Monday, April 29, 2013

Pigford, Pigford, Pigford

The New York Times, that bastion of all things liberal, defender of the righteous, and friend of the common man (who, by and large, doesn't read the Times at all) still has the muscle and talent to actually do investigative journalism, even when such journalism leads to something of a black eye for the paper. And for that, it should be applauded, for it's something that cannot be said of magazines like Salon, Newsmax, New York Magazine, or The Nation (unlike NRO, The Atlantic, and Reason). The latest example: a new piece on the Pigford case.

Once upon a time, the Pigford case was news--at least for a moment or two--after Breitbart broke the story in 2010. FoxNews and a few conservative outlets picked up in the story, like NRO's Daniel Foster. The background of the case is simple: a class action lawsuit was brought by a group of 400+ African American farmers against the USDA for alleged racial discrimination in the application of various USDA programs, particularly farm loans, in 1997. The case was supposedly settled in 1999, allowing each claimant to recoup $50,000 or more for discrimination (some awards went into the millions for large jointly owned farms).

Through the magic of government malfeasance, this initial number of 400 or so ballooned upward into the thousands, as apparently any African American who had ever thought about farming in one way or the other was allowed to join the suit. The final numbers are still not known, but in excess of 20,000 applications for damages have been filed. To call Pigford a cash cow would be an understatement. Close to $1 billion in tax payer funds had been handed out by 2009 on the basis of this initial settlement. But this was just the beginning. In 2004, another class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association for discrimination which sought another $20 billion in compensation. Though this lawsuit was rightfully dismissed, the current administration needlessly negotiated a settlement for another $1.2 billion dollars, this after then-Senator Obama had successfully and solely sponsored an amendment to a 2007 farm bill to expand the initial payouts.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The return of Bush-anxiety

Remember back when Kerry lost to Bush in the 2004 General Election? The next day, there were people--liberals and progressives--seemingly unable to go on, wracked with psychological pain over the results, or even brought to tears by the prospect of another four years of having George W. Bush in the White House. There was even a term for the psychological condition these things were supposedly symptoms of: “post-election selection trauma” or PEST. The term was coined by a Boca Raton psychologist, one Rob Gordon, and people "afflicted" with the condition were even given free counseling at Gordon's American Health Association offices in Boca Raton, Florida.

Here's the original story on the subject from the now-defunct Boca Raton News. Some snippets:
According to Gordon, the Boca-based AHA has formally defined the symptoms of PEST and will offer the free sessions through the end of the year. He said approximately 30 people had contacted AHA for psychological counseling since Kerry conceded the presidential race to President Bush on Nov. 3.

Gordon said symptoms of the trauma are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder and include loss of appetite, sleeplessness, nightmares and pervasive moodiness.

The AHA’s actions come after the Boca Raton News reported Tuesday that Palm Beach County psychotherapist Douglas Schooler has already treated 15 Kerry supporters using intense hypnotherapy. Schooler, contacted Wednesday, said four more people had already set up appointments for the onetime therapy session since the article was picked up internationally and cited on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show.
The article also cited Gordon's claims that some resignations from top-level people in the Administration--like Condoleezza Rice (the Boca Raton News spells her name incorrectly, by the way)--would help alleviate the symptoms of PEST. Seriously. Gordon says that, then laments the mockery being directed at him and his patients over this pseudo-psychological silliness.

But what does that have to do with the price of tea today? Simple, these same anxieties are once again evidencing themselves in the media, following the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library yesterday. For instance, Eugene Robinson insists in an editorial that Bush's legacy looks even worse now than it did when he left office. Rachel Maddow imagines people have forgotten what actually transpired during the Bush years. And Jonathan Chait uses the moment to call Bush stupid.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Proof in the pudding: dependency leads to terrorism

The above title is a bit hyperbolic. Dependency does not lead to terrorism as a matter of course. It might, it might not. But it most certainly does not lead away from terrorism, that much is certain.

Yuval Levin--writing at the NRO's The Corner--explored the concept of dependency the other day, in kind of a tangent to Senator Mike Lee's well-received speech before the Heritage Foundation. In the speech, Lee talked about the recent lapse--as he sees it (and I agree)--from conservatives with regard to properly explaining what conservatism is really all about. Lee noted that conservatives had allowed their ideological opponents to successfully paint them into a corner in far too many cases, had taken to defending strawmen versions of their ideology, rather than the ideology itself.

He reminded his listeners that social institutions and communities have important roles to play in the conservative vision, that cooperation and unity are not dirty words for conservatives, are in fact vital elements of a properly functioning society within that vision:
We need to remind the American people – and perhaps, too, the Republican Party itself – that the true and proper end of political subsidiarity is social solidarity.

Ours has never been a vision of isolated, atomized loners. It is a vision of husbands and wives; parents and children; neighbors and neighborhoods; volunteers and congregations; bosses and employees; businesses and customers; clubs, teams, groups, associations… and friends.

The essence of human freedom, of civilization itself, is cooperation. This is something conservatives should celebrate. It’s what conservatism is all about.

Freedom doesn’t mean “you’re on your own.” It means “we’re all in this together.”

Our vision of American freedom is of two separate but mutually reinforcing institutions: a free enterprise economy and a voluntary civil society.
It's a brilliant and moving speech, it really is. And Lee is dead on right about the failure of conservative voices--especially those in the Republican Party--to properly explain and defend the ideology. Because it is undoubtedly true that Lee has captured a critical point here, though rarely understood let alone explained: for conservatives--and libertarians, really--the "voluntary" nature of civil society is their point of divergence, both from what we refer to today as liberalism and from progressivism. Philosophically, the divergence traces back to classical liberalism versus modern liberalism, the first resting on the ideas of Locke, Smith, and Burke and the latter following the ideas of Bentham and later Hegel.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The "little Eichmanns" crowd rears its ugly head again

After the events of September 11th, 2001, the attacks on the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon along with the abortive attack on the White House (Flight 93), faux American Indian Ward Churchill penned what has become something of an infamous essay: "Some People Push Back: On the Justice of Roosting Chickens." Loosely written and poorly argued, the basic premise of this essay was that 9-11 represented a more than fair--and entirely predictable--response to America's actions in other parts of the world, especially those in the First Gulf War (in Iraq) and with regard to the Israel/Palestine situation.

