reasons.

Obama's election is not exactly a fulfillment of King's Dream, part of which was that people be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.  Too many people, however, disregarded the content of Obama's character due to the color of his skin.  Much attention was given to the overt and possible covert racism among the electorate's whites.  There was little talk or concern, though, about people who used Obama's race as a major qualification for voting for Obama.  This is judging him by his skin color and not by the content of his character and is itself racist.  Too many times, though, I saw people accusing McCain supporters of being racist because these pro-Obama folks imagined no other reason could exist for not voting for their candidate.  I have friends who have a pronounced ignorance of politics and anything substantive to do with Obama and yet they were seduced by the Obama narrative that made no small use of the historic angle of his nomination.  I ignored his color and couldn't give one whit if he was even one of the denizens of the Star Wars cantina.  I paid attention to his character, his biography, and his policy proposals and found all not only to be wanting, but to be dangerous in a man desiring to be to be president.

I also have a great irritation for race politics in America.  Though so many point fingers at the right, it is the left that plays this game.  They've invested too much in identity politics and while they often talk about being post-racial and Obama being a post-racial candidate/president, it will be impossible for them to ever move beyond race.  Since to them a person's race is irrevocably a primary and immutable part of a person's identity, they cannot understand how to interpret who an individual is without using race as a guideline.  The problem, though, is how to identify what ideology belongs to a race.  Race and ideology are inherently separate; there is no natural connection between the two and any connection must be artificial and created.  If race is then identity and an ideology is attached to it, there is the challenge of deciding what this ideology is to be.  The associated problem this creates is that only those of the race who hold the ideology can be considered authentic members of the race.  These race politics dictate who is authentically black.  By most objective indicators, Obama is far from being authentically American black.  He is half white with a Kenyan father, who was born in Hawaii, raised both there and in Indonesia, and went to Columbia and Harvard Law.  Then you take a man like Clarence Thomas who was descended from slaves, born in a one room shack, and was raised in Georgia during its time of deep racism.  By most standards, Thomas has had the more authentically black American experience, but race authenticity is not based on experience or even objectivity, it is based on subjective ideology.  Obama holds the correct ideology and is willing to play the liberal race-games they have set up.  Thomas, however, refused to play these games and his ideology is, to the left, heretical.  Thus, though their respective experiences would indicate the opposite, Obama is authentically black and Thomas is not.  Obama gets held up as an example for all of America's blacks with young men marching in lockstep and saying what Obama has made possible for them, people weeping, and endless barrels of ink spilled on how history has been fulfilled.  Seventeen years ago, Clarance Thomas became one of the most powerful people in America and there was no such reaction.  No, Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court was actually opposed by the NAACP and the Urban League.  Black elites like Manning Marble called him a race traitor and Emerge magazine put him on the cover as a lawn jockey and called him Uncle Thomas.  The authentic blacks used every racial attack on him that had ever been inflicted on blacks by racist whites.  It was despicable, but it was allowed because Thomas was not truly one of them.  You need only to choose a conservative black in politics to see similar treatment: Condi Rice, Michael Steele, Ward Connerly, Colin Powell (at least before he decided to support Obama), and more.

The irony here is that despite accusations towards conservatives, it is liberals who cannot get beyond race.  They do not how and too many of their ideas make it impossible for them to do so.  It is also they who practice the toxic politics also practiced by racist tyrannical regimes.  So, no I do not much care that Obama is the first black man to become president.  I judge him not by his color and see only an exceptionally poor candidate who is about to become the leader of my country.  And I give no credence to those who see themselves in him.  They do not know the man who has much less in common with them than they think, but believe him to be like them because they have been suckered into buying into an ideology-based racial authenticity to which Obama has adhered and in which he fits.  Tragically, the only consolation I take in Obama's victory is that I won't have to listen to people spending the next four years stupidly talking about how America is still racist, not ready for a black president, etc.

1/22/2007

The Other “F-Word”?

Filed under: General,Media,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 12:18 am

While I'm talking about vapid entertainment news, another recent brouhaha has embroiled Grey's Anatomy's Isaiah Washington.  According to reports, back in October while on-set, Washington referred to his co-star, T.R. Knight, as a 'faggot.'  Knight is gay.  Though this wasn't publicly known as the time, it seemingly was the cast and crew.  The incident was apparently privately resolved when it happened.

