Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Party of Hate?

How many times have we heard those on the left describe the Republicans as the party of hate? Or the party of intolerance? Or maybe the party of the "angry white man"? It has become almost conventional wisdom on the left, and even among some independents, that the Republicans are the angry, hateful party while the Democrats are the well-meaning, kindly party.

But that description really makes no sense.

First, we need to look at what passes for "hatred" in this description. For example, when the Republicans opposed enhanced sentencing in so-called "hate crimes", this was often described as a sign of Republican hatred, the implication being that Republicans so hated minorities that they secretly relished seeing them killed. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth. Speaking as one who opposed hate crime legislation, I can explain why, and why it had nothing to do with hating minorities. I opposed hate crime enhancements for two reasons. First, it should not matter if one committed murder because of racial hatred or hatred for just that individual, murder should be murder, regardless of whether it was inspired by race, religion, or just personal animosity. Second, I opposed it because it created special categories of protected individuals. In other words it would be worse for a white to kill a black than another white, or  for a heterosexual to kill a homosexual than another heterosexual. That just made no sense to me then or now.

But that does highlight the way that the debate is twisted. When the Republicans oppose Democrat proposals, whether hate crime laws or increased hand outs, the Republicans are painted as "angry" or "hateful".

It shouldn't work. The Republicans should not let the Democrats set the terms of the debate. Instead of allowing themselves to be painted as stingy, hateful, angry men who oppose kindly Democrats, they should turn it around and paint the Democrats as patronizing snobs who think minorities can't succeed without a handout, who want to dole out voter money to buy votes and to keep minorities subjugated to the state. But, sadly, most elected Republicans cannot, as they have bought into the same big government welfare state ideals, and so they cannot really fight the Democrats. In their minds, they really are being hateful, because they should be doling out money the way the Democrats suggest. Which is what makes the modern Republican party such a wreck, a few proponents of reduced government and personal freedom are sunk in a mass of welfare statists whose position on any Democrat proposal seems to be "OK, but can we spend a little less?"

Which leaves it to the grass roots Republicans to fight the good fight. If our elected representative have bought into the welfare state, many of us have not. And it is up to us to say that asking people to support themselves is not hatred. We should explain that asking that we treat people with dignity rather than patronizingly hand them scraps in exchange for votes in November is not hatred. We should point out that a party that bases its appeal on class envy, racial animosity, the war between the sexes and the support of trial lawyers is hardly in a position to call anyone angry. And we should argue that trying to get the government out of everyone's way, so we can all make the best of our lot in life is hardly a position of "angry white males", it is a human position, of benefit to everyone. Well, except for professional activists, race baiters, trial lawyers, and politicians, the biggest beneficiaries of the Democrat's policies.

POSTSCRIPT

Having said all that, I am sure some of my long time readers are wondering how I can reconcile my generally negative view of the Republicans with my repeated calls to support the party and vote for McCain in Novembers. The answer is easy. The Republican party may be riddled with welfare state big government types, but there are still a number of limited government supporters among both the elected officials and the party membership. In fact, if anything, the membership is a bit right of the elected officials. On the other hand, the Democrats are entirely filled with big government welfare state types.

In other words, there is still some hope for the Republicans. Given time, and a lot of effort, the party can be moved back toward the limited government, free enterprise party it tried to become in the 1980's and early 1990's. The only other option is for the free market types to abandon the Republican party to the "me too" welfare statists. Doing so will leave America with only two big government parties for the decade or two or three it takes to form a third party.

As I don't think it will be easy to recover from several decades of nothing but big government officials, I think the third party option amounts to suicide. So, no matter how hard it may be, I am left thinking that the only realistic option is to start now on the long hard labor required to bring the Republican party back to where it should be. And the first step is to be a loyal Republican, which means supporting them, whether I agree or not with their current course. I will fight during the primaries, try to bring the party back to the right track, but, come the general election, I will be as loyal as I can. Any other course will mean having less influence in the party and having less chance to make it right once more.

It is not an easy position, and some seem to think it is the wrong approach, but for me I see no other option. At least none which do not do more harm than good.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/14.

Guess It Is Time

I have several half-finished essays attacking the arrogant "rational" atheists, who argue that somehow science "proves" there is no G-d. As Dinesh D'Souza wrote such a good essay today on the topic of using evolution to support atheism, I figure it is time that I finally gave my opinions on the topic.

The idea that one can scientifically disprove the existence of G-d is just absurd. Scientists are perfectly free to say that they see no need for a creator to explain the universe, or they can argue that they personally do not believe in a G-d, but the existence of G-d can be neither proved nor disproved experimentally. William James, with whom I have a number of disagreements, wrote well on this topic, saying that only direct personal experience can provide an individual with evidence he deems sufficient to believe in the divine, and that the personal experience of one individual cannot be passed along to another. Of course, those determined to dismiss anything theological will argue that personal experience is still no proof, as it could be madness, or a brain malfunction.

And they would be correct. Though one may deem his own experience proof enough for him, it still provides no evidence for another as the person claiming experience could be mad, or deluded, or lying.

All of which means that one cannot experimentally prove the G-d exists. But one cannot prove that he does not exist either. The question is framed in such a way that it is not a scientific question. As the existence of G-d cannot be falsified, it cannot be subjected to any scientific inquiry at all.

So, for those who feel so smug saying that they are "above" religion and have dismissed all those "fairy tales", feel free to do so, but please do not tell me that you have any scientific basis. You may see no need for religion, but you cannot disprove it any more than I could prove it. (Nor does Occam's razor work. First, Occam's razor proves nothing, it can point you in the right direction, but simplicity alone does not substitute for proof. Secondly, there is no reason to assume an oscillating universe or a self-created universe is any more simple than a creator. The scientific theories either require a universe created ex nihilo or one that is eternal and oscillating, neither one is logically any simpler than a created universe. Or, at least arguments can be made for the simplicity of any position, meaning attempting to apply Occam's razor is worthless in this case.)

I do wonder, though, why such elevated, rational beings, feel such a need to mock and belittle those who do not share in their beliefs. I have met a number of atheists who are nice rational individuals, polite and civil. But it seems those who need to constantly tell me how rational they are, are also the ones who expend the most effort attacking religion.

If religion really is false, and if we all simply fade away when we die, what harm does it do to allow us our delusions?

I am sure someone will come back with a lengthy diatribe about religious intolerance and such, but that is not what they attack. You will never hear these "rational" atheists attacking communism's oppression, or even attacking real instances of religious intolerance, such as the Taliban. No, they spend all their time attacking ordinary, run of the mill Christians (and sometimes Jews). It just seems a waste of what little time they have to spend so much effort on mocking ordinary people, who are in no way oppressing them, but happen to believe differently than they do.

The irony is that there is very little in this nation which can even be loosely termed "oppression" based on religion. Perhaps one could argue that laws against polygamy and gay marriage fall in that category, if you really want to stretch the definition of oppression. On the other hand, public mocking of religion, and laws against public expression of religious sentiment are on the rise. (Just try setting up a nativity anywhere, or establish a bible study group using school facilities.) If anything, the power of religion is on the decline in our government, yet these "rational" atheists spend even more time mocking those who have belief.

I won't speculate as to their motives, but I do have to say the reasons they give, protecting themselves from some sort of resurgent inquisition, seem suspect at best. 

POSTSCRIPT


Again, I just want to be clear, I am not including all atheists in my description. There are many people who do not embrace religion, or even actively disbelieve, who are perfectly respectable individuals. I am writing here of a particular group, those who feel the need to proclaim themselves more rational, smarter and better because of their atheism and who spend much of their time denigrating and mocking those who have any religious belief. I am criticizing this group alone.

ADDENDUM

For those who think they are so rational in mocking religion, I would point them to a better logician, and recommend Pascal's gambit as an approach to life. Admittedly, Pascal has a bit of a false assumption, in that his gambit assumes that acting as if there were a G-d has no cost, but as long as the cost is small relative to the potential harm or gain, it still works.