Churchill went to great lengths to defend the actions of the hijackers responsible for 9-11, insisting they were not cowards in the least, but brave men who "manifested the courage of their convictions, willingly expending their own lives in attaining their objectives." Further, Churchill--though he didn't even know the identities of these men at the time of his essay and certainly had not spoken to any of them--insisted they were not driven by "Islamic Fundamentalism" in the least, that they could not be called "fanatics" of any sort.

The people that died at the hands of these "brave soldiers of justice" or however Churchill might have phrased it were not, none of them, "innocent civilians" either. The people in the World Trade Centers were as guilty as those in the Pentagon because of what Churchill assumes they did for a living (my boldface):
True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.
The last line proved to be the most memorable and most cited one in Churchill's essay. In it, Churchill is very clearly saying the people in the WTCs got what they deserved, comparing them to Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi colonel responsible for organizing parts of the Holocaust who was ultimately tried, convicted, and hanged by the state of Israel.

There is a deeper issue here that Churchill tries--and fails--to interject into his piece with the term "little Eichmanns," Namely, it is the idea of the banality of evil expressed by Hannah Arendt in her book on the Eichmann trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem. That idea concerns how great tragedies in history like the Holocaust occurred because of people like Eichmann, people who were of a more or less average and every day character who simply went along with what they were told to do, in service to their state or leader.

Churchill imagines such a characterization can be made about the people who worked in the WTCs in general, that these people were fundamentally responsible for the supposed horrors perpetrated by the U.S. Government because they in essence funded those actions, by virtue of their participation in the financial industry.

Chris Matthews doesn't care about the country

He really doesn't. All he cares about is making political hay and championing his "side," no matter what the cost or what the facts. This has become abundantly clear in the last week or so, ever since the Boston Marathon bombings. On the actual day of the bombings, Matthews went on the air--on his show "Hardball" and during the day's live coverage of the bombings--and tried to make a case for the identity of the bombers based on the date of the incident, suggesting that it was a domestic attack from the "far right," even that the target was possibly the Democratic Party (because of the erroneous reporting of a bomb at the Kennedy Library). Speaking to terrorism expert Michael Leiter, Matthews says:
Let me ask you about domestic terrorism as a category. Normally, domestic terrorists, people tend to be on the far right, well that's not a good category, just extremists, let's call them that. Do they advertise after they do something like this? Do they try to get credit as a group or do they just hate America so much or its politics or its government that they just want to do the damage, they don't care if they get public credit, if you will?

I was just thinking, again, it's early; it's an early situation, but going after the Kennedy Library, not something at Bunker Hill, not something from the freedom trail or anything that kind of historic, but a modern political figure of the Democratic Party. Does that tell you anything?
And speaking to Congressman William Keating earlier in the day, Matthews says:
So many iconic days — it’s Patriots Day, it’s the Marathon Day, it’s the Kennedy Library always up there. And also as you point out — I just forgot because I filed already — that it’s filing day for the federal income tax, which does cause some emotions around the country, sometimes in the wrong parts of the brain.
Matthews very badly wanted to lay the bombings at the feet of the far right, he wanted to have an easily exploitable connection to the Republican Party and the Tea Party, with regard to these heinous attacks. Thus, he was quick to offer reasons for the "why" behind the attacks, as a key to "who" behind them, both with regard to specific people and with regard to an ideology.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Salon: where intellects go to die

I previously discussed David Sirota's much talked about piece at Salon last week, wherein he "hoped" that the Boston bombers would turn out to be white Americans. There have been some "gotchas" in this regard--directed at Sirota--since the bombers turned out to be Chechens, not the Jim-Bobs Sirota was clearly pining for (along with a good chunk of the mainstream media, from MSNBC to NPR).

But never fear, Salon executive editor Joan Walsh has jumped to Sirota's defense with a new piece entitled "Are the Tsarnaev brothers white?" In it, she questions the idea that the brothers are not white, pointing to the U.S. Census department's standards in this regard to make the case that they probable would be classified as white. Walsh then wonders about the need to deny the brother's "whiteness":
Our confusion about whether the Tsarnaevs are “white,” and the right wing’s determination to say they aren’t, just underscores the eternally silly project of racial categorization anyway. Race is a social construct, mainly used to establish invidious hierarchies and scapegoats. Despite the persistence of racism and white advantage, these lines are beginning to blur in our increasingly mixed, multiracial society – but right-wingers are going to police these lines as long as they can.
This is a fascinating--to me--total lack of intellectual rigor on the part of Walsh, continuing as it does the false dichotomy set up by Sirota. Let's revisit his position. He offers two--and only two--possibilities, with regard to the potential identity of the bombers. The first (my boldface):
If recent history is any guide, if the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist, white privilege will likely mean the attack is portrayed as just an isolated incident — one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates.
And the second (my boldface):
It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world.
Let's be crystal clear here. Sirota's entire argument hinges on this dichotomy: the bomber is either a WHITE anti-government extremist or a MUSLIM/FOREIGNER. It's an incredibly stupid argument. To call it poorly constructed would be giving it far too much credit. Look at all of the potential groups excluded by Sirota: black Americans, Asian Americans, native Americans, white Muslim Americans (yes, these do exist), non-Muslim Germans, non-Muslim Brits, Chinese, Japanese, and on and on and on.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

More Signs of the End Times, Part II

Watch this video:


That is Luis Suarez--currently playing for Liverpool in the English Premier League--sinking his teeth into the arm of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during today's match in Liverpool.

Suarez in not some nothing player, for those unfamiliar with the sport and the EPL. He's a world-class striker from Uruguay who earns millions of pounds (£6.24 million for the current season) to play football (soccer). Liverpool payed his former club--Ajax in Amsterdam--£22.8 million for his contract, at the time a record signing for Liverpool. And Suarez has delivered. He is a brilliant player, as capable as most any others currently playing the game. He leads the EPL in goals this season and has tallied quite a few in international competitions, as well.

But he's also no stranger to controversy, being something of a magnet for yellow cards, a frequent diver, and having been suspended in the Dutch league for biting another player in 2010.

The question is, why bite Ivanovic, or anyone else for that matter? Suarez doesn't do it because Ivanovic's arm was just there, Suarez purposefully grabs Ivanovic's arm and then goes after it with his mouth. It is, of course, reminiscent of Mike Tyson's infamous biting attack on Evander Holyfield in round three of their rematch in 1997. Some argued the attack was planned by Tyson from the get-go, as a means of getting paid and cementing his reputation as a ruthless competitor, since he didn't believe he could actually win the fight. Some actually defended Tyson, arguing that he was getting "picked on" by his critics.