Earlier this month, however, it started prickling entertainment reporters' ears and then Washington was asked about it backstage at the Golden Globes, to which he replied, "No, I did not call T.R. a faggot.  Never happened, never happened."  People are now demanding Washington's head for uttering the term at the Globes… not so much for the angry invocation of it in October.

This is bizarre.  Washington wasn't using it maliciously on the latter occasion, he was using it in context (and denying its use at that, lending to his dislike of the term) as prodded by reporters.  While I quite agree that the word is inappropriate, I also think it should still be used given the proper contexts, such as, "One should not refer to someone as a 'faggot.'"  Given the uproar with Washington, however, it seems improper to use it in even this way.  Washington in his lengthy mea culpa, for example, apologizes for "using a word that is unacceptable in any context or circumstance."  If this is the case, then I cannot but wonder why no uproar has arisen against media outlets that reprinted the term.  Weren't they also quoting or using it in context as Washington was?

It seems that 'faggot' is now going the way of 'nigger' in that the term is so frighteningly offensive, it can only be referred and alluded to by some silly euphemism.  For the latter, it's 'the n-word.'  Unfortunately for the former, 'the f-word' is already taken by another very versatile obscenity, so it will have to come up with something else. 

Let me be clear that I am against the malicious and/or discriminatory use of either term and both should be used with some prudence.  But it seems simply ridiculous that any term should be so loaded with meaning, that no one dare utter it, even when it's being quoted or used in a context such as the above.  Using a euphemism for it is akin to a child using gustatory terms to refer to his/her personal anatomy.  Words are not to be feared, only their improper use.  The euphemisms already do language an injustice.

The argument has been made that the euphemism for 'nigger' is used because the term is so fraught with hideous meanings and implications that sensible African-Americans and anybody with a reasonable conscience will and/or should have fainting spells upon hearing it.  Poppycock.  The euphemism actually succeeds in a strange paradox in that it strengthens the fear of the word while simultaneously removing it's meaning.  People come to fear the word itself for the use of the euphemism makes it plain that the term is to be feared.  At the same time, the meaning of the actual term slips away as it is never directly used in any context.  The word itself is feared and not what it stood for.  It's becoming a linguistic 'boo!' – something that is itself supposed to frighten though it has no real meaning.

As best as I can remember, the use of the 'N-word' euphemism first came into vogue during the O.J. Simpson trial.  Detective Mark Fuhrman was on tape using it numerous times and the media outlets felt queasy using it context.  While I don't care at the moment to wade through the transcripts, I believe Simpson's attorney, Johnnie Cochran, used it in the trial.  This was a brilliant act of courtroom theatrics since he was trying to discredit Fuhrman.  By acting as though the word were so offensive to him and civilized people that he could only allude to it by a euphemism just made it seem so much magnificently worse than anyone imagined, and Fuhrman that much more of a monster for having said it, thereby completely impugning his character.  How curious that the euphemism was given birth and popularity in the cynical, theatrical service of freeing a double-murderer.  Not an auspicious birth, to be sure.

1/21/2007

American Idol Flack

Filed under: General,Media,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 11:25 pm

Ah, it's American Idol time.  This is when the show starts up with plenty of bad singers, fame-coveting no-names, and twits who just want to get on TV, show up and perform poorly while the few talented make it through to further potential cuts.  This is also the time when people start whining about how mean the judges are.  It's now become an annual rite as some are complaining about comments made during the auditions that were televised last week.  This is all somewhat amusing because I remember quite well last season when there were complaints about how mean the judges were being, how it was much meaner than in the past, etc. – pretty much everything being said now.  The public has a short memory.

The lead whiner is The View's Rosie O'Donnell.  Rosie is apparently a human PR machine for The View as she has made a habit of picking fights with other quasi-celebrities and utterly manufacturing controversy where there none existed.  Thus far, she has publicly feuded with Kelly Ripa, Donald Trump, The View's own Barbara Walters, and now American Idol.  Be warned not to peek inside Rosie's teapots lest yea be blown away by the tempests.

All that said, yes, American Idol is a silly, somewhat unfair show.  At each city audition, there's one or two rounds of cuts before people get to see Randy, Paula, and Simon.  Plenty of talented people are assuredly turned away in those cuts, and many clearly talentless self-deceived people are sent through for the sole purpose of being ridiculed by the judges and the American public.  It's a talent show, but it's also a reality show and events are unfairly manipulated for TV.  Once you realize this and get past the hang-ups, it's possible to be entertained by it.  I am entertained and I know it's quite silly; I am entertained because I know it's quite silly.  I am as much amused by the absurdity of it all as by the amount or dearth of talent.

