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Friday, September 19, 2014

EFFORT AS SIN

"We rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn’t complain about the food they were served"

The latest demand by some groups is that women get not just birth control but feminine products like tampons for free.  Essentially, their argument is that women are unfairly burdened with needing these things since men don't need them, so men should pay to give them what they require.
This is one more in a long line of demands for free things that we've been flooded with, each only "free" in the sense that individuals feel no cost upon receiving them, but pay in advance in taxes.  Each new demand stretches the definition of "necessary" and "rights" until its become almost self-parodying.  You can barely come up with a satirical version of events fast enough to be ahead of the actual demands.
There was an article written recently by a somewhat obscure feminist writer at Slate named Amanda Marcotte.  She's managed to get attention occasionally by writing ridiculous, self-important diatribes such as how no man is worthy of her and are all scared off by her wonderfulness.  This recent piece was rebelling against the idea of cooking:
The home-cooked meal has long been romanticized, from ’50s-era sitcoms to the work of star food writer Michael Pollan, who once wrote, “far from oppressing them, the work of cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment and deserved an intelligent woman’s attention.” In recent years, the home-cooked meal has increasingly been offered up as the solution to our country's burgeoning nutrition-related health problems of heart disease and diabetes. But while home-cooked meals are typically healthier than restaurant food, sociologists Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton from North Carolina State University argue that the stress that cooking puts on people, particularly women, may not be worth the trade-off.
Now, its one thing to say "man I just don't like to cook" or "I feel that I don't have time or energy to cook a meal" but no, her position is that home cooking is a terrible burden.  She is not opposed to cooking a meal, she's opposed to home cooked meals as a concept.  Its not just a burden but wrong to home cook.
She's not completely wrong in the article; it is true that often modern kids are whiny and complaining, and that its tough to cook a meal if you work all day.  And it is true that its tough to get your cooking done if you can't get adequate raw materials together.
However, her example "cook everything with one device and wash the dishes in the sink" is hilariously first-world problemy.  Oh the horror of having to hand-wash your dishes!  Inconceivable, where is Guadalupe to load the dishwasher for me!  How can I face the day knowing that I must cook my food in a single unit instead of having eighteen different devices on the counter to choose from??
Not having pots and pans is a matter of being ill prepared for the role you've taken on.  Its like complaining that now you are a baseball player, you don't have a bat or glove.  Maybe you should have gotten that stuff together before you took on that role.  But even if somehow a home and child came upon you by surprise, cheap stuff is available at thrift and Salvation Army type stores, and usually older family members will have extra supplies to offer.  You can get basic supplies at the Dollar Tree for a buck each.  Get them slowly over time.
But the idea that its cheaper to buy takeout or delivery every meal than supplies and raw materials is utterly and shockingly ignorant to the point of rank stupidity.  I get that Ms Marcotte probably shops at Manhattan boutiques for her microgreens and Kobe beef, and her idea of a grocery trip is being driven to Whole Foods but surely she must be aware that other, less expensive options exist
And ultimately it seems to come down to this philosophy: that effort, that personal difficulty is not simply something we may resent, but actually wrong.  That it is bad to strive or work, that having to do something to get what you want is morally incorrect.
More and more this seems to be the attitude.  For many of the people involved in the idiotic, repulsive "Occupy" movement, paying your school loans was thought of as an evil thing.  How dare you expect me to pay for my schooling!  Mommy gave me everything for free!
The attitude that if something is difficult and stressful it should not be is becoming more and more a cultural presumption.  Not something people wistfully think of, but something that people presuppose - its a basic assumption of life, something unquestioned and certain before each situation even arises.  You expect me to work for my home, my car, my clothes, my vacation?  How dare you, sir!
This goes beyond childish, where kids just assume things show up for free, and have no concept of the interplay between personal effort and reward.  It is the attitude of generational aristocracy, its the kind of thinking of Marie Antoinette.  People are acting like they are all lords in a feudal system, and that their mere birth demands they be attended to and given what they desire.
Yes, much of life sucks.  Yes, many times you work hard for little reward.  Yes, most of what you get in life requires a lot of trouble and sorrow.  If this was a game, people would rightly complain that the risk and difficulty of the quests does not gain an adequate reward.
That is how life is.  Wishing that away or demanding government fix it will not make that go away.  It is not possible to demand away reality, no matter how much you close your eyes and stamp your feet.  Every once in an extremely rare while, someone gets a lot for little.  But this presumption that not only we should get rich quick and easy, but that it is morally wrong to not do so... what on earth kind of life are you living?
It is, I fear, an inevitable consequence of how more than one generation of young people has been raised, however.  Each time you try to raise children away from difficulty, failure, disappointment, or realizing their limitations, you raise a generation unable to comprehend the basic truths of life and reality. 
And when faced with those truths, they throw a tantrum, camping in the streets, tearing up parks, demanding more and more and more.  And those who want to seem like they care, those driven by emotion and concern more than reason and fact will stand beside them and call for Something To Be Done (especially if it means more money and power under their control).
And crass politicians, knowing they can rely on votes from these perpetual toddlers, will side with them as well and come up with program after program spending other people's money to make it seem like it comes true.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