But once upon a time, a little birdie told me (this is a story I cannot confirm) that Tyson had wagered a huge sum of money--all he could scrape together; he was in dire financial straits at the time--on himself to win by knockout before the end of the third round. As it became apparent this wouldn't happen, Tyson's frustration level went through the roof, metaphorically speaking. And he literally "lost it," trying to end the fight by any means possible.

Frustration, that's the key I think. It was frustration that drove Suarez to bite another player just as it was frustration that drove Tyson. And biting in response to frustration is very much a common response. Among toddlers.

But these men are not toddlers. In theory, at least.

Tyson's boxing career should have ended after that second Holyfield fight, in my opinion. But it didn't. He continued to fight, to receive big paydays, and to enrich his promoters. Or perhaps it would be better to call them "enablers," for that is what they were.

What about Suarez? It remains to be seen if he will receive any punishment for this latest incident. Some commentators are calling for his expulsion from Liverpool and the EPL. I think that's a good start. But I also think it's not going to happen. He'll be suspended for a handful of games at best, but once he returns and scores his first goal, all will be forgiven by the great majority of his fans and everyone else.

We--as a society--continue to learn nothing from the past. People like Tyson and Suarez are tolerated, coddled, and even praised because of their athletic prowess, alone. But they're deeply flawed people who deserve far more scorn then they actually receive. And part of the reason for this is a general lack of expectations with regard to conduct, brought on by a stripping away of social controls in an effort to establish equality, absolute equality. It is another consequence of the destruction of hierarchy noted by Robert Kaplan in our modern world.

That doesn't sound good, I know. But it is what it is.

Cheers, all.

More Signs of the End Times, Part I

As I've noted before, I'm a runner. Not because I really enjoy running, but because it is something I feel I need to do. In the first link above, I talked about where I run:
Almost always, about 95% of the time, I run the exact same route through a neighborhood park. It's a big park with a nice walking/jogging path looping through it, past playing fields and canals, partly shaded and partly in the open. It's about .8 miles long, so five circuits gives one a nice four mile run. The path itself is paved and--this being South Florida--completely flat.
In that piece, I also talked about what jerks some people could be, people who pointedly refuse to share the path on which I run. I surmised this was due to a sense of entitlement and an unwillingness to "give an inch" for one reason or another (mostly due to an inflated opinion of one's self-worth, I believe). I wrote that piece in October of last year and since then, I've experienced similar incidents--though not many--with other people. But there are jerks everywhere, always have been and always will be, right?

On my run today (seven and a half miles, thank you very much!), I saw another kind of behavior that was, I think, even worse and even somewhat depressing. As I said, I run through a park. And in this rather large park, there is a playground, a butterfly garden, a couple of gazebos, baseball fields, volleyball courts, barbecue facilities, and tennis courts. It's a great park.

On the path I run, there is also a "fitness trail," a series of exercise machines at intervals along part of the path for people to use to stay healthy and fit. And many people do use this equipment (something not always true in may parks). Some use it almost daily; I often see the same people doing so when I run, and I run almost daily. The equipment is quite varied. There's stuff for doing stepping exercises, stuff for arm exercises, along with bars for pull-ups, sit-ups, and push-ups. And there are platforms--like the sit-up one--to lie on to do crunches and the like as well.

The people who use this stuff regularly, I have noticed, treat it well (for the most part). And they are courteous in their usage, with a great majority of them doing the right thing with regard to their sweat: they wipe off the equipment after they are done with a towel. Some will remember the classic Seinfeld episode that addressed this issue (and that of peeing in a public shower). Most health clubs do ask that members wipe down equipment when they are finished with it. And this is just common courtesy, isn't it? It's not much to ask and no big deal. Yet, the apparently occasional users of the equipment in the park make no effort in this regard, by and large. None whatsoever.

But this isn't the end of it. Scattered around the park, particularly along paths and near the canal, there are also benches and picnic tables. Some people actually use these things as places to sit, to watch the scenery, to read, to even eat. Other people seem to feel these objects are just other pieces of exercise equipment. I kid you not.

As I child, I ran and played in parks, I climbed on pretty much everything available, including benches and tables. Children still do this; it's just part of their nature. But adults? And they're not just climbing on these things, they're using them in lieu of the exercise equipment already there. Why? I can't really say.

Today, there was a young lady who determined that a picnic table was the appropriate place for her to work out. She lay herself down on the top of one and proceeded to do a large variety of exercises, mostly on her back. I know this because she was on top of the table for at least three of my circuits around the park, for over twenty minutes. And she had been running the path before this, so she was already good and sweaty. I happened to see her dismount the table and head towards some other equipment. She didn't wipe it off, she didn't even have a towel. She just walked away, after coating the table in her sweat and the dirt from her shoes.

Which--I guess--demands a reading of one of my favorite Robert Heinlein quotes once again (from his novel Friday):
But a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot.
My run--and her picnic table exercise routine--took place in mid-morning. I wonder if a family came to that table for a nice lunch later on in the day. If so, did they wonder why the table smelled of sweat and old socks? I sincerely hope this didn't happen, that no one used that table for the remainder of the day. Hopefully, an evening shower will wash away some of the sweat and dirt before someone else uses the table for a meal. Of course, tomorrow is another day. Perhaps the same young lady--or some other person--will be back on top of the table sweating up a storm once again. The table may very well be a lost cause.

And that's a shame. It really is. I can't wrap my head around what goes through the minds of people who behave this way, who--for lack of a better way to say it--shit all over things provided by parks and governments for all of us to use and enjoy. Is she even aware of just how rude and obnoxious her conduct was? Probably not. And that's really the point of Heinlein's quote. It's not so much the bad behavior, it's the failure to recognize one's own actions in this regard, it's the loss of a sense of manners, of a sense of propriety.

There's something else here, as well. And it's related to the article from Robert Kaplan that I recently discussed. But more on that in Part II.

Cheers, all.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

After Boston: no one is living in fear

Now that the second suspect--Dzhokhar Tsarnaev--in the Boston Marathon bombings has been apprehended, now that the city of Boston can return to some semblance of normality with no more city-wide lockdowns an no more 24-7 siren blasting, we can take stock of the events on April 15th.