As to Rosie's comment that the American public doesn't like the fare being provided by the show, this seems to be an eminently disprovable statement through empirical evidence: the two shows last week had nearly 40 million viewers.

7/24/2006

Clinton Video Game Tax?

Filed under: Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:39 pm

There are rumors (rumors, mind you, since I can't find independent confirmation of this, although the reporting blogger is respected in gaming circles) that Hillary Clinton is thinking about pushing for special taxes on video games:

Sources tell me that Clinton has been asking around for volunteers for a new anti-violence in video games initiative. Specifically, Clinton is trolling for someone who feels passionate about extreme violence in video games.

One of Clinton's brainbursts is to try and add a special tax to video games, sorta like what a lot of states do for cigarettes. The profits from the tax would then go to a child advocacy program.

The "concerned parent" would need to attend a press conference to make a short statement and should be able to deal with annoying reporters asking questions like: Did Sen. Clinton send out a memo asking for someone like you to talk for her at a press conference?

If true, this would be a nice calculated move intended to appeal to both liberals and conservatives. The fiscal liberals get taxes on something (anything) to funnel towards a feel-good cause and the social conservatives get to punish the evil video games destroying their kids' brains and .

Of course, this could just as easily backfire by torquing the social liberals who don't think such things as violent video games should be punished and the fiscal conservatives who think taxing generally, but especially social engineering through taxing, is severe governmental overreach.

I think the latter outcome is more likely. As this notes, it also won't play well with the Kos crowd that Hillary will appear to be pandering to conservative values-based issues, which they consider trivial or distracting, instead of focusing on the big issues.

(via Joystiq)

Monopoly Goes Plastic

Filed under: General,Pics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:10 pm

It's the end of an era. Parker Brothers is going to start phasing out the funny money in the Monopoly board game and is replacing it with Visa-brand toy credit cards and a reader.

reader

Game makers Parker have phased out the standard multi-coloured cash in a new version.

Players will instead use a Visa mock debit card to keep track of how much they win or lose.

It is inserted into an electronic machine where the banker taps in cardholders' earnings and payments.

This is bad for several reasons.

First, kids have a difficult enough time figuring out how to make change. Now one of the few fun tools that can teach this vital skill is being eliminated. In place of a brain, they can now depend on a machine to do the figuring for them. Sure, this is how things will work when they're running the register at Taco Bell, but still.

Second, where's the rule bending? One of the fun things with Monopoly is doing quasi-ethical side deals with other players in order to build up your own position or perhaps to form an impromptu merger to crush another player. Or for the creative, taking bribes in the form of outside the game favors. How's that supposed to work now?

Third, and connected to the last point, is that this hurts the time-honored practice of outright cheating at Monopoly. You know… the banker takes out a "loan" when nobody is looking, somebody comes back from a bathroom break to find a couple of pink bills missing. Or maybe, you simply miscount a payout. Ah, good times.

Fourth, anybody who has crushed his competition in Monopoly knows the villainous gloating that comes over you as you sit there with your piles of cash and deeds while looking over at your competitor who only has Baltic and a get out of jail free card. Bwaha… bwahahaha! How can you get that nice evil feeling with a loaded credit card? Nope… you need the stacks of money to visibly demonstrate your superiority to the other players. You also can't get that feeling of horror as you see your monetary mounds disappear after a couple of bad rolls if you're using a card.

Fifth, you've got to be able to postpone a game. I, for example, played a game of Monopoly nearly eight years ago. Pete the Elder and I were the only members of our corporation. We didn't fare too well and, when we were down to one dollar, decided it was getting late and postponed finishing the game. I still have that dollar. It's in my wallet. The game is still on and we haven't lost yet. It may be time for a comeback. Again, a card can't do that.

So let's sum up… with the credit card system, you can't count money yourself, you can't make quasi-ethical deals, you can steal or engage in creative accounting, you can't gloat over your winnings, and you can't back out of deals. You should immediately see the problem here: that's just not real-world capitalism. Don't get me wrong, I love capitalism. The warts, though, add a little dimension to things, don't you think? The beauty of Monopoly is that it’s simplified capitalism, but still leaves the ability to do the system’s more interesting practices. Let’s not take away the warts. Leave the cash.