In fact, for those who spend their time mocking the religious, there is an actual benefit to acting as if there were a G-d, as they would stop being so insufferable and may actually stop annoying everyone they meet. In their case, there is an actual earthly benefit to Pascal's gambit as well as a potential reward in the hereafter.

(As an aside, does anyone know why I have a tendency to attribute this to Poincare rather than Pascal? Besides both being French mathematicians, they have little enough in common. Yet I always seem to attribute this to Poincare rather than Pascal. I can't figure out why.)


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/14.

Quick Update

After posting the preceding article I realized that my arms hurt more than I thought, so I will be taking a break for a while. Unfortunately that means I will be putting off the articles I promised for this weekend, and may be a bit slow responding to comments. I apologize to my readers for that, but I hope to be back in decent shape tomorrow (provided my body agrees), and hope to post my usual flood of articles.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 200/04/13.

A Less Uncertain Future

Normally, I would say that any gaffe Obama committed this far out from the general election would have no impact on the outcome in November. And normally that would be true. Few people will remember any specific statement in February or March by November, too many other statements will come between the two and erase all memories. Just think of how hard it is to remember what the big issues of January were, after all the gaffes and scandals of February and March.

But any such assumption rests on one thing, that the candidate managed to handle the problem. Even if he only made a half-hearted attempt to respond, as long as it appeared Obama tried to deal with the scandal, it would fade away in memory.

What will kill a candidate, even as far out as March or April, is if the voters form an impression of him. Voters may not remember the scandals of March in November, but if they form an impression of him as scandal-ridden, or indifferent to voters, or simply incompetent, even in March, that impression will carry through to November, unless something happens to change it. And it is very hard to change voter impressions once they are formed.

For example, even before the primaries started, many voters saw Hillary Clinton as cold, manipulative and grasping, and that has translated into a segment of voters with a very strong negative impression of her that she has not been able to shake, no matter what she does. As I said, issues and statements may come and go, but voter impressions are the boon and bane of a politician's existence.  A good impression can make a campaign unbeatable and a bad impression can make victory impossible.

And Obama seems intent on forming a bad impressions. First, in the Wright incident, he refused to give an accounting, he switched excuses, and then he finally gave a speech which really didn't answer accusations, and instead destroyed his "post-racial" image by falling back on tired racial recriminations. Worst of all, following that speech, he relied on polls of Democrats, showing they liked the speech, and he made no farther comments, allowing the independents and conservative Democrats to think that he just didn't care enough to fully answer their concerns.

As a follow up to his poor handling of the Wright matter, he made a very foolish statement about Pennsylvania voters, which gave ammunition to Clinton's already strong campaign there. Not only that, but a statement which made him appear elitist and rather contemptuous of blue collar voters, after he already alienated the blue collar Democrats with his handling of the Wright incident. And, to make matters even worse, once he realized the faux pas, he did not apologize, or try to explain it away, he stood behind his offensive remarks and only said that he regretted the way he worded them. This one response was perhaps the worst choice possible, even worse than saying nothing. Not only did it say that he is standing behind his offensive statement, but it actually manages to make him sound more elitist.

I am not sure if these two recent incidents, coupled with Obama's content free campaign, cult like following, and a few earlier incidents, have been enough to form a negative image of him in voters' minds yet, but he is very close. If he does not take some strong steps very quickly to win back voters outside of his cultish following, he will manage to paint himself as an elitist, race baiting far left Democrat, who is either unwilling or unable to respond to crisis. Such an image will serve only to drive away the independents and the moderate to conservative Democrats and create the right conditions for a McCain landslide.

It still remains to be seen, and, as always, the future is uncertain. But by his actions, Senator Obama is starting to make the future a whole lot less uncertain.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/13.

NOTE: Rather than reproduce my explanation for the failure of these predictions, I refer interested readers to the notes following my post "I Almost Feel Sorry For Them".

A Challenge

I have an easy answer to those who accuse the press of "cherry picking" quotes from Reverend Wright's sermons. If the press has been picking only a few rare instances of inflammatory statements, then it should not be hard to find entire sermon's of Reverend Wright where he says nothing objectionable at all. As Wright obviously had enough videotaped sermons for the press to cherry pick out a few "rare" quotes, there must be hundreds of sermons on tape.

So, here is my challenge, find me 10 sermons where Wright says nothing objectionable throughout the entire sermon. No "G-d Damn America", no black separatist rhetoric, no conspiracy theories, nothing offensive at all.

If the quotes the press uses are so rare, yet the press can gather almost a dozen, then there must be hundreds or even thousands of hours of footage to allow 12 "rare" statements to be gathered. So how hard could it be to find 10 complete sermons that offend no one?

If anyone can find them, then I will be happy to spend all my efforts on clearing the good name of the man. Not only that, I will ask my fellow conservatives to all do the same. With 10 full sermons to show his essentially harmless nature it should not be hard to get others to sign on, and it would be great PR for both Obama and Wright that a number of conservatives have chosen to help clear the man of these false accusations.

Somehow I doubt any supporter will be taking me up on my challenge.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Argh!

I hate to post off topic posts, or to criticize my fellow bloggers by name, but I am just sick of it!  Earlier I wrote about people who do nothing but repost news, filling up the "Your Blogs" page with useless garbage. Well, there is a new one -- not a new blogger, just new to worthless news posts -- and it is doubly frustrating, as he is posting not just reprints, but reprints from the Huff'n'Puff Post.

Yes, Black Knight is back trying to educate us ignorant conservatives. I already griped about his 25 or 30 posts when he insisted on posting every picture he could find of Sean Hannity and white people to prove Hannity is a racist (though I also admitted that, in that case at least, he did provide some original comments as well). Now, apparently irked that someone called Obama "elitist" he seems intent on reproducing the entire Puffington Host right here on Townhall.

If you are reading this soon after I posted it, check out the list of postings on the "Your Blogs" page and tell me I am wrong.

As I said, I normally would not criticize any poster by name, but I am seeing this more and more, and it is getting very annoying. I use the list of posts to see if anything interesting has been posted. If it is filled with worthless news reprints, or the table of contents of the Huff'n'Puff, then what good is it to me?

I didn't complain loudly about the Hannity pictures because, while annoying, they at least had some comments attached. I may have thought the comments inane, and I may have thought he should have posted them all as one post, but those sort of disagreements do not merit complaints. But now, flooding the posting list with cut and paste liberal garbage, without adding even a word of comment, is just annoying.

I suppose there really isn't anything else to say. I am very annoyed with the new trend of posting culled articles, and doubly so when they appear without even the fig leaf of a line of two of comments, and triply annoyed when they are nothing but left wing propaganda of interest to maybe 1% of the readers here. But beyond griping, I really have nothing else to say.

Hopefully this trend will pass and blogs will once again be something more than amateur reproductions of wire reports and professional pundits, as I can get those, presented much better, on so many other sites.

UPDATED

Well, I have to half-retract this complaint. I started writing after the fifth article, and I did not check back. Apparently Black Knight did stop after reproducing five articles. So, he did not flood the list as so many do. I still see no merit in reproducing the Huff'N'Puff Post here, as anyone interested in that material can just go there, which is why I am only partly retracing my complaint.

I just have to say that I always assumed blogs were for the expression of one's OWN opinions. I don't see the enjoyment people get out of simply copying articles by others over and over, nor do I see why they think anyone would want to read them.

As I said before, perhaps if you reproduced hard to find articles, or translated them from foreign journals, maybe there is some merit to that as you provide information otherwise difficult to find. But just reproducing API/UP articles? Or commentary from well known sources?

Yes, we all reproduce parts of articles, or even entire articles from time to time, as they help elucidate points. But we also add commentary.

That is the real difference, and one these news posters seem to be missing. I do not quote for the sake of quoting, or because I "like" something, I copy articles because they form a basis for the comments I add. They are secondary to my opinion, not the reason for my blog.

But I think I am just wasting words here. I doubt the news copyists will change their ways because of anything I might say. So, as I said before, I will just wait and hope this trend blows over quickly.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.