There are more than enough articles and cable news specials out there detailing the events in Boston from start to finish; I'm not going to spend much time rehashing them. People know what went down, they've seen footage of the blasts, of police and FBI agents rushing through Boston neighborhoods, and of Dzhokhar's last hiding place. And people know the basics about the two brothers who were behind the bombing (allegedly, of course): they were born in foreign lands, they have Chechen backgrounds, they're Islamists, and--somewhere along the way--they became unhappy with America and/or the West.

I'm sure more details, possibly even specific reasons for the bombing, will emerge in the coming weeks, but in the meantime life must go on. And frankly, it already is going on.

After 9-11, life had to go on as well. And once again, it did. There was a lot more to do and to think about then. After all, as awful as the events a few days ago were, they cannot be compared to those on September 11th, 2001. True, two homemade bombs in trashcans at a large event did a lot of damage, innocent people were killed, maimed, and injured. And the nation as a whole reached out to Boston with both sympathy and anger, just as it should have. But it still wasn't a case of airliners being turned into guided missiles by hijackers, of the destruction of two of the world's largest buildings in the financial heart of the nation, of an attack on the military's headquarters in the nation's capital, of murdering nearly 3,000 innocent people and injuring twice that number.

I'm not trying to minimize what happened in Boston at all; I mention the details of 9-11 in order to make a point: as awful as 9-11 was, the nation survived. It carried on. People were rightly concerned and horrified over the attacks, but even those directly affected did what we all had to do:  picked up the pieces and got on with life (which of course does not mean forgetting about what happened). And this will happen again, with regard to the Boston attacks. We will not forget, but we will also not stop living. We cannot, we must not.

Many reading this might now be saying to themselves "well, duh." Indeed, that is exactly what I'm saying to myself. I've offered nothing deeply profound here, nothing we all don't already know.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Boston Marathon terrorists Tamerlan and Dzhokhar: What's in a name?

As I am writing this, authorities in Boston are still searching for the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings. The first suspect was killed early this morning in a firefight with Boston police; the second fled the scene in an apparently stolen car.

The two suspects have now been identified as the brothers Tamerlan (26) and Dzhokhar (19) Tsarnaev. Tamerlan is dead, Dzhokhar is still at large. Reportedly, their family is originally from Chechnya, though both brothers have held Kyrgyzstan passports. For point of reference, Chechnya is on the Western side of the Caspian Sea, Kyrgyzstan is well to the east of the Caspian Sea, bordering China on its east and Uzbekistan on its West (Chechnya is around Grozny):


I bring all of this up because their names--Tamerlan and Dzokhar--have some serious history behind them. How significant this is, with regard to what they have done, is an open question.

"Dzhokar" is the name of the first president--and principle founder--of the breakaway Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Dzhokhar Dudayev, declared by him in 1991. A formal Soviet general, Dudayev was born in Chechnya but he and his family were forcibly deported--under the orders of Stalin--just after his birth in 1944. Interestingly enough, he and his family were relocated to the area of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. He was killed in a missile attack during the First Chechen War.

His story is a fascinating one, as it reads as that of a man who feigned decades of allegiance to the Soviets, who worked his way up on the inside of that leadership, until he saw an opportunity to return to his homeland and free it from the rule of those he once seemed to willingly serve. To the Chechen people, he is a great hero. And this is especially true of the Chechen diaspora in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, where Dudayev was raised after his birth and forced relocation.

"Tamerlan" is a version of "Tamerlane" or "Tamburlaine," names that come from "Timur Lenk," meaning "Timur the lame." Timur, of course, was a great warlord of the fourteenth century. He was born in 1336 in the eastern part of Uzbekistan, not all that far from Kyrgyzstan. He sought to reestablish the empire of Genghis Khan, though he was also a very staunch Muslim, often referring to himself as the "sword of Islam."

In Uzbekistan proper, Timur is a national hero, both because of his religious piety and because of his patronage of the arts; his acts of brutality are excused or ignored. A statue of him on horseback now stands in that nation's capital city of Tashkent, in a location once home to a large bust of Karl Marx. In addition, legend has it that Timur foretold of his own rebirth or return from the dead. His casket was allegedly inscribed with the phrase "When I rise from the dead, the world shall tremble."

Many people put a great deal of stock in their family history, their lineages, and even their given names. They tend to believe--wrongly--that these things say something profound or at least important about who they are and where they are going in life, about their destiny as it were. Do these two brothers--apparently guilty of horrific crimes--subscribe to such views? Do they believe their own destinies were tied to the history of the two people for whose honor they appear to have been named?

A national hero of Chechnya and one of Uzbekistan (and Islam), both of whom lived in the same region, and now two brothers bearing their names, from that same region and of the same religion. How much did this naming contribute to the paths taken by these brothers? We may never know.

Cheers, all.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

We offered the world order!

There are few things, few issues--be they moral or political--that cannot be viewed through the prism of Star Trek (the original series). And this speaks to why Star Trek continues to fascinate people, older ones like me and younger ones like my children. The themes explored in various episodes were very much contemporary ones, from racism to sexism to war and beyond; those issues remain significant ones today, as well. And the writing in the series was high-quality for the most part, due to the fact that Roddenberry turned to seasoned science fictions masters whenever possible, like Harlan Ellison, Theodore Sturgeon, and Robert Bloch.

One of the most popular episodes of the original series, indeed of the entire Star Trek franchise, is Space Seed from season one. Guest starring Ricardo Montalbán as Khan Noonien Singh and written by Gene Coon and Carey Wilber, the episode is about a group of late-20th century earthlings who left Earth in a spaceship and drifted through the cosmos in a state of suspended animation until discovered and awakened by the Enterprise. These people turn out to be the last of a group of genetically engineered "supermen" who had attempted to conquer world (the period of the late 1990's is know as the "Eugenics Wars" in the Star Trek universe). Once awake and acclimated to their new time, they return to their task (only this time seeking to rule the galaxy) under the leadership of Khan.