COALITION OF THE UNDECIDED

“I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater.”

I don't envy President Obama right now.  In the past he's faced clear and simple decisions and waffled or been confused, chose poorly or tried to avoid choosing at all.  But with IS (Islamic States), there isn't really a good choice.
The group is gaining momentum, money, and arms, and clearly is a threat to the region.  IS plans on returning the Caliphate that it once had in the 14th century, which circled the Mediterranean and encompassed a large area of land.  Further, they plan on expanding Islamic rule beyond that to the entire globe.
Right now, IS is small and mostly in Iraq and Syria.  They are growing but still not very large.  Every opponent they have faced as given way easily but they haven't faced a powerful, modern, determined army yet.  Its possible that they have reached the limits of what zeal and no centralized leadership or discipline can achieve.
On the other hand, the organization might be destined for greater power and continued growth, and could easily gain a powerful, charismatic leader that coalesces the various factions and tribal forces now only allied for the goal of radical Islam conquering enemies.  With a good leader, other Muslim countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even Turkey might choose to join IS or at least ally with it, which would increase its power and influence exponentially.
And if this is the future of the organization, then dealing with it right now when it is isolated, small, and easily found is the best option.  A large and powerful IS would probably be greeted by the UN as a valid state rather than a batch of murderous lunatics, which is what they are.
And murderous is definitely an accurate description.  There is almost no atrocity, no evil that this group has not demonstrated, from rape to murder to decapitation, to attempted genocide, environmental destruction, obliteration of historical sites, and far beyond.  Women are captured for not being Muslim - or even insufficiently Muslim - and turned into a sort of roving harem for the IS soldiers to rape repeatedly.  Villages are murdered for not agreeing with their ideology.  The evil of these men is undeniable.
But is that enough reason to act?  The horror of their behavior and the potential for global reach?  Horrendous evil goes on around the world daily; such ghastly behavior is done right on the southern border of the United States by drug cartels.  North Korea is a nearly incomprehensible nightmare of brutality and evil.  Recently the Sudan was a slaughterfest of Muslims raping and killing off Christians for land and power.
So what is President Obama to do?  Because of news coverage of these evils, the American people want action to be taken - if for no other reason than IS is a thumb in the eye of the American eagle after leaving Iraq quiet and relatively stable.
President Obama in particular does not like the idea of acting in Iraq for several reasons.  First, he stated repeatedly that going into Iraq was a huge mistake and never should have happened.  Second, he declared a huge victory and took credit for it when he announced the troop withdrawals from the country.  So he'd look stupid and hypocritical for doing what he said was wrong and having to fix what he said wasn't broken.  And third, he does not want ever to use ground troops.  For him, like most Democrats, the worst thing in the world is the body bag; they think of Vietnam every single time and want no troops on the ground.
But at the same time, he's facing tremendous pressure worldwide to take action, he has made it very clear that this is the kind of thing he thinks action should be taken over, and the people seem to want something done.
So what is there to do?  Should he take action, and how?  Don Surber suggests the president should truthfully give this speech:
"My fellow Americans, we just completed the bombing of every ISIS target we can identify, we have frozen their assets in this country and we have indicted all their conspirators and supporters in the United States. I want to thank the men and women of the USS George H.W. Bush, the entire Fifth Fleet, the airmen and women al-Udeid air base in Qatar, the Secret Service's treasury operations and U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger of Minnesota and his staff, as well as the FBI special task force who assisted them in apprehending more than 100 militants in the Minneapolis area alone. Initial intelligence reports indicate that we have more than decimated this scourge to humanity, while pocketing $3 billion in assets, which is more than enough to cover the cost of replacing the cruise missiles we deployed, in anticipation of the next group of Islamic nuts who wish to destroy the world. If we have learned any one thing from our dear allies in Israel it is the need for constant vigilance."