NOTE: Obviously, this specific post relates only to blogs posted on Townhall, specifically posts in early to mid 2008. However, the phenomenon it describes has not ended in the years since, nor has it been limited to Townhall, so it seems worthwhile to reproduce this article, and not just out of a sense of completeness.

Mistaking Improvement For Problem

I have written before about the fact that sometimes the media focuses on one aspect of an event, and then chooses to present a report on a disaster, when, in reality most events are much less clearly either a problem or a benefit. In the case at hand, though, I have found something even worse, a case where the media is taking something wholly beneficial and presenting it as a problem.

The news report that inspired this essay was on BBC America, but I have seen similar reports on American news as well. These reports commonly take the form of "X months/years after Katrina, so many neighborhoods remain abandoned." The implication being that the government is failing in some duty to rebuild these communities, because Republicans hate either poor or black people, or else are just generally incompetent.

But I think the media is, in this case, absolutely missing the point. The report should actually be "Hooray! These neighborhoods are still empty!"

Why is that? Simple. Most of the neighborhoods whose condition they lament rest many, many feet below sea level. The only reason humans live there at all is because of massive, expensive, and, it turns out, untrustworthy construction projects. As we have now learned that the system of levees will not provide adequate protection under certain circumstances, doesn't it make sense to ask that no one live in these areas?

Then again, I am actually arguing this from the wrong perspective as well. I am buying into the media contention that it is the function of the state to provide shelter. Rather than letting their argument set the terms of the debate I should instead have asked the obvious counter question, "So what?"

After all, if the neighborhoods are empty is it not most likely because the former residents think returning to a flood plain is a bad idea and have moved to safer homes? Or, perhaps, they have not found adequate money to rebuild? Or have decided that the money they do have is better spent building above sea level? Is this not a question for the residents who are not returning rather than the government?

Of course, even if we accept the contention that it is the duty of the state to rebuild for everyone and insure them all against all losses (a contention I DO NOT endorse), the question remains, why should the state pay to return people to an unsafe, flood prone area? Would it not be better to put them somewhere safe? As I argued when writing about federal flood insurance, isn't it a better idea to move people out of flood plains rather than rebuilding again and again in an area certain to flood over and over again?

Then again, given the chance to beat up on the Bush administration, the press will rarely ask questions. It is some sort of Pavlovian reaction, at the sound of a Bush mistake, the salivation begins. Even if it proves later to be nothing of the kind, the attack will still continue.

Do you doubt that the press will attack Bush even when they lack a real foundation? Do the words "fake but accurate" ring a bell?

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

The Hypothetical Gore Nomination

A few have suggested that, since both Obama and Clinton might be too compromised to win the general elections, the convention might start shopping around for a compromise candidate with better prospects. The suggestion heard most often is Al Gore, as his recent Nobel prize makes him a high profile candidate with a good reputation.

While I am skeptical that the superdelegates have the nerve to pull of such a coup, there is another problem with Gore. He has his own baggage, every bit as damaging as the scandals now dogging Obama and Clinton. I know Gore's rather questionable history has escaped the notice of many, as it has been a long time since Gore has been in the news as anything but a spokesman for the environmental movement, but if he were nominated, does anyone doubt that McCain will immediately bring up the Buddhist temple fund raisers? Or his many outrageous claims? Or his "no controlling authority" argument? Not to mention that his ties to the Clinton administration will make him almost as much of victim of "Clinton burn out" as Hillary is.

Of course, I doubt this will ever come to pass. If the delegates are so worried about appearing racist that they are reluctant to dump a damaged Obama for a slightly less damaged Hillary, how will they ever find the nerve to drop both for Gore?

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

Weak Arguments

In my earlier post, I mentioned a list of points trying to dismiss McCain as a viable candidate. At the time I only mentioned one specific point, but now I want to address another:

1. John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has "evolved," yet he's continued to oppose key civil rights laws.
I have heard this argument before, and it has never made sense to me. The underlying assumption seems to be "Opposition to the King holiday is only possible if one is a racist." But I just do not see how opposing the creation of a federal holiday, even one honoring King, of necessity proves one is a racist.

For example, I can argue for not creating a new federal holiday for anyone, and race does not have to enter into it. Federal workers already have more holidays than any private company, or most states, provide. To have yet another day where they are paid for not working seems a bad idea. If we are going to pay for a truly massive federal bureaucracy, we should at least get as much labor out of them as the private sector would. (Then again, as the federal government seems to do more harm than good, maybe I should be arguing for 351 more holidays instead.)

If we want to speak of this specific holiday, I can make arguments as well. As Lincoln's birthday is no longer observed, the only holiday to commemorate an individual, other than Christmas, is Washington's Birthday/Presidents Day. To add a King holiday is to place Martin Luther King above Abraham Lincoln. Now, it is arguable whether King or Lincoln did more for the nation, but to argue for Lincoln is hardly to declare oneself racist.

If I can come up with two perfectly valid arguments in about two minutes, the assumption that racism must be at the root of any opposition to the holiday is patently false. There were probably some who opposed the holiday based on race, but they were certainly not the majority. And from McCain's own explanation, I see that he definitely had arguments which had nothing to do with race.

As for the second part of the argument, it is the same as the suggestion that in championing property rights and states' rights Reagan was a closet bigot. There are many valid reasons to oppose what liberals term "key civil rights" bills. If they could, they would label every one of their bills as "civil rights" to cut off debate. Just because a bill is so labeled, there is no reason to assume that any opposition is founded on racism. In fact, many bills called "civil rights" have nothing to do with minorities, and some of those that actually do deal with minorities  end up doing more harm than good. Whatever the case, most bills in recent times labeled "civil rights" are also blatant breaches of property rights, breaches of right of assembly, or are simply yet more federal government subsidies and handouts. So, what this "opposition" part of the complaint really means is "McCain has not voted the Democrat party line", which is hardly a reason to oppose him.

But, of course, those bringing up McCain's opposition to the King holiday are not interested in truth. McCain has explained his position, should they care about the truth. What they want is to suggest McCain is racist, to insinuate that thought into the minds of voters to help prop up the flagging Obama candidacy.

Now, I am hardly a McCain partisan. If you check out old blog posts (starting here, here, here, or here), you will see I have been critical of the man. But I am a fair man (as you can see by my defense of Obama against unfair critics), and I think this is just an absurd charge to level against the man.

If you are a liberal, fine, then oppose McCain because he is not liberal enough for you. But please do not try to paint the man as a closet racist simply because he fails to faithfully follow the liberal agenda.

UPDATE (04/12/2008)

To be fair, the same site's guest review of "An Inconvenient Truth" does take Gore to task for doing nothing about the environment while in office. The writer obviously buys into the AGW theory, but he rightly criticizes Gore for not following through on his beliefs. (Warning for those who follow the link, the language is a bit rough.)


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

Another One!

A while ago, I was thrilled to finally hear something form McCain about the economy I could endorse.

Well, I was reading a more left-leaning site, and, while reading their attempts to slander McCain, I came across a few other items that makes me feel a bit better about the Republican nominee.

He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year
I had been a bit worried about McCain's recent shift to support "cap and trade" and various other eco-idiocies, but, if the environmentalist groups think he is a fair weather friend, then I do have some hope. (Then again, I had some indication this all may be for show from an earlier report that he was softening his position.)

The rest of the post is interesting as well. Though obviously presented through a liberal lens, some of the points, if accurate, convince me that maybe McCain is not quite as bad a candidate as I had first feared.

Funny, the left's attempts to slander McCain are actually making me view him more favorably.

Keep up the good work!

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

Short Comment

I will be writing more on this later, but has anyone else noticed the irony of Obama's comment?

The party that has enshrined class envy, racial recriminations, war between the sexes, and otherwise based their entire political agenda on envy, resentment and anger is now accusing those who hold to traditional values of being bitter?

I have a half finished essay from two or three weeks ago where I was arguing that people always call conservatives angry and hateful, yet the liberals fit that label much better. Now that Obama has decided to label so many Americans "bitter" I suppose it is much more relevant, so time to get it out of mothballs, add a more topical intro, and finish it.