The crew of the Enterprise is unsure of the true identities of these people until Spock and Kirk trick Kahn into an admission, at which point he offers the memorable line "We offered the world order!" The full exchange in this regard:
KIRK: Forgive my curiosity, Mister Khan, but my officers are anxious to know more about your extraordinary journey.
SPOCK: And how you managed to keep it out of the history books.
KHAN: Adventure, Captain. Adventure. There was little else left on Earth.
SPOCK: There was the war to end tyranny. Many considered that a noble effort.
KHAN: Tyranny, sir? Or an attempt to unify humanity?
SPOCK: Unify, sir? Like a team of animals under one whip?
KHAN: I know something of those years. Remember, it was a time of great dreams, of great aspiration.
SPOCK: Under dozens of petty dictatorships.
KHAN: One man would have ruled eventually. As Rome under Caesar. Think of its accomplishments.
SPOCK: Then your sympathies were with...
KHAN: You are an excellent tactician, Captain. You let your second in command attack while you sit and watch for weakness.
KIRK: You have a tendency to express ideas in military terms, Mister Khan. This is a social occasion.
KHAN: It has been said that social occasions are only warfare concealed. Many prefer it more honest, more open.
KIRK: You fled. Why? Were you afraid?
KHAN: I've never been afraid.
KIRK: But you left at the very time mankind needed courage.
KHAN: We offered the world order!
KIRK: We?
KHAN: Excellent. Excellent. But if you will excuse me, gentlemen and ladies, I grow fatigued again. With your permission, Captain, I will return to my quarters.
Khan is supposed to come across as a ruthless would-be tyrant, he is supposed to be--for lack of a better way to say it--a clear-cut villain. But later in the story, Kirk, Scotty, and Bones wax nostalgic on Khan and his rule, displaying a certain amount of admiration--even hero-worship--for the man and what he achieved or almost achieved, much to the surprise of the coldly logical Mr. Spock.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Gosnell trial and a lack of humanity

Previously, I talked about the Kermit Gosnell murder trial currently underway in Philadelphia and the relatively muted media coverage on the same. Since then, coverage of the trial has picked up substantially, thanks in a large part to Kirsten Powers, with many people in the mainstream media actually offering up mea culpas for their previous lack of attention on the matter.

But there has always been an element determined to redirect outrage over Gosnell's actions away from the issue of the validity of abortions, late term abortions to be specific. Such attempts--I detailed several--are misplaced in my opinion, as Gosnell is not on trial for performing abortions, but rather for murdering newborn babies, two things that should be dissimilar enough to allow unfettered coverage of his trial.

With the now-increased coverage, however, organizations and individuals who wish to protect all abortions, all forms of abortion, at any cost for fear of a slippery slope loss of abortion rights have their backs up again. For instance, the pro-abortion group (I don't know any other way to say it) RH Reality Check held a media conference call, a "fact-based" call supposedly, yesterday "to help journalists and bloggers get a full picture" of the coverage on the Gosnell trial. Tim Carney at The Examiner participated in the call and asked the expert panel from RH Reality Check to explain how Gosnell's actions--in killing newborns--differed from other late term abortions, like those of Dr. LeRoy Carhart. He quotes the response he received from Dr. Tracy Weitz in full. Here is a portion of that response:
When inductions for delivery — that is, in the third trimester, when procedures are performed, when abortions are performed, they are usually done as inductions. That is, they look much more like a labor and delivery. And the fetus is traditionally euthanized before that procedure is initiated. Two drugs, either potassium chloride or digoxin, are used to make sure that the fetus is not living before the procedure is initiated.
What Weitz is saying is that Gosnell, in delivering then killing babies, didn't do things the "right way" in the least. The "right way" is to kill the baby--pardon me, the "fetus"--prior to it being delivered--wait, I mean "aborted"--via a lethal injection of drugs.

Personally, that makes my skin crawl. I am not opposed to abortion in general. I think it is a valid medical procedure that can be necessary for a variety of reasons. But there comes a point when it ceases to be a valid choice, except in the most extreme cases. Late-term abortions are necessarily subject to scrutiny because of this ill-defined point, because there must be a moment when a viable fetus--viable outside of the womb--deserves to be protected, where delivering it is as safe or safer than aborting it.

White privilege and terrorism: Indulging in self-hatred for the sheer sport of it

Noted anti-racism activist Tim Wise posted an essay yesterday on his website entitled "Terrorism and Privilege: Understanding the Power of Whiteness." One can guess the subject matter. Over at Salon, David Sirota picked up on Wise's piece and offered his own, with the even more provocative title of "Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American."

From the first:
White privilege is knowing that if the Boston bomber turns out to be white, we will not be asked to denounce him or her, so as to prove our own loyalties to the common national good. It is knowing that the next time a cop sees one of us standing on the sidewalk cheering on runners in a marathon, that cop will say exactly nothing to us as a result.  
White privilege is knowing that if you are a white student from Nebraska — as opposed to, say, a student from Saudi Arabia — that no one, and I mean no one would think it important to detain and question you in the wake of a bombing such as the one at the Boston Marathon.
From the second:
If recent history is any guide, if the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist, white privilege will likely mean the attack is portrayed as just an isolated incident — one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates. Put another way, white privilege will work to not only insulate whites from collective blame, but also to insulate the political debate from any fallout from the attack.

It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world. As we know from our own history, when those kind of individuals break laws in such a high-profile way, America often cites them as both proof that entire demographic groups must be targeted, and that therefore a more systemic response is warranted. At that point, it’s easy to imagine conservatives citing Boston as a reason to block immigration reform defense spending cuts and the Afghan War withdrawal and to further expand surveillance and other encroachments on civil liberties.
In his piece, Wise also provides a list of white terrorists, though he noticeably neglects to include people whose ideologies are not Christian-based or of the far-right sort, like members of the Weather Underground for instance.

Regardless, both pieces proceed from a demonstrably false claim: that political violence perpetrated by white U.S. citizens does not lead to any kind of backlash against a specific group. The very list Wise provides is evidence of this falsity, as it includes many people whose actions resulted in the general blaming of groups like "Christian fundamentalists" or the "Religious Right." The premise that the bombing will be seen as an "isolated incident" as a matter of course if the bomber is white is laughable. It may be, or it may not be, but this will depend on other factors, not on skin color.

Moreover, both pieces deal poorly with the issues of nationality and race, essentially conflating the two when it comes to other nations, but not withing the U.S. proper. And both further limit the dichotomy to Muslims--based on appearance and nationality, apparently--with respect to political violence by "non-white" persons.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The aftermath: group-think, opportunism, and our celebrity-enamored society

After the horrific events at the Boston Marathon yesterday, many people have--as is now standard operating procedure--used social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to express their sadness and the like over the needless loss of life and the cruel means through which those lives were taken and many others forever changed.