Certainly it would be a bold and aggressive response to the evil that IS represents.  Its the kind of speech and the kind of action that President Bush would have taken in his first term - exactly the attitude and actions President Obama and his allies showered with every conceivable negative description and suggestion.
And this sort of action would kick the legs out from under IS (although why you'd focus on Minnesota so heavily eludes me, given places like Dearborn Michigan) by crippling its resources and undermining its recruiting.  It wouldn't require soldiers in Iraq, nor would it involve building a multinational coalition which took President Bush six months to accomplish. Building coalitions is something President Obama has shown absolutely no acumen in whatsoever.
But even this is not what President Obama wants to do.  Because he's not facing the same dilemma I would be and that I list above.  His problem is of an entirely different nature.  We saw a glimpse of this problem in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, allegedly to help a northern portion form their own country.
The instant the news came out, candidate John McCain issued a strong statement of unwavering condemnation and opposition to a country invading another, particularly on such flimsy pretext, and bombing it without even attempting to explain why or going to the UN.  Russia was wrong, and that was clear.
On the other hand, President Obama took days to come out with a tepid, hand wringing statement of whining equivocation, asking "both sides" to be nice and stop fighting.  Later, seeing his poll numbers plummet, he changed his statement to be more condemning of Russia's actions.  President Obama showed the pattern he would continually follow in every situation of the sort after that: hesitation, indecision, moral equivalence.
A recent article in the New York Times has a quote that sums up the president's approach quite well:
Mr. Haass said attention to nuance was a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”
That last sentence really says it all.  The president is reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you in to a more one-sided position than you're comfortable with.
Yes, that's what making a decision does.  It forces you into a position rather than standing off and avoiding a decision so you can keep your options open.  Taking a stand requires you to pick that stand and stay with it until circumstances or information has changed sufficiently to justify altering your position.  Not taking a stand allows you to avoid any sort of decision or position at all, and move around.
The latter option feels more intelligent and "nuanced" and its the sort of position that professors and thinkers like to be in.  It isn't necessarily smarter but it feels smarter, and for academics, looks better because, why, there are no absolutes, and nothing is black and white, and we have to take everything into consideration, even the feelings of our enemies...
The problem is, part of being a leader means that you must take positions, you must be decisive, and you must take a stand.  You cannot waffle, wait, try to hold both sides, and nuance when action must be taken.  The famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt applies here: "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."  
Roosevelt wasn't arguing its a good idea to make bad choices, but that leaders must lead and take positions, and wrong is better than waffling and inaction.  It feels comfortable and superior to sit on the fence and gaze down your nose at everyone, but its not leadership, its not constructive, and it accomplishes nothing.
A few weeks ago I posted a video, a fairly lengthy one, by Evan Sayet which examined why he holds the positions he does on topics and what the left is like inside.  I am hesitant to post videos of that sort without explanation or (even better) a transcript to read, but I was feeling poorly and needed content up.  The video is quite good, and I recommend it highly. I say that as someone who rarely watches videos online, preferring to read.
In it, Sayet argues that the left came to the conclusions they did by examining history.  They decided that in the past, all the best arguments, all the best religious efforts, all the movements and systems failed to accomplish what the left believes they should have.  There still was poverty, oppression, inequality, bigotry, and so on in all of these cultures.
Further, they came to the conclusion that the reason evils such as war, famine, poverty, and so on took place were because of these movements and arguments.  The left argues that because people took these stances and believed in these things, then all the horrors of the world took place.
So they decided the best way to approach the world was to use John Lennon's childish lyrics for the song "Imagine" as a template:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