Hopefully I'll have something up by the end of the weekend.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

Poll Numbers

I mentioned this poll earlier, but I now have some specifics, and they bode ill for the Democrats.

It appears that not only has McCain closed with Obama, but the earlier numbers about cross-over defections are being confirmed. It appears about one quarter to one third of each candidate's supporters have promised to cross over to McCain if their candidate loses the nomination.

It also appears the Obama's "brilliant" plan to secure victory in the general election is failing, as McCain is gaining ground among voters under 35. This may be meaningful, or it may not, as that includes a  relatively high participation segment (21-35) and a very low participation segment (under 21), so it depends on how the new supporters are distributed whether that matters or not. (Though polls usually ask if someone is a "likely voter", it really is meaningless. A lot of people "plan" to vote for a poll, but still manage to miss the actual election. So, even in polls of "likely voters" I tend to take that description with a grain of salt and rely on the historical behavior of various age groups. As this poll does not even bother to ask, and presents itself as a poll of "adults", these historical patterns are even more important.)

McCain is also making inroads in two groups I did not expect. He is gaining support among higher income voters and women, both groups I expected to be Obama bitter-enders.He is even gaining support in the northeast, the bluest of the blue regions. A month ago, or maybe two, I doubt anyone would have predicted McCain would have a chance in any northeastern state (except maybe New Hampshire), but now that he is gaining ground among northeasterners, women and high income voters, it is possible McCain may surprise everyone with a 1984-style sweep.

Not that I am predicting such a sweep yet. But given the trends, and with Obama and Hillary set to tear each other apart right up to the nomination, things are only going to get better for McCain. And remember, these polls were taken before Obama put his foot in his mouth yet again, so the numbers are probably even worse now. If Obama makes another serious mistake, or Hillary launches into another chapter of her Baron Munchausen-inspire biography, such a sweep will seem much less of fanciful prediction.

But we will have to wait and see. It is still a long way to November. McCain could always do something stupid, but I think he won't. He knows his opponents are destroying themselves, all he has to do is sit back and enjoy the show.

Correction: Originally, I had assumed this was a poll of "likely voters", as that has been standard practice for at least a decade. However, from the description in the article it appears it is simply a poll of "adults". I have corrected the text to address my mistaken earlier assumption.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

NOTE: As I mentioned in the post, predictions that far from an election out often fail to come true, and this one obviously did. For some discussion see the notes after the post "I Almost Feel Sorry For Them".

Wow!

It appears Obama thought he wasn't in enough of a tailspin, so he took a page from Howard Dean's play book and decided to mock traditional values. Remember Dean's "guns, gays and G-d"? Remember what happened to Dean?

Obama is really trying hard to alienate everyone, though. From his early "arugula is so expensive" complaints, to his association with a black separatist church, to his suggestion that traditional values are the result of economic troubles, he is starting to look like a hybrid of Al Sharpton and John Kerry, both elitist and a race huckster in equal measures.

Sadly for the Democrats, they are finding this out too late in the race and may be stuck with him as a candidate. But the alternative is not much better. Between "Clinton burn out" and Hillary's habit of being a bit creative with her history, Hillary doesn't have much of a shot at winning either. (In fact if she is nominated, all those scandals which were ignored when she was no longer the front runner may come back to dog her once again.)

Other than convincing John Edwards or Denis Kucinich to withdraw their concessions, I don't see the Democrats having much of a choice at their convention. They can select the elitist, black separatist candidate whose charismatic gleam is fading, or they can select the lying, corrupt former first lady whose husband's famous charm is flagging.

I can't help myself, I feel a bit sorry for Democrats.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

NOTE: For the reasons my predictions failed, see the notes following "I Almost Feel Sorry For Them".

Your Government Hard At Work

We have all seen the advertisement (provided you watch television). The government has decided to sell off the old analog bandwidth to the cell phone companies and has converted all broadcasting to digital. This will mean that those who still have an old analog broadcast set will no longer be able to get a signal after the cut-over date.

No, I am not going to express any opinion about the change. I am here to complain about the advertising.

First, the government's initial scheme was to publish information about this on the internet. I know this is "a digital age" and all those other slogans which makes technophiles sleep well at night*, but does anyone really think those who still have rabbit-ear sets are out checking government websites on a regular basis? There are still many people who have no internet access, so putting information on a web site is not guaranteed to make it universally accessible. And since we are talking about people who by choice or necessity are wedded to broadcast TV, the thought that they may not have internet access is not all that far-fetched.

I suppose it occurred to the government too, as they switched to television advertising. But they did it in a rather peculiar fashion. I suppose they told the ad agency that they wanted "X hours of PSAs", and the agency put together their standard package including their normal distribution of channels. It is the only explanation I can figure, as the government is trying to reach those who can receive only broadcast signal ON CABLE CHANNELS.

If it weren't wasting my tax money, it would be humorous, but, after trying to reach analog users on the internet, the government is now trying to reach them by broadcasting messages on cable.

And these are the people the Democrats say should manage my health care?

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* Do not make the mistake of thinking me a technophobe for mocking all those who tout the miracles of the digital age. I did avoid getting a cell phone for years, but that was so my boss could not find me at all hours, not because I distrust technology. I am quite fond of technology, I just think it has been over-sold by marketing departments (the same ones that try to over-sell the "latest technology" when I worked in software development). I no more believe the internet will solve all my problems than, as a programmer, I believed Java or XML would make my life easier. (OK, I am a bit of a dinosaur in being attached to assembly and forth, but C is still a viable language, and so is perl.)

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ADDENDUM


I understand that some cable channels are owned by networks which also own the broadcast channels and they may offer only advertising packages which include both cable and broadcast channels, but this is the government we are discussing. They have a huge advertising budget. You think they could convince the networks to sell them a more cost effective "broadcast only" package. Nor am I convinced that the government is only broadcasting on cable channels which are owned by broadcast networks. I will have to keep track of whetehr or not I see the ad on BBC America, as I know their broadcast parent is not broadcasting this ad.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

NOTE: I corrected a few typos when transcribing this article, so it may not exactly duplicate the original version.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Interesting Phenomenon

I was posting a comment when I ran across an interesting post. It demonstrated something I have noticed before, but this time, for some reason, it really struck a chord, and I decided to write about it.

The post in question, after a bit of introductions read "I do not consider myself a liberal at all." It then proceeded to suggest pretty much every liberal position and advance every liberal argument imaginable, even down to arguing the US should adopt some socialist practices to ensure we meet the needs of all our citizens. It sounded almost like a parody of liberalism, it was so doctrinaire.

Which is what always amazes me, that liberals so often do not describe themselves as liberal. Conservatives have no problem identifying themselves as conservative, some even claim the title who don't exactly fit that description, but it seems no one considers themselves liberal any more.

Of course, some of this is a tactical move. Many liberals have noticed that even moderates find liberalism a bit of a dirty word. Thanks to the excesses of the PC thought police, the idiocies of the bleeding hearts and the obvious failure of the welfare state, even those who have no love for conservatives still find liberals objects of scorn. And so some liberals have decided it is to their advantage to find a new "brand", and are calling themselves "progressives" or even moderates, in order to distance themselves from the negative popular impression of liberals.

But that only explains some of the liberals. Many others really do not see themselves as liberals. In their minds Joe Lieberman is a dangerous reactionary and Lincoln Chafee and Olympia Snowe are conservatives. These are the people who call Gore a moderate, think Michael Moore is a mainstream film maker, and will only admit Denis Kucinich is a little bit left of center.

I think this is easy to explain if one looks at the American left and realizes that they live in something of a bubble. As shown by the infamous quote "no one I know voted for Nixon", a lot of liberals may live in areas where the only people they meet are other liberals. Even those who live in locales where the full political spectrum is represented manage to remain out of touch. Perhaps they simply do not talk to people who aren't politically liberal. Or perhaps they do talk to them, they just do not discuss politics with them. Just as college speech codes serve to keep political discussion solidly left of center, I think their choice to limit political discourse to a circle of like-minded friends may serve to keep those on the left out of touch with the American mainstream.