It's understandable, I guess. Personally, I limited myself to sharing emergency numbers for people who might be trying to find friends or family who were present for the event. But many are more given to wearing their hearts on their sleeves, thus expounding on the tragedy, how it made them feel, and what not. And such thoughts were of course shared, "liked," or retweeted by others to show agreement or support. Again, all good and well in my opinion.

Beyond that, I always understand the need to find some sort of comfort in times of turmoil, in the aftermath of tragedy. It is human nature; we look to each other for support, we always have and we always will. And there's no way around a simple truth here: some need that support far moreso than others and some are better at providing it far moreso than others. In the world of social media, these truths play out in very obvious ways, with certain expressed ideas that just resonate with people better than others. It is what it is and--again, to be clear on this point--there's nothing wrong with this at all, it can be and probably is quite cathartic for many, many people.

That said, I am troubled by what appears to be a steady surrendering of individual thoughts on such matters as the Boston Marathon bombing to the collective, as it were, through the proliferation of statements from people who are basically just celebrities, who enjoy a large platform because of that status, alone. Consider two of the most "shared" and "liked" posts on Facebook yesterday about the tragedy.

First, there is this one from Star Trek and Howard Stern alumnus George Takei:
When tragedies strike, heroes rise to meet the challenge: the first responders seen sprinting toward the blast site, the runners who changed course to run to local hospitals to donate blood, and the fine citizens of Boston who at once opened their homes to marathoners in need of a place to stay. When we come together, we cannot be brought down.
Liked over 360,000 times and shared over 66,000 times, I saw it on my feed from multiple people.

Universal preschool mandate: Lincoln and Hitler vie for control of Obama's soul

Abraham Lincoln, speaking in 1832:
Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other countries, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance...
Adolf Hitler, speaking some 100+years later (circa 1932):
As surely as everything we have discussed here today must be kept from burdening the mind of the ordinary party member, equally surely must we put an end to what is known as universal education. Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism has ever invented for its own destruction.
As frequent readers of this blog will know, I'm quick to question the legitimacy of quotes, particularly those attributed to critical historical figures. Both Lincoln and Hitler have their fair share of false attributions in the land of the internet, but the above two quotes are not of such a variety.

Lincoln's remarks on the importance of education were published in the Sangamo Journal--a Springfield, Illinois newspaper--as a part of a statement made by a then-23-year-old Lincoln running for the Illinois state assembly (he lost). He noted the critical nature of education with respect to citizenship as a part of a general platform of polices and positions, which included a staunch opposition to usury and a quite conservative approach to law-making. But his brief remarks on the subject of education have been summoned up again and again, due their succinct clarity and obvious truth.

In contrast, the quote from Hitler comes from privates conversations recorded by Hermann Rauschning and published in his tome The Voice of Destruction. The authenticity of the quotes Rauschning attributed to Hitler has been called into question a number of times, both by Nazi sycophants and serious scholars. A search on the internet will find various pages insisting that the quotes from this work are fraudulent. But the basis for such arguments is a misunderstanding of what Hitler is saying and ignorance of the full context of the quote, by and large. For instance, the Holocaust-denying Institute for Historical Review says the following about the above quote:
Another fraudulent Hitler remark in this same spirit and from this same source, likewise cited by the supposedly authoritative Seldes, is this: "Universal education is the most corroding and disintegrating poison that liberalism ever invented for its own destruction."  
These remarks misrepresent Hitler's real views. In fact, National Socialist Germany was a world leader in science, learning, technology and medicine. Hitler was admired by some of the leading intellectuals of the age, including Knut Hamsun, Ezra Pound, Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Martin Heidegger.
The blatant Nazi hero-worshiping aside, the suggestion here is that Hitler was all for open education. And he was. But only with regard to the people who were entitled to it. The quote reads as quite genuine, fully consistent with Hitler's world-view. Arguments that it is somehow contrived ring hollow, to say the least.

If one reads the quote in full context, it is clear that Hitler is speaking of what he calls the "Herren-class," the lesser peoples of those regions he is intent on conquering. His point is that Marxism is wholly wrong in its idea of a classless society, that there are and must be classes. Always. And while education is a good thing, access to it must be limited, based on class. As he says just after the above quote (my boldface):
There must be only one possible education for each class, for each subdivision of a class. Complete freedom of choice in education is the privilege of the elite and of those whom they have specially admitted. The whole of science must be subject to continual control and selection. Knowledge is an aid to life, not its central aim. We must therefore be consistent, and allow the great mass of the lowest order the blessings of illiteracy. We ourselves, on the other hand, shall shake off all humane and scientific prejudices. This is why, in the Junker schools I shall found for the future members of our Herren-class, I shall allow the gospel of the free man to be preached— the man who is master of life and death, of human fear and superstition, who has learnt to control his body, his muscles and his nerves but remains at the same time impervious to the temptations of the mind and of sciences alleged to be free.
Thus for Hitler, there are two kinds of education: the unlimited access to knowledge that is the privilege of the elites, the Aryan master-race, and the controlled, selected knowledge the lower classes are allowed to receive, just enough of it to convince them that they are free men (when of course they are no such thing).

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Breeding cult-ish behavior in social media

Of late, television has looked to cults as a basis for plot lines in series. And not just any run-of-the-mill cults, but very high-functioning ones. CBS' series The Mentalist--now in its fifth season--actually deals with two  high-functioning cults: one surrounding the primary antagonist of the series--the serial killer Red John--and another cult somehow associated with Red John named Visualize. In the last year, two new series have appeared with such high-functioning cults: The Following on Fox and Cult on The CW.

What I mean by high-functioning is that these various cults are able to pull off all kinds of impressive actions; they have members who are more than capable in most every possible field of endeavor. The level of sophistication when it comes to computer usage for instance is close to stunning. It's superior to the skill set of the authorities almost as a matter of course. Cult members in The Following have also displayed impressive military capabilities. In the case of both it and The Mentalist--I'm less familiar with CW's Cult--cult members have infiltrated law enforcement agencies across the board, at the highest levels, and from day one.

This all can make for exciting action--or ridiculously unbelievable action, depending on your point of view--but it is just make believe. There's no all-powerful serial killer out there with a secret army of near-genius followers just waiting to do his or her bidding, even give up their lives, at the drop of  a hat. Is there?