If you wind up with one of these sad new systems, fret not. For now, anyways, you can print out your own Monopoly from here.

(via Engadet)

3/23/2006

A Naughty Statue of a Pregnant Britney Spears – the Apocolypse is Nigh

Filed under: General,Pics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 3:04 pm

Great googly-moogly, the pro-life movement must be getting desperate if it's doing this:

BROOKLYN (March 22, 2006) — A nude Britney Spears on a bearskin rug while giving birth to her firstborn marks a ‘first’ for Pro-Life. Pop-star Britney Spears is the “ideal” model for Pro-Life and the subject of a dedication at Capla Kesting Fine Art in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg gallery district, in what is proclaimed the first Pro-Life monument to birth, in April.

Dedication of the life-sized statue celebrates the recent birth of Spears’ baby boy, Sean, and applauds her decision of placing family before career. “A superstar at Britney’s young age having a child is rare in today’s celebrity culture. This dedication honors Britney for the rarity of her choice and bravery of her decision,” said gallery co-director, Lincoln Capla. The dedication includes materials provided by Manhattan Right To Life Committee.

“Monument to Pro-Life: The Birth of Sean Preston,” believed Pro-Life’s first monument to the ‘act of giving birth,’ is purportedly an idealized depiction of Britney in delivery. Natural aspects of Spears’ pregnancy, like lactiferous breasts and protruding naval, compliment a posterior view that depicts widened hips for birthing and reveals the crowning of baby Sean’s head.

In the name of all that is good and holy, what are these people thinking? Wait, there's more.

The monument also acknowledges the pop-diva’s pin-up past by showing Spears seductively posed on all fours atop a bearskin rug with back arched, pelvis thrust upward, as she clutches the bear’s ears with ‘water-retentive’ hands.

Oh, my… as if it weren’t gross enough, now it’s also creepy pervy gross.

Ok, steel yourself… pictures are after the break.

(link via Wizbang Pop)

(more…)

3/21/2006

Conspiracy Nuts

Filed under: General,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:46 pm

While I'm not typically in the habit of reproducing comments I leave elsewhere, I'll do so this time. Given the time it took to write them and that my blogging hasn't otherwise been productive lately, it'd be a shame to waste them.

These were in response to this post over at Moonbattery about Charlie Sheen jumping on the conspiracy bandwagon and positing that a plane never hit the Pentagon. A few people took the opportunity to support Mr. Sheen and the conspiracy theories. I posted the following three comments taking them to task. The most interesting is, I think, the second in which I argue that conspiracy theories tend to be self-perpetuating and that for the dedicated conspiracy theorist, the theories cannot be disproved since all evidence necessarily proves the theories.

1)
The most telling quote from Sheen: "It feels like from the people I talk to in and around my circles, it seems like the worm is turning."

Ah, surely.

It's amazing these claims are still out there despite being debunked again and again.

I refer you to this very nice compilation of moonbat myths concerning 9/11 and their thorough smack down by Popular Mechanics.

2)
Interesting.

The problem with hardcore conspiracy theorists is that their theories become self-perpetuating. They start with motivated speculation and then add assumptions, coincidences, bad data, and poor reasoning. Anything that contradicts their hypotheses is merely added to proof of the conspiracy.

Thus, when I linked to the Popular Mechanics article debunking the multiple myths the theorists have generated, Moonbat Supreme, instead of confronting the content, merely rhetorically asked why PM would be motivated to discredit the conspiracy theories. That is, because what PM said ran counter to his conspiracy theories, that by default meant that PM itself was part of the conspiracy. That, bizarrely enough, is taken as further proof of the conspiracy.

The problem is that absolutely nothing can dissuade the determined conspiracy theorist. Anything that supports the theory proves the theory, and anything that discredits it (no matter how damning) also proves the theory. So in the mind of the conspiracy-minded person, the theory is impossible to disprove. All evidence only serves to prove the theory, despite whether it augments or detracts from it.

So to you conspiracy folks, please explain to me how I am the one being close-minded to possibilities when your minds funnel any and all evidence towards support of your pre-determined position? You accuse us of denying evidence. This is because we argue against it. You, however, merely and conveniently assert that all evidence supports you. This improperly absolves you of the responsibility to confront the content itself. Instead, the conspiracy just grows ever-larger. The problem with this, though, is that the larger the proposed conspiracy, the less likely it's true. How large have these conspiracies grown?