I really can't imagine any other explanation for such an unrealistic view of the political spectrum.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

Prelude

This is not really an essay so much as notes for a future essay.

I was siting around, thinking about what I was going to write later, when I came up with a few simple rules that seem to define exactly what a good government should be. I don't have the energy to write the full essay tonight, but I figured I should probably write them down so I don't forget them.

As I was writing them anyway, I decided to share them with my readers.

Now, this is hardly a complete essay, I won't begin to claim it is as comprehensive as my essays usually are. For now I am just providing my simple rules along with a few comments. The more elaborate analysis will come later.

But that is more than enough introduction. Here are my simple rules for governing.

1. Practice makes perfect - This is one of the two principles behind my belief in federalism. The more attempts we make at something, the more likely one will turn out to be right. Or, to put it another way, if we have many different little governments, odds are good that one of them will find a way to do things better, while having only one central government means we are much less likely to stumble upon any improvements.

2. The smaller the better - This is the other principle behind my federalist beliefs. The fewer people any unit of government represents, the more responsive it is, and the more likely it is to represent the actual interests of those it governs. So, to take advantage of this, I would like to see as much power as possible given to the smallest possible unit of government. Of course, taken to the logical conclusion, this would mean giving as much power as possible to the individual, and I favor that too. Whenever possible, decisions should be left to the individual, when that is not possible, the power should go to the locality first, then the state, and only as a last resort to the federal government.

3. The right tool for the right job - This rule is my way of expressing my disagreement with the adage "that government is best which governs least" or the idea that government is a necessary evil. Government is not evil, it is a tool, like any other. And like any tool, it is suitable for some jobs and not others. It should be our goal to use the state only for those tasks for which it is suitable. The remaining rules are simply extrapolations upon this general principle.

4. Don't worry about me - I use these words to describe a limitation we should place on government, but rarely do. The state does have a role in protecting the individual, but only from outside aggression. The state does not have any business protecting people from themselves. There is no need for laws to keep people form making bad decisions, it is the right of any individual to make decisions with which no one else agrees.

5. I'll do it myself - This rule should be observed whenever we must decide whether or not the state should undertake a specific action. If something can be done privately, whether saving for retirement or deciding whether a doctor is competent or not, we should always favor allowing the individual to do it rather than the state.

6. None of your business - Individuals should be free to interact any way they wish without the state being involved. Sometimes this may displease one or more, and some may have their feelings hurt or their wishes thwarted, but that still doesn't mean the state should be involved. Basically, unless there is a violation of rights, or some extremely compelling state interest, the state should simply stay out of it.

7. Out of my way - If we observed all the other rules, this would be superfluous. But as we already have some very bad laws, and as we won't always make the right decisions, I added this one. My thought was, whenever we have a choice what to do, it almost always favors the individual and society as a whole, for us to have less state involvement rather than more. More often than not, the best thing the state can do is get out of the way.

I realize my principles are not the most profound political theory ever devised, but I do think they establish some pretty simple guidelines to follow in political decisions.

Of course, they are only notes, so I suppose I should not decide on their merit before I write the essay itself. After that I can decide how useful they really are.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/12.

Am I Missing Something?

If you really stop and think about it, a lot of what is said in this election makes very little sense. Of course, everyone is so caught up in the election, and so busy saying nonsensical things themselves, that they fail to notice how absurd some of what they are saying is.

So for the benefit of those who have not stopped and thought things through, I am going to point out some of the more nonsensical statements:

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1. McCain is too liberal, so I am going to let the Democrat win

 I know the logic here is that by letting McCain lose, the Republican party will move to the right, and the Republicans will not be blamed for all the damage left-wing policies cause. But, if you think about it, basically they are saying "rewarding liberalism will encourage conservatism" which makes absolutely no sense. If a liberal wins, doesn't that tend to drive all people LEFT, as they seek to emulate a winning position? Also, if liberalism is dangerous, isn't McCain better by being less liberal, or are they saying they want MORE damage inflicted on the US? Well, I have written about this so much, I will leave it at that.

2. Obama is a uniter

The really odd thing is that McCain probably could run successfully as a uniter, as he has frequently crossed party lines many times. However, Obama, a senator with the most liberal record in the senate, has seized the title of "uniter". So the most far left candidate is painted as a united, while his partisans paint a centrist Republican as "far right".

3. Obama is post-racial


The candidate who belongs to a black separatist church, who never tires of painting his white grandmother as racist and who has gone to great lengths to paint a black separatist minister as just "misunderstood" is somehow going to cause America to get over its racial problems.

4. McCain is a conservative

I wrote about this before, here and here, but it bears repeating. there are some who are not content to support McCain just because he is better than Obama or Hillary, they must convince others McCain is "really" a conservative. Unfortunately for them, he really isn't. He has a few conservative views, but he has largely adopted a centrist or even center-left policy on so many subjects that it is just absurd to call him a conservative. I support him as he is better than either alternative, and because he is right on the war, but I am under no illusions. We may be able to push him rightward, especially if he wants to win reelection, but he is not now, and has not recently been, a conservative.

5. Obama is a "different kind" of politician

Obama has done nothing but politics for quite some time. In fact, it is pretty much his sole profession. He joined a militant black church to build "street cred", he says he is uninterested in race, but uses his minions to bring up race so he can capitalize on being black, he has generally behaved as any other politician. Except for a seemingly incomprehensible tendency to make bad tactical moves, there is nothing about Obama which shows him to be anything but another politician. In fact, if you really think about it, Obama's incredible content-free campaign makes him sort of the Platonic ideal of a politician. He is running on slogans alone, without a shred of policy to back it up. He is not different from politicians, he is the ultimate politician. And that is not a compliment.

6. People will vote Democrat since they are tired of Bush

Sadly, even supposedly intelligent people have made this statement. And it makes no sense. First, Bush is not running. Second, no one who was close to the Bush administration was even in the primaries. Whether or not people are tired of Bush, he is going away, and no candidate, in either party, is even closely associated with Bush. It would make as much sense to say that annoyance with Carter is going to defeat Obama. McCain was, if anything, an annoyance to the Bush, it seems unlikely anyone will be able to run against him by arguing about the Bush administration.

7. The war will be a decisive factor

In my experience, the public in general really doesn't think about the war all that much. When it is on the news, they may have some comments, but, in general, the average member of the public thinks about other, everyday matters, much more. There are groups to whom the war matters, but they have already taken sides and are unlikely to shift regardless of whether the war goes well or badly. Democrat doves are Obama supporters, Democrat hawks support Hillary. Republican hawks support McCain and the few Republican doves support either Ron Paul or cross over to Obama. Those groups are not going to shift and the rest of the public is largely indifferent. It would take a huge mishap or a glorious success for the war to play any more than a tiny role in the election. (Of course most pundits fall in one of the four camps I mentioned previously, so perhaps that is why they overestimate the importance of the war.)

Nor is the war as clear cut an issue as some would argue. Hillary has been on both sides of the issue. McCain has been pro-war but has then made some statements critical of our handling of detainees which may gain support among those in the center. And, while Obama has been solidly against war in Iraq (well, sort of), he has also suggested invading our ally Pakistan, so he is not anti-war, just for a completely nonsensical new war. All of which means that even if voters have strong feelings about the war, predicting how they will vote based on those feelings is tricky, at best.

8. Obama is attracting support because he is for change

Except for saying "change" a lot, I see no evidence of this. I have read his campaign documents and listened to him speak, and he still appears to have no solid platform. How can a man with no platform be considered for anything? Only in this election would the man running on empty slogans be considered "sincere", "for change" and "different from other politicians".

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Well, I think that is it for the moment. As new idiocies appear I will be sure to add them to the list. I do regret not including Senator Clinton, but she has been keeping her mouth shut lately after the sniper tale. And she wisely avoided making any "culture of corruption" comments. So, maybe she will give me some material soon. Otehrwise I suppose it will just be a McCain and Obama list for the moment.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/11.