I'm a big believer in the idea that movies and television can tell us something about the nature of society in a given period. What is popular is not only a function of good writing, good acting, and good production, but also of a cultural zeitgeist that cannot always be pinned down or even defined until it has passed.

For instance, I would argue that the popularity of The Sopranos was as much a function of the times as it was the excellence of the show itself. Debuting in 1999, the wide appeal of the show was  a consequence of it's less-than-clear protagonist/antagonist dichotomy. The unbridled economic success of the United States and the relative pax americana throughout the world since the fall of the Wall created a kind of villain-free sense of society; this was an unnatural or at least infrequent state of affairs for Americans. The Sopranos filled the void--quite unintentionally--by supplying a villain who wasn't really a villain, by providing an outlet for societal angst once directed at "the others" and at a lack of personal economic success.

But sometimes the cultural zeitgeist is more than obvious in the moment, the prime example being the explosion of monster-movies in Japan--led by Gojira (Godzilla)--as a response to the aftermath of World War II and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The monsters--huge, city-devouring ones--were stand-ins for the atomic bombs, nightmares given substance but in such a way as to allow them to be fought off and ultimately overcome. Again, it was a void to fill, a void that needed filling.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Proper equipment for running

One of the great trite thoughts of all time: the right tool for the right job (and no, this isn't going to be about politicians). It's been said so often in that form and many others that people must operate on that principle by and large. Mustn't they? And yet a simple look around one's own home or an honest evaluation of one's recent behavior will--I am quite certain--put a lie to the idea.

We all take short cuts, we all make due from time to time with what we have. The other day, some socks fell behind my dryer. The best tool to retrieve them would have been some sort of extendable grasping tool; such a thing would have made the job of retrieving the socks a simple thing, indeed. But I didn't have one--and it's not like they're expensive--so I used a long dowel rod to push the socks against the wall and then up the wall, inch by inch, until I could reach them with my hand. A simple thing, even without the right tool. So maybe the idea isn't so true after all.

Of course, the task at hand--sock retrieval--was neither completed nor dangerous. I'd offer a simple theorem: as a task increases in difficulty or in risk level, the need to use proper equipment increases at a directly proportional rate in the very least. Some tasks that might be life-threatening simply demand the use of proper equipment; the lack of the same may very well guarantee failure.

With that in mind, consider exercising. Selling "proper" equipment of all sorts for various activities is a huge market. And some of that equipment is really less about being "proper" and more about being "stylish." Like yoga pants. I love yoga pants, love the way they look and feel, but one really doesn't need them to do yoga. In contrast, one does need a good yoga mat (and by the way, you should also be sure to clean your yoga mat on a regular basis). They provide cushioning for contact points, thus helping to prevent injuries, and they help with balance as well.

But I'm not a big yoga guy. As I've noted before, running is my exercise of choice these days. And proper equipment is a must for me, partly because I'm no longer twenty-something (or even thirty-something) and partly because it makes running that much easier for me to do. But most importantly because proper equipment is an issue of safety and health. So what does such equipment actually entail?

1. An iPhone (or other similar device) for listening to music, books, or podcasts. This is not a necessity for everyone, I know. But I need the music to keep pace and to help me zone out for longer runs.

2. Headphones for the same. Have a care, here. I know there are all kinds of top of the line headphones out there, from Beats to IronMan ones, that claim to be the best for running and/or for music quality, but what matters most is simple comfort. And the lighter the weight, the better. This isn't about pure sound quality, at all. Noise-cancelling headphones should be avoided in particular unless one is running on a treadmill. Why? Because it's necessary to hear--to some degree--what is going on around you while running, especially if there is traffic of any sort in the area. So opt for the cheap ones that are comfortable.

3. A means of tracking your runs, both distance and pace (calories burned is good, too). I use the Nike+ running app on my iPhone. Not only does it track all of my activity, it also allows me to set goals and "compete" with friends to help me push myself.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

So who is gonna kick Mother Jones' ass over this?

Politics is and has always been a dirty business, a bloodsport, because of what is often at stake. People will go to all kinds of extremes when seeking or attempting to retain power. And other people will do the same in opposition to or in support of those seeking elected office. How far a candidate and his/her campaign is willing to go is always an open question in every election. And in this regard, candidates for elected office have a lot of strategy meetings, to discuss their tactics, both with regard to themselves and their opponents or potential opponents. Politics 101.

Mother Jones got hold of a secret audio recording of just such a strategy meeting made in the offices of Senator Mitch McConnell. The meeting took place over two months ago--February 2nd--and it concerned the potential challenge of filmstar Ashley Judd to McConnell's seat (Judd later decided not to run). In the recording, McConnell's people--not so much McConnell--talk about potential ways of campaigning against Judd, they review actual statements spoken or written by Judd and how the ideas expressed in the same could be used against her in a campaign.

That's really all there is. Once again, Politics 101. Because don't kid yourself, Obama and his team had the same sorts of meetings about Romney, Perry, Santorum, and others. Aides were tasked with digging up information on these people that could be used in a campaign and those aides reported back to Obama (or others) with that information. Obviously, the stuff compiled about those candidates Obama never faced--like Perry and Santorum--was never used. The stuff on Romney? Pick and choose, pick and choose. And like any media-savvy campaign, bits of info were likely leaked to various media sources who then proceeded to run with their own stories.

All of the above is no less true of the Romney campaign, of the McCain campaign in 2008, and of pretty much ever other campaign across the land, at local, state, and national levels.

So what makes the McConnell meeting so noteworthy? Well, there's a tape of it. That's about it. Here's the full transcript of the meeting. Read it. Listen to it. McConnell's people simply talk about Judd, her views, and her baggage as potential campaign issues. They decide nothing. And what they discuss is all drawn from the public record, from Judd's own words, not from any nefarious or inside sources. All in all, it's rather blah.

Panopticonism at MSNBC

Melissa Harris-Perry--host of the Melissa Harris-Perry show (clever name, that) on MSNBC--is catching a lot of flak for what she said in an MSNBC promo for her show:


Her words in full:
We have never invested as much in public education as we should have because we’ve always had kind of a private notion of children. Your kid is yours and totally your responsibility. We haven’t had a very collective notion of “These are our children.” 
So part of it is we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.
Once it’s everyone’s responsibility and not just the household’s, then we start making better investments.
People like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and other right-wing media figures are having a field day with this. Limbaugh has wondered (sarcastically, to be fair) if this view means one can demand work from others' children. Beck has argued (not sarcastically) that this viewpoint is a part of a nefarious plot. Others have simply noted that the view is just stupid and wrong-headed.