The left imagined this and thought it was the answer to everything.  If people just stopped believing in, arguing over, and caring about anything, then it would all be wonderful.  We could slip into an eden-like utopian existence of no possessions, nations, beliefs or purpose and everyone would get along in perfection.
This is essentially what men like Rousseau argued centuries ago, believing that native peoples in the third world were living a wonderful happy life of peace and selfless comfort.  That civilization and ideology was what brought evil into the world, and if we could just go back to a time of "savage" life at one with the world around us, all those evils would stop.
Its a position that has a certain charm, when you're too young to understand human nature and have no historical or anthropological comprehension of the brutality, pain, misery, war, and horror that these native peoples lived in, but it is appealing at a certain level.
So the left argues that we should take no hard position on anything.  They argue against everything that people bring up.  If you say Islam is wrong for female genital mutilation, they argue you're bigoted and need to understand their culture, and besides we forced them into it by our white oppression.  If you argue for voter ID, they cry oppression, bigotry, and disenfranchisement.
They want nobody to be for or against anything, because they view that as the source of all horror in the world.
Now there aren't many people who actually and consciously hold to this with deliberate calculation.  Some do - many in the White House right now and in academia - but few on the street.  They've not thought it through to any real degree, they just are holding to positions based on emotion and mostly cheerleading: this is what my side says is right and the other side says is wrong.  My side good, your side bad, who cares why or what it means.
And naturally, no one is consistent in their beliefs, we all are confused and inconsistent to some degree.  But in general, this does describe the exact philosophy - the worldview - that the left follows, if only at an academic level of understanding.
Now, look at what President Obama faces here when he has to make a decision, as he does all day long in his job.  Making a hard statement or decision on any topic violates this basic principle, it is in direct contradiction to his worldview.  Equivocate, nuance, multiculturalize, that's his home and natural thought pattern.  Taking a stance, that's alien to him.  He votes present not out of sloth or inability, but natural inclination: it avoids violating the "Imagine" school of thought.
The rest of the world see this behavior and does not see heroic rising above the usual politics and theater of the presidency, but incompetence, weakness, and inability to do his job.  Which, in fact, it is.  This is why folks like me opposed this man in the presidency, he's not capable of doing it, he's hapless and incompetent.  Its not that he can't learn - the man seems bright enough - but that learning would violate his basic comprehension of the world and inclination.  He doesn't want to change, because he thinks it would be wrong to change.
And the New York Times packs its articles with people who praise and laud this behavior as being smarter and more understanding of the true nature of the world - because it agrees with their worldview.  So we have the leader of the free world unable to lead at a basic, foundational level because he believes leadership is wrong.
And he cannot build any sort of coalition not because he is incapable of being persuasive or making a case, but because he believes he should not make a case.  Some might think that this is out of a fear of being thought wrong or making mistakes, but that's not the origin of his paralysis at all.
Yet as Mark Steyn notes the end result is the same:
The Obama Doctrine - "Don't do stupid sh*t" - has been rendered in non-PG version as "Don't do stupid stuff". But it should be more pithily streamlined yet: Don't do. The Obama "Doctrine" attempts to dignify inertia as strategy. As Noemie Emery writes:
It implies in effect that wisdom is measured in negative energy, that by declining to act one can stay out of trouble, that passivity is the key to a guilt-free existence and a serene and an untroubled world.