Dismissing Conspiracy Theories

I was reading an old essay I wrote and saw a footnote reading as follows:

If anyone plans to respond to my description of Israel as an ally using the words "USS Liberty", please don't bother. I have read the sites, seen the arguments, and I am convinced "fog of war" explains it all perfectly. I have to think those who insist on some Israeli plot have another agenda, as not only isn't the evidence there, but what possible motive could Israel have? Unless you are of the "Israel=Evil Jews" school, what could explain an intentional attack on the Liberty?
I realized that some readers may have been a bit confused by this comment. I am normally quite ready to argue even the most implausible points, yet here I am dismissing an entire topic.

Actually, this is not the only case where I have done this. I also refused to reply to comments form 9/11 truthers in another post, and, were the topic ever to arise, I would refuse to discuss conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination as well.

The reason I don't discuss these topics is simple. It is the same reason that, while I am willing to discuss theology, I am not willing to debate the truth or falsehood of any religion. Conspiracy theories are not reasoned beliefs, they are a substitute for religion.

If you want evidence, just disprove one aspect of any conspiracy theory. Once the first flush of pure hatred has passed, the believer will find some way to explain away your argument, grasping at any straw just to retain belief in their theory. It is evident that their belief is more important than facts or the truth. They have spent so much effort on their theory that they no longer can give it up. It has become a big part of who they are, and surrendering their beliefs, even if it is proven false, would cost them too much.

But what do I mean by conspiracy theory? I have been throwing that word around a lot and have not yet defined it. I suppose the best definition is a theory that some or all major events in history have been secretly manipulated by a specific group and that this manipulation has managed to remain largely unnoticed.

Yes, there have been conspiracies throughout history, I do not deny that. But, historically, the larger the group, or the greater its impact, the less success it has had staying hidden. In the world of conspiracy theories, this is stood on its head, and large groups commit acts which change the world, yet remain out of public view. 

But, as conspiracies have existed in the past, and even managed to stay out of sight for a time, I suppose the best definition I can give is that I dismiss a conspiracy theory if it fails to answer four simple questions:
1. Who would benefit and how?
2. How is that even possible?
3. Why would anyone go along with that scheme?
4. How would anyone keep that secret?
Let us examine how these four questions help us identify some common conspiracy theories.

The first question, who would benefit, is best illustrated by the previously mentioned USS Liberty incident. In my mind it is quite simple to explain everything that happened by accepting the explanation of the Israeli's that either the flag was not flying or was not seen by the pilots. No other explanation is needed to make sense of the entire event. But, for those who insist on a more sinister explanation, I have one question, "Who would benefit from this attack?" At the time, Israel was quite dependent on the US for support. The rest of the world was not fond of the nation, they were engaged in a series of wars with their immediate neighbors, and the US had been, however inconsistently, their one ally through their history. So, what exactly would motivate Israel to attack a US spy ship? It is not as if Israel could blame it on the Arab League, it was quite clear who was attacking. There simply is no conceivable motive, unless we posit that Jews are simply evil and like to kill gentiles. (Assuming, of course, there were no Jews on the Liberty, a fact I have never cared enough to check.)

The second question, is it possible, is probably best illustrated by some of the 9/11 conspiracy theories. Before I start on specific theories, let me plug a favorite site here, and direct readers to 911myths.com for debunking of many popular 9/11 conspiracy theories. From the mistaken belief that the CIA funded bin Ladin to the reports of hijackers being found alive overseas, this is an invaluable site. Now, on to specifics.

One of my favorite 9/11 truth theories is that the WTC towers were struck by remote control planes. Now, this raises two questions. If the planes were remotely controlled while filled with pilots and crew, the theory just falls apart, as a very good essay explains that it would simply be impossible to do so without alerting the flight and ground crew, and, even if it were possible, there exist countless ways the pilot could have regained control from the remote systems. So, we must assume that the plane was empty at the time of the crash, which leaves us with the question of how it was substituted for a plane full of people with no one noticing and where that plane and those people are now. About a minute of thought will show that this theory either requires a conspiracy involving several thousand people, including all passengers, every air traffic controller and anyone operating radar in the area, or else it is simply impossible.

The other 9/11 theory that falls apart on ground of impossibility is the "controlled demolitions" theory. Not that controlled demolition is impossible, it is done every day. What the theory misses is that during a controlled demolition, interior walls, insulation, lesser supporting structures, and a host of other architectural features are removed before the demolitions, while a number of holes are drilled and a huge quantity of explosives are brought in. That anything like this could have been done during the weeks before 9/11 is just absurd. Even if we postulate that it was done on weekends and at night, it just makes no sense. The building is not completely empty at night or on weekends, so we start having to postulate a conspiracy involving several hundred maids and security guards in order to keep this theory viable, which is a sure sign that the theory has become implausible. Once again, the theory falls apart once we ask if it is physically possible.

The third question, why would anyone go along, is a good argument against something that is not commonly called a conspiracy theory, but fits the category quite well. I am speaking of the worries many have that China is buying out US defense contractors with the intent of doing something nefarious. I think the best way to illustrate this is to imagine a conversation between an engineer and his supervisor following the Chinese buyout:
Jim, Supervisor: John, you work on those surveillance satellites for the military, right?
John, Engineer: Yep, that's me.
Jim: Well, the new management has a request. They want you to add this to all your new designs.
John: (Examining the black box) What is it?
Jim: (Shrugs) I don't know. They said it is called "The Evil Circuit". I think it has something to do with accounting.
John: Do you have any circuit diagrams?
Jim: No. Comrade Vice President just told me to make sure it went into ever piece of military hardware.
John: OK, let me just make a call. (Into phone) Homeland security?
Of course, even that is absurd, as it is unlikely any changes could be made to a military contract without a review by the military. But my little skit does prove a point. The contractors China is buying are staffer with American workers. It is very unlikely they will suddenly become supporters of the PRC just because their company is purchased. It just makes no sense. And so, the question "why would anyone go along" shows how far fetched these fears are.

The final question, how could they keep that secret, tends to be the rock upon which most conspiracy theories are wrecked. Most of these theories require massive numbers of people which make keeping secrets quite impossible. But I think the best example, by a wide margin, is the theory proposed in Holy Blood, Holy Grail (and other books by Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln) and then plagiarized by The DaVinci Code, the theory that there exists a secret order which has protected and hidden the bloodline of Jesus.

Let us just think about this for a moment. This secret order has lasted from circa 33 AD until the 1980's without discovery until Mssrs. Baigent, Leigh and Lincoln uncovered it? That just stretches credulity way beyond breaking. The Freemasons were once the archetype of secretive groups, yet their secret rituals were published less than a century after their public announcement of their existence. Nor have religious scruples kept the temple rituals of the Mormons secret. If neither of these groups, both quite adept at secrecy, could not keep their most private secrets out of public view for even a century, what are the odds that this conspiracy could keep even its existence secret for so long? It would take only one member losing faith for the entire thing to be revealed. And it seems hard to believe that for almost 2000 years not one member later had second thoughts, or turned atheist, or decided the public should know the secret. Even a member with an axe to grind against a fellow could let the cat out of the bag.

In short, to believe this theory, we have to accept that a large secret society existed for 2000 years with not one member ever having a conflict with another or anyone ever having a doubt about the rightness of the organization's aims and methods. I doubt you could keep that much agreement going for long in a group of even three people, much less in a large organization. It is simply impossible.

Of course, I have just scratched the surface with my descriptions. Obviously there are more theories than I have mentioned here. But, in my experience, not one of them can answer all four questions adequately. But if you doubt me, try it yourself. Take whatever conspiracy theory you like and apply the questions, see if you can honestly answer all four questions concerning your favorite theory.

Just please don't send me the answers.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/11.

More Democrat Woes

I just saw a news report that McCain's poll numbers, versus both Hillary and Obama are improving and appear to be a dead heat.