But there are some specific elements therein that need to be addressed. First, there is the claim that our investment, the United States', in public education comes up short. As compared to who, one must ask? Because according to the actual data, the United States spends more on education per student--in simple dollars--than, well, everyone else. In terms of education spending as a percentage of GDP, the U.S. comes in fifth, behind Iceland, Korea, Israel, and Norway.

So what the hell is Ms. Harris-Perry talking about here? The woman has a PhD from Duke after all; one would think she'd have at least a small handle on the facts before she opened her mouth.

Next, there is supposition that the "ownership" of children in a familial sense is a concept that needs to be undone, to be corrected and replaced with a communal sense of ownership. And that begs the question, what communities is she referencing? Because local school communities already have this handled. There are PTAs throughout the land; local tax dollars fund local schools and local school boards are elected by local voters, all to establish the "communal" aspect of education.

Is she also unaware of this reality, as well? Seems pretty implausible if you ask me. There's just no way she could be this dense.

Then there's the last, the "better investments" part. It's pretty fuzzy; it suggests there have been some bad investments, no? But again, those past investments--some of which must be "bad"--are a product for the most part of localized, community decisions. The ones that aren't come from the Federal Government. They're wholly non-localized, wholly arbitrary and--I must therefore surmise--wholly bad. That's the only logical conclusion to draw here.

Of course there's no way this is the angle Harris-Perry wants to take. The sense of the bit is that of an over-arching change in mindsets about education, a change that needs to be consistent throughout the land and would thus proceed from the central government. Ms. Harris-Perry isn't looking to get the Feds out of education, she's looking to get them deeper in I think, to foster the change in mindsets about education she apparently imagines we so desperately need.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Carrey helps himself to a double standard

Apparently, all the flak Jim Carrey has been getting from his hapless and unfunny song/skit on "Funny of Die" is getting to him. First there was his press release wherein he offered a veiled threat of legal action against Fox News (or as Carrey cleverly called them, "Fux News") for supposedly slandering him. Needless to say, that press release has been mocked even more than his skit, what with the name-calling, the schoolboy bravado, and the like. Here's what he said, for those who may not have seen it:
Since I released my 'Cold Dead Hand' video on Funny or Die this week, I have watched Fux News rant, rave, bare its fangs and viciously slander me because of my stand against large magazines and assault rifles. I would take them to task legally if I felt they were worth my time or that anyone with a brain in their head could actually fall for such irresponsible buffoonery. That would gain them far too much attention which is all they really care about.  
I'll just say this: in my opinion Fux News is a last resort for kinda-sorta-almost-journalists whose options have been severely limited by their extreme and intolerant views; a media colostomy bag that has begun to burst at the seams and should be emptied before it becomes a public health issue.  
I sincerely believe that in time, good people will lose patience with the petty and poisonous behavior of these bullies and Fux News will be remembered as nothing more than a giant culture fart that no amount of Garlique could cure.  
I wish them all the luck that accompanies such malevolence.
Très classy, right? But the mockery over the above has led to yet another response from Carrey, this time by way of an article at the Huffington Post. In it, Carrey whines over the response he's been getting and assumes the role of a modern-day saint:
And to the bullies who will try to marginalize and discredit me by saying, "Shut up, you're just an actor," while they brag about what a great president the ACTOR Ronald Reagan was, who threaten me with the demise of my acting career and much worse, I say SO BE IT! How shallow do they think I am? I would trade my money, my fame, my reputation and legacy if there were the slightest chance of preventing the anguish of another Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, or Sandy Hook Elementary School. I ask you, truly, what manner of human being would not?

I have been aghast at the level of hatred heaped upon me, my family and the people I work with over a mere difference of opinion on this issue. Perhaps my words were a bit harsh at the onset, but calling someone a "Motherfucker" is far different than wishing them to die. It is shocking to see this concerted effort to brutally intimidate anyone who speaks of a compassionate compromise.
Hilarious. Truly hilarious, in an intellectually dishonest and pathetically sad sort of way.

First though, I'd note that name-calling and threats--of any sort--are over the line. But where are the worst of such things coming from, aside from the mouth of Carrey? Internet trolls, mostly. So Carrey is calling out what? Obnoxious behavior on the internet as a response to his own obnoxious behavior on the internet.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

From Greece to Stockton, CA: the system fractures

Greece is a sovereign nation; its government is responsible for the totality of its citizens, for all of the services it provides, for maintaining the nation as a nation. And in order to do that, Greece has--like other nations--borrowed money, oftentimes by issuing bonds. Such government bonds carry risk, like all investments, but in first-world nations--particularly those in the EU, the United States, and Canada--the risk has always been considered to be minimal (since they're backed by the full faith and credit of the nation), hence the generally low interest payments on such bonds.

The Greek debt crisis changed all of that, as private bondholders were basically forced to take a loss on their investments. Not simply a loss on any gains, but a loss on actual principal, an unheard of thing for sovereign debt in an EU nation. But the potential outrage over this was easily muted by those who pointed out that the alternative--wherein bondholders did not take a loss, or receive a "haircut"--would be disastrous for the people of Greece, along with the Greek government. Thus the bondholder became the lone villain, despite the rest of the picture:
It's easy to see the bondholders and the EU as villains in all of this. After all, their demands are essentially destroying Greece and will leave it in rubble, with or without the riots. And to be fair, many of the bondholders have made tidy sums loaning money to Greece and many other nations. Eating the losses here won't break them, at all (most of them). Looking at it through the credit card analogy once again, these bondholders kept extending Greece credit, in return for interest payments (maybe a loanshark is a better analogy). But they should have known--and probably did know--that the end-game was bankruptcy/default.

But what of the Greek government's culpability? On what basis did it think it could keep borrowing money? Olive oil futures? It's tourism industry? No, the Greek government was certainly aware that it was living on borrowed time. And that begs the question, where did all of the money go?
This has been viewed--by most--as an extreme and unique situation (like the one in Cyprus), something that did not represent a general change in the way bonds worked, particularly government bonds, with regard to risk. It occurred, after all, in Greece, a small nation that had overspent like mad, created a bloated government bureaucracy, and basically showed no sense of fiscal responsibility whatsoever. The EU's "haircut" on bondholders wasn't supposed to be a new standard.

And yet...