3)
Prince, indeed. So let's do something interesting and turn the pithy questions back on them. M. Supreme, though I have my doubts, I will assume you have an adequate amount of common sense. Let's think about the following.

Planting demolitions explosives is an intensive and time consuming endeavor requiring a great deal of skill. You don't just stick them in a building, you must strategically place them on key supports, cutting some supports, etc. If these were planted in the towers, how is that nobody noticed?

If 9/11 was a big conspiracy and the government flew two jets into the towers (that planes hit the towers isn't under debate), why would the government neglect to hit the Pentagon with a plane? I would think that if they had gone to the trouble to do so with the towers and that they lacked the moral scruples to do so, there would be no reason NOT to hit the Pentagon with a plane. Not to do so and then claim it had happened anyway would have been extraordinarily foolish and dangerous to the conspiracy. Are the plotters malevolent geniuses or sloppy amateurs?

The reason the likelihood of a proposed conspiracy being true is inversely proportional to its size is because larger conspiracies involve greater numbers of people. The more people who are involved, the more likely it is that someone will talk and expose the conspiracy. As it is, your conspiracy involves, at least, thousands – possibly tens of thousands. Among the people that would have to be in on it to some degree: administration officials, CIA, FBI, various local officials, police forces, foreign intelligence agencies and their governments, demolitions experts, the people on the airplanes, congressmen (both Democrat and Republican), various military entities, all media outlets, eyewitnesses, and the list continues growing. Why has nobody talked? In over four and a half years? These are not all government stooges, but many common people. Surely someone would have a crisis of conscience.

Democrats would have to know about the conspiracy. Why not reveal it and crush the president and Republicans?

Reporters would have to be in on it. Why not reveal it and crush the president and Republicans?

Foreign governments not friendly to the U.S. or at least those that don't like Bush would have to know about it. Why not reveal it to get rid of Bush?

Domestic intelligence agencies haven't been able to keep a lid on many, many classified operations due to "whistleblowers." Why have none blown the whistle on this, which is much larger and more important than any of the other operations?

Surely the civilians on the planes didn't volunteer to die and their phone calls to friends and family described the hijackers. If the 19 hijackers were government agents, why would they volunteer to die? Why wouldn't they also use weapons that would better guarantee them of success? Surely the conspiracy could have arranged some reason for guns to be planted somewhere on the plane.

Why have the experts in building demolitions not come forward? Especially since controlled building demolition isn’t particularly a government or military expertise, it’s a civilian one.

If it was a grand conspiracy, presumably the goal would be to inculcate fear without causing peripheral damage. That is, preserve the economy. Why pick a technique that destroyed a major financial center, grounded civil aviation, and severely hurt the economy which in turn hurt Bush? Why not do something that could still cause fear without the severe economic damage?

Why pick something so complicated as what happened on 9/11? For terrorists, they can identify weaknesses and exploit them. Exposure of their plot after it’s in action is unimportant. Conspirators, though, need to continue concealing their plot after the fact. So why do something as complex as hijacking four planes, flying one into a field, flying two others into the towers at roughly the same point where they had previously planted large amounts of explosives (while somehow keeping the explosives intact and keeping them from detonating until the appropriate time), apparently making the fourth plane disappear but detonating explosives in the Pentagon anyway and saying a plane hit it, etc. This would be an unnecessarily complex operation with too many people involved and too great a chance of being uncovered. It would be foolish. Real conspirators would have kept the operation small and with few or no loose ends.

Considering that the accepted opinion is that 9/11 was the result of terrorists and not a conspiracy, considering that you want to convince everybody that it resulted from a conspiracy, and considering that you are acting as a plaintiff indicting numerous people of malfeasance, the burden of proof is, at the very least, pragmatically yours. Thus far, you have presented speculations based on assumptions that are in turn supported by outright improbabilities which are suspended in the ether. What say you to my questions? And remember that it is not enough that you point out oddities or coincidences, you must be able to present a cohesive case for a conspiracy that cannot only explain the oddities and disprove accepted events, but also bear a reasonable chance of success and also remain concealed to this day. Can you do it? Can you make a thing that defies common sense and is of absurd complexity and improbable likelihood more plausible than what’s accepted?

3/20/2006

V for Vendetta

Filed under: General,Media,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 1:53 am

I saw V for Vendetta last Friday. I thought it was a well-executed movie with an engaging story.

Other than that, I thought it was dreck.