This is actually better news for McCain than it appears. Since the Republican nomination has been essentially decided for some time, the Republican primaries have largely dropped out of the news cycle, while the Obama-Hillary contest has been receiving nightly coverage. Due to that, it was understandable that both Hillary and Obama, on name recognition alone, would receive higher numbers. Nor were the Democrats hurt by the kid glove treatment Obama received, in addition to the initial tentative efforts to discredit McCain on foreign affairs by constantly mentioning his "Middle East gaffe".

That McCain is now pulling even says that the Reverend Wright scandal, as well as the fabricated sniper incident Hillary put out to the press, are starting to harm the Democrats. Of course, the relatively positive news from Iraq, coupled with McCain's much stronger position on the war does not hurt either.

In fact, whatever the cause for any individual voter's change of heart, the fact is that McCain is starting to appeal to voters more than the Democrat candidates.

It is still very early, and I would not rely on polls this far out to predict the election, but it does show how little confidence the public has in the Democrat candidates that, despite the favorable treatment they receive, they are still slipping relative to McCain.

As I said before about the Democrats, stuck nominating one of these two, I almost feel sorry for them.


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/11.


NOTE: I explained the failure of my predictions in some detail in notes following several posts. Please refer to "I Almost Feel Sorry For Them" for a list of such articles.

To Prove I Am Fair

I have said a lot of unkind things about the FairTax.org website as they failed to reply to the questions I sent them, but I now have to say that they did finally respond. And they did apologize for the long delay in responding.

I have yet to read through it, as they did actually send a rather lengthy response, but I will be reading through it.

As the FairTax has died as a viable issue this election cycle with the end of the Huckabee campaign (especially as Huckabee seems unlikely to become a McCain running mate), I have had less interest in arguing the merits of the theory, but, since they bothered to respond, I will likely be posting at least some of their response and my take on it.

And now, to make at least a partial retraction. Apparently my questions did actually go somewhere and did not get used solely to build up a mailing list. In that accusation I have been proven wrong. Regarding many other critical things I have said, it remains to be seen.

But, I am fair, and I felt that, after giving them such a hard time, I had to let my readers know that the FairTax.org people did finally get back to me.

If you are curious, my original posts on this matter are:

For The Record
By The Way
Will FairTax.org Answer THIS Time?

My posts on the FairTax in general are as follows:

Very Brief Prologue
One Thought on the FairTax
Update
Two Old Ones (Plus Three)
Addendum

Unintended Consequences
For The Record
Definitions
And So It Starts...
By The Way
If We Must...
The Rate
The 22%*
A New Record
Shot Myself In The Foot?
Will FairTax.org Answer THIS Time?

I know this is a dead issue at the moment, but some are still pushing, so I thought it may be useful to put all of my links in one place, in case anyone is interested in the subject.

And finally, it has nothing to do with this topic, but I found this old post, "The Euro" and it was just too amusing to let languish in my archives. So, if you visit nothing else, please check this link.

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* Something went wrong with my brain when I wrote this one. In some places I use the correct 23% "embedded" tax value, in others I use 22%. I am not certain why I made this error so consistently. It doesn't make the essay any less correct, but it is annoying when I read it now, as I have to remember that 22 and 23 both refer to the same thing.

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ADDENDUM

I notice that I continued to promise a page by page review of either "The Book" or the bill, a la Henry Hazlitt's review of Keynes in The Failure of the "New Economics". I never got around to doing so. As soon as I had the time to undertake that project, the election heated up and other topics distracted me undertaking it.

Having read my old FairTax posts, I still think this may be a worthwhile effort sometime. So it is going back on the "to do" list. It is not a high priority, but it may get done on one of my "No News Tuesdays".

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CORRECTION OF MY CORRECTION

It has been long enough that I forgot the whole FairTax pitch. The 22% is the estimated amount of "embedded taxes" which will be eliminated by the FairTax. The 23% is the "embedded" amount of the FairTax (which works out to a 30% sales tax using more traditional calculations). It has been so long I had forgotten all these nuances.

Actually, there is a lesson here. A few months ago this all seemed so important to me, and the FairTax was a hot issue. Today, less than 6 months later, I can't even remember all the points of the argument.

Yet another argument in favor of changing things slowly. Things which seem very important often fade away to irrelevance very quickly.

Correction: For some reason I wrote "Kant" instead of "Keynes". I don't know how I managed to confuse those two, except that both are Objectivist bogeymen. Well, it has been corrected now.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/10.

Results Do Not Matter

I have always been impressed with the fact that results just do not seem to matter to the left. From global warming, to predictions of dead oceans, to predictions of a quagmire in Afghanistan, nothing the left predicted has come true, yet they continue to make predictions and expect people to believe them. The fact that tabloid psychics have a better track record does not dissuade them.

Before I move on to more familiar examples, let me tell you about a local issue that amused me for some time.

A number of years ago, the state of Maryland was considering a truly massive increase in cigarette taxes. The opposition raised a number of objections, including the logical assumption that an increase in taxes would lead to smuggling. That this had been the experience of everyplace that had imposed massive taxes, from Canada to New York state did not deter the proponents of the new tax. Instead they ran radio advertisements mocking the very thought that tax increases would lead to smuggling. (No, they didn't really offer any arguments, just kind of mocked the idea and then moved on to something else.)

This being Maryland, a state which never met a tax it didn't like, the tax passed through the Democrat-owned legislature without problem, and we were saddled with yet another massive tax.

And what was the result?

After the first year of new taxes, the state comptroller appeared on television bragging about confiscating over a million dollars in smuggled cigarettes. Later, the comptroller also claimed credit for uncovering a smuggling ring which had been sending their profits to support terrorism overseas.

What was never heard was a single word of apology for having abused those who claimed smuggling would increase. Nor an admission that, but for their insistence on increasing taxes, there would have been neither smuggling nor an untold amount of money sent to terrorists before the smugglers were caught.

Instead, the same people who insisted that cigarette taxes would not cause smuggling have proposed not only a host of new taxes, but have also pushed through a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants, insisting that they know it will not cause any harm to those businesses*. Based only on their record so far, I am not placing a lot of faith in those predictions.

Of course, my local example should come as no surprise. We have only to look at the environmental movement to see how little success seems to matter. After publishing "Famine 1975!" the environmental movement did not fade away in embarrassment in 1976. Nor did Rachel Carson's prediction of robin extinctions seem to harm her reputation. People are still reading today the very books which make that rather dubious prediction, and are still believing her despite the evidence of their senses. Paul Ehrlich predicted the seas would be devoid of fish by 1980, yet people were still treating him as an environmental expert a decade after all the fish were supposed to be gone. And so on and so on.

It is bizarre once you start to examine the track record of those on the left. Environmentalists, politicians, pundits, all of them have made predictions which not only failed to materialize, but were absurd even when they were first made. Yet somehow these "experts" are never touched by their failures, they continue to make far fetched predictions and, oddly, people continue to believe them.

Yet when Bush states that Saddam failed to prove he had no WMDs, and we find much evidence to support that theory, the left still finds enough room for doubt to allow them to chant "Bush lied" while suggesting that the president should be impeached or even tried for war crimes.

Of course, I am applying the wrong standard here. The left does not work on logic or consistency. All is feelings on the left. So, those who make failed predictions of doom, or insist taxes will have no ill effects are arguing for the "right things", and so the results don't matter, while Bush is making an argument for "icky" war, and therefore must be not only wrong, but evil too.

It all depends on your motives when it comes to the left, argue for the right position and it no longer matters what the outcome is, you are correct simply by virtue of your beliefs.

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* The bar and restaurant ban has an amusing provision. If you follow the law, and then find your business has lost 50% or more of its patrons, provided you are still in business, you can apply for a waiver. And after a hearing, provided you have not gone bankrupt waiting, they may deign to permit smoking in your establishment. I think there may also be an appeals process as well. Obviously, the whole thing is a bit of a joke, as the margins in the food service industry do not allow anyone suffering a 50% decrease in traffic to stay in business long enough to work their way through a bureaucratic process. And, of course, the process does not allow one to continue permitting smoking while waiting for the ruling, which would make sense, instead one must continue to deny patrons the right to smoke until the waiver is finally granted. (Somehow I doubt there will be many businesses which remain solvent long enough to get the waiver.)


Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/10.

The Press Versus the Nation

I know I have often said that the press is an adjunct of the Democrat party, and I think I have made a pretty good case for that contention, but today I am going to go a bit farther and say that the press is actively opposed to the interests of the United States, at least at present.

Now, I do not contend that the press is in the employ of a hostile power, or even that the press is interested in seeing the fall of the United States. What I do contend is that, as the press is in the pocket of the Democrat Party, and as the Democrats have pinned many of their hopes on a military defeat in Iraq, the press is actively working to undermine our military mission in Iraq, regardless of the cost in lives or the effect that will have on the security of the United States. So, though they are not intentionally treasonous, I think that it is fair to say, by the means they use to support their favored party, the press is taking a stand in opposition to the interests of the United States.

Now, some in the press, and in the Democrat Party will say that opposition to the war is not treasonous, it is their patriotic duty. I won't argue the "dissent is patriotic" argument here. I think it is a facile slogan that is most often used to cover the unpatriotic feelings of most anti-war protesters, but that does not matter here. I am not objecting to the press editorializing against the war, I am complaining about actions they are taking which serve to render fighting the war more difficult and  which endanger our troops and risk national security.

For example, when the NYT revealed details of bank surveillance programs and thus compromised our ability to stop the flow of funds to those attacking the US, that was not any principled "opposition to the war", it was simply a deed designed to make fighting terrorists harder. When the press reports weakly supported or unsubstantiated reports of "atrocities" as if they were proven, or when they automatically assume the worst of troops accused of "war crimes" that is not "principled opposition", nor is it the impartial journalism it claims to be, but an attempt to turn public opinion against the war and destroy morale among our troops*. When the press ignores the successes of our troops in Iraq and reports only failures, and when the press goes silent when there is only good news to report, that is not principled opposition to the war, it is an attempt to convince the public we have lost, as the press did after our Tet victory, to force us to surrender in a war we are winning.  And when the press drools over every casualty, finds new "grim milestone" to mark as often as possible, and tries to convince the public that 4000 deaths in 5 years is a massive casualty count, that is not patriotic, it is an attempt to erode support for our troops and our government.

I think the problem is simple. The press tries to fill two contradictory roles. At times it balances the two roles well, at others badly. Currently, the press is doing a very bad job. The press needs to balance its role of providing editorial opinion with its professed goal of providing impartial coverage. Sometimes it does well, confining opinion to the editorial pages, at others unstated assumptions make their way into the selection process, choosing which stories will be reported, or even determines how those stories will be reported. Sometimes, things get even more muddied, and the press begins to explicitly editorialize within the news stories.  And that is what is happening today.

Perhaps one more example will help show how the press can shape public opinion without making any explicit statements. The best example are the media reports of civilian casualties.

I hear many asking why I would choose such a topic. And I will admit on the surface these reports seem unobjectionable. The press tends to shy away from the more extreme numbers put out by many anti-war groups, and when they do notice these numbers the press does rightly express some skepticism. The press rarely editorializes in reports of civilian casualties, usually refraining from running as many "human interest" stories about tragic deaths the way they do for military deaths. Nor do they run special "tragic milestone" reports when civilian deaths reach a number ending in multiple zeroes, the way they do for the troop deaths (eg 100 deaths,1000 deaths, 4000 deaths.) If anything, the press has been remarkably restrained in their reporting of civilian deaths.

The problem with such a perspective is that it is looking at the press' behavior through thoroughly modern eyes, eyes shaped by the very media reporting I am about to criticize. That so many will readily agree with the preceding paragraph shows only how successful the press has been on forcing certain assumptions on the public, assumptions which serve only to weaken the position of the United States and the effectiveness of the US military.

How so?

Let me answer a question with a question. Why should the press report civilian casualties at all?

Oh, it sounds shocking to modern ears, but it wasn't that long ago that civilian casualties were never reported, or only reported for our own civilians, or maybe our allies. The unspoken assumption throughout most of our past was that civilian casualties were unavoidable in war, and that there was no point in mentioning them. I am certain there were some isolationist papers and others in World War II who printed up accounts of German dead, but I challenge anyone to find a report from that era, in a major paper, which reports the civilian casualties suffered by Germany or Japan. If anyone succeeds in finding such a report, I guarantee the tone is not one of regret and recrimination, as it would be today, but rather provides the numbers as a measure of the impact an attack had on German or Japanese industrial capacity. We were much more realistic in the 40's and knew that civilian casualties not only are unavoidable, but at times may help our efforts, as they crippled the enemy's industry. Only in modern times have we begun to focus on civilian casualties, number which carry with them the unspoken assumption that wars should be fought without inflicting civilian casualties.

It was only with Vietnam, and the alliance of the press with the peacenik wing of the Democrats that we began to see this "body count" aspect appear in journalism. Of course, it took a while to take hold. I may be wrong, but I don't recall seeing any mainstream press reporting body counts even as late as the invasion of Granada. It was only with the attack on Panama that I recall the press lamenting civilian casualties on the other side. Of course, since then, it has been a constant refrain, except, oddly enough, for the many Balkan misadventures of the 1990's, when the press was curiously silent about Serbian civilian deaths.

But, perhaps in that case the press disliked Milosevic more than it disliked the military, or maybe, just maybe, they were a bit more reluctant to say anything negative about a Democrat.

Actually, the Balkan conflict provides the best comparison to our current conflict.

You see, I am sure someone will reply to my World War II example above by arguing "But we weren't fighting to free the Germans, we are trying to liberate the Iraqis, so we should not be killing them." Ignoring for a moment the many interviews that show the Iraqis are more mature than we are, and understand there will be unavoidable casualties as part of their liberation, I can agree that our current conflict, as a war of liberation does differ somewhat. Of course, during World War II we did liberate many conquered nations (eg France), and many civilians did die in our attacks, but let us agree that World War II is a bad example. Clinton's various Balkan campaigns are not.

Let us just look at the two conflicts and how the press handled them.

Clinton fought several conflicts in the Balkans to liberate various regions from the Serbs, we were essentially picking sides in a civil war (twice), there was no immediate threat to the US, there was no official declaration of war, there were many civilian casualties, and the troops far overstayed the initially estimated period. And the press' reaction? Wild enthusiasm. The same aspects of our current conflict bring nothing but scorn. If the press truly believed what they are saying about civilian casualties in this conflict, they would have been attacking Clinton just as vigorously, as he too was "killing the people he was liberating". But they did not.

Which is why I say the press' attempts to undermine our military is nothing but an aspect of their support for Democrats. If it had been a true opposition to all war, or a loathing of the military, or an interest in human rights, they would have been every bit as hard on Clinton, but they were not. The press was in Clinton's corner from the moment he was sworn in, and it never flagged. (At least not until he started to atatck Obama on behalf of his wife.)

All of which does nothing to support the press' claim that they are engaging in "principled opposition to the war". Were that the case, maybe, if we were extremely generous, we could forgive their attempts to undermine public support for the war, destroy troop morale, force a defeat on the US and harm our position in the world. Maybe we could forgive that if they were engaging in well meaning criticism.

But not even that excuse is available to them. This is just partisan reporting, nothing more. As Bush started the war, and they hate Republicans, the press is determined that the war must be lost so the Democrats can secure some political advantage.

It is truly sad when near treasonous behavior rests on nothing more than partisan bickering.

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* This assumption not only makes conflict difficult for our troops, who must try to fight without harming any civilians, but it gives an incredible advantage to terrorists and others who are quite willing to hide among civilians, position their rockets and artillery in civilian structures and disguise themselves as civilians. It also puts an exceptional burden on our troops, which does not help morale. Which is yet another reason I argue that the press' actions are harmful to the military as a whole.

Originally Posted in Random Notes on 2008/04/10.