The modern political commentary was unmistakable, heavy-handed, and distinctly moonbatty. Possessing a Koran earned the death penalty. So, apparently, did being a homosexual. Many other cultural objects were prohibited for being unwholesome. A right-wing fascist dictator has taken over England and uses fear and Christian faith to control the populace. America's in a civil war after "its war" that started 20 years prior went horribly wrong (although it seems Texas is ok in this war since Dell is still making computer monitors). Government surveillance is omnipresent and the control of media absolute. Oh, and at one point, two central characters are aghast at discovering that the worst terrorist attack in the country's history was inflicted by its own government so as to generate fear and… to control the populace.

If there's something that's always annoyed the hell out of me, it's how movies always depict dystopian futures as being that of some conservative theocratic fascism. Why not make them about atheistic socialist dictators that control their citizenries through fear, killing their own people, constant surveillance, and control of the media? Nah, for liberals, the very concept of such a thing would just be too far fetched and unrealistic.

While the tools of control can belong equally well to a fascist or communist dictator, dystopias of the far left have been far more common over the past century as well as longer lasting and more pervasive. Two hands and at least one foot are required for rattling off the communist totalitarian regimes whereas the fascist ones need just a few fingers.

Moreover, while conservatives long ago learned what an ultra-right-wing government looked like and wholly rejected it as abhorrent, liberals have never thus rejected ultra-left-wing governments. The same people who pat themselves on the back for rebuking conservatives and waling about a slide towards an utterly improbable fascism are the same ones who for years denied that Stalin, Mao, Kim, and other communists were doing any wrong. Then when the atrocities became impossible to deny, they merely claimed that the same countries they had so long touted as paragons of leftist idealism were impure forms of socialism and so a socialist utopia should still be attempted. I imagine that Conservatives in the UK would be surprised to learn they're on the cusp of taking ultimate power since the Labour party has been thoroughly dominating them. All of Europe decidedly belongs to the left and most countries are at least quasi-socialist, if not outright so. Their surveillance methods are also far more liberal (ahem) than our own. The world is not in danger of a fascist dictator. It is in danger of a socialist or communist one. Or at least a new one since I can think at least five current ones just off the top of my head.

It is a further irritant that V for Vendetta intimates intolerance towards Muslims will outlaw them. This is high-handed morality considering that the only countries that outlaw religions are Islamic nations. While V portrays a future in which Korans are illegal, in the present, Bibles and any non-Islamic religious texts are forbidden in Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere. The movie shows a future Christian theocracy, though the only theocracies that exist now are Islamic. Instead of commentary on what isn't and won't be, why don't filmmakers criticize actual religious injustice? The thought that any modern Western society is a step away from outlawing unfavorable religions, homosexuals, and certain cultural artifacts borders on the absurd. Yet the very societies that already do this, the Islamic societies, are given sympathy as victims. Instead of placing V in an improbable future London, why not put him in actual modern-day Riyadh or Tehran?

Another real shame here is focusing on the terrorist tactics of some supernatural hero who is a latter-day Guy Fawkes, speaks of revolution, says words are powerful, and is more than mere flesh, but is also an idea and "ideas are bulletproof." These men don't exist. Real men who resist totalitarian regimes really are mere flesh and suffer because of it. They live in fear of the consequences of their resistance, they are arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and often executed directly by bullet or indirectly through work. These are the men of Tiananmen Square, of the Hungarian Revolt, of Solidarity, of the gulag in the Soviet Union, of the laogai in China, of the labor camps in North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Nazi Germany. These are Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Sinyavsky, Oskar Schindler, Raul Wallenberg, Lech Walesa, Wang Dan, Shen Liangqing, and millions more who go unrecorded. Their ideas may have been bulletproof, but they weren't. Where are the films in their honor? Schindler got one, what about Wang Dan? What about Sinyavsky? They didn't/don't have fancy knives, explosives, or kung-fu moves that get them out of trouble like V does. Real heroes are the men who persevere despite the overwhelming chance of failure, not the ones arrogantly guaranteed of success.

V for Vendetta is a morality tale warning of things that could be in the same way that Mars Attacks! implored us against complacency towards alien threats. The events (or anything similar to them) of neither are going to come about. V is another version of the oft-told tale liberals tell each other whenever history fails to steadfastly march to their drumbeat. Conservative power necessarily means fascism while liberal power means utopia. They ignore their own sins, they ignore the threats they present, and they ignore the sorry history of the extremism of their own ideology. And we're all the worse for it.

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