Never use force, don't threaten force, and no one will blame you for anything. Pull out of wars and your foes will stop fighting. Don't send men to war and your hands will be clean
When he does take action, such as in Lybia, its not for any particular or specific plan or set of achievable goals, it is to motivate and organize, not achieve.
So if you wondered what on earth was going on with the White House, why this keeps happening, and what on earth the president is thinking, here's your answer.  He's thinking we can't go all inquisition here, we have to be cautious and thoughtful.  He's thinking he can't be a leader, because leaders have fewer options and are taking too strong a position.
And meanwhile, the world burns.

Friday, September 12, 2014

THE CLUNKIEST POST EVER

"Pay cash to destroy valuable assets? Only the government would think this was a good idea."

On July 1, 2009, the Obama administration put into action a bill the Democrat-controlled congress passed called The Car Allowance Rebate System (get it? CARS) or "Cash for Clunkers."  The concept behind this legislation was to get low-efficiency older cars off the road and thus fight climate change while stimulating the economy by increasing car sales.  The US government offered $4500 for any old car turned in, for the use of purchasing a new one.
At first, it seemed great.  A friend who works in car sales said they were selling like gangbusters, moving cars off the lot like crazy.  Then the problems started to set in.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required dealers to take the used cars in and pay a minimum amount for them, regardless of value or quality.  Then they could apply for the cost to be reimbursed to them from the NHTSA, who took the cars and destroyed them so they couldn't be repaired or used again.  A billion dollars was printed out by the federal reserve and used for this purpose.
Except it took weeks, even months to get the money back for the cars from the government.  Yes, it was their website and administration of the program that was causing the problems.  Sound familiar?  It was a bit of a foretaste of what the Obamacare debacle was going to be like. 
Some lots started to pull out of the program completely because it was too expensive for them to participate and the system too sluggish and poorly run, but the program was amazingly popular with car owners.  Congress soon passed another bill, this time 2 billion dollars worth, to extend the Cash for Clunkers program.  So the fifteen trillion dollar debt was increased by 3 billion for this program alone.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration was reluctant to release information on how well the program was going in terms of reducing pollution, stimulating the economy, and administering the money.  When the numbers were finally released, it turned out the big spike of car sales wasn't as big as initially believed.  In fact the extension was not working out well at all.
And a recent report noted that overall, the revenue for car lots has decreased due to the Cash for Clunkers program, not gone up.  How can this be?
Well for starters, after an initial increase for August, the sales dropped off.  And in fact now used car sales are significantly depressed.  The reason is because of the increased cost for used cars, now rarer and most of the cheap knockers have been destroyed, leaving used car prices at all time high.  In other words, if Joe Poor Guy wants to buy a car, he can afford it even less.
And people are clinging to their current automobiles even more than ever before.  The average age of cars on the road continues to rise as people keep their cars due to economy and the expense of replacing them.  So lots are selling even fewer cars.
Meanwhile the destruction of these old cars has also hurt charities that help the poor by stripping them of potential used cars to sell.  And that $4500 rebate for your junker?  The IRS taxed it.  So the poor were nailed even harder.  So the very people who need the most help and are in the worst trouble yet again are the hardest hit by a well-meaning leftist scheme.
As for the attempt to help the ecology?  Most of the cars purchased in the program were low-mileage vehicles.  To make matters worse, another benefit supposed to come about from the CARS program was increased sales of domestic vehicles (particularly GM), but only 2 were GM cars and most from foreign auto makers.
To sum up, the entire program was a humiliating disaster, like just about every single thing this administration has attempted.  But the voters, we're told, rewarded President Obama with another try.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TORA TORA 9-11

You wanted confirmation, Captain? Take a look! There's your confirmation!

I watched Tora!  Tora!  Tora!  recently.  That movie is supposed to be the most historically accurate and truthful ever made about the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was an entertaining and informative movie packed with good performances and some of the most spectacular plane crashes and stunts on an airfield I've ever seen.
And at the same time, the sequence of events that led up to the Japanese attack were almost inconceivable.  The level of incompetence, stupidity, bad luck, mistake-making, and almost deliberate failure to let the Japanese attack be so successful defies imagination.  This was one of those legendary sequences where truth is stranger than fiction.
When the radar crew (which stayed longer than their night shift required) spotted the incoming Japanese planes, they were mistaken for B-17s being delivered to the airbase and the radar station was told "yeah?  Well don't worry about it."
When intelligence services using cracked Japanese codes figured that an attack was imminent, they were unable to radio Hawaii about it because the atmospheric conditions were bad.  So they sent a telegram, which was shelved for eventual delivery because it wasn't marked "urgent."
On and on it went, delays, mistakes, confusion, circumstances, almost a perfect set of events that if you read about them in a book you'd complain was too contrived and unbelievable.  That would never happen! you'd cry and close the book in disgust.
But that's what really happened.
And when there was a congressional examination of the events to discover what went wrong, it was done after the war and while blame was assessed, the ones ultimately held responsible were, wait for this... the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor.  They recognized failure and incompetence but blamed the people who actually did the act.
Now, fast forward about 60 years and consider a new attack on US soil that killed thousands and demolished millions of dollars of materials.  This new attack was at an economic target instead of a military one, and it actually killed significantly more people (2,403 died in Pearl Harbor, while 3,996 died from 9/11).
When the terrorist attack on September 11th 2001 took place, the accusations and infighting began almost instantly.  President Bush was questioned by the press and the left (but I repeat myself) in America.  The US was blamed for being so mean to Arabs that they were compelled to murder thousands of civilians.
A commission was hastily set up by congress and Democrats used it to try to find fault with the administration and attack it, spending as little time as possible to focus on who were the actual perpetrators and as much time as possible on what would cause Republicans political harm.
The difference between these events is about as stark as possible.  9/11 was far less predictable and there was no catastrophic series of mistakes and confusion, it was very straight forward and extremely difficult to stop.  The Muslim terrorists that were responsible were apologized for, and the Bush administration even began to be blamed for deliberately letting or making it happen.
It was so sad to watch, how far politics had gotten in America by that point, and its only gotten more exaggerated as time has gone on.  I'd like to believe, had the parties been reversed, that Republicans would have behaved better, but I'm highly skeptical.  Its become so important to have power and that position to control so many trillions of dollars that there seems to be no honor or perspective whatsoever.
And that means we've lost a critical part of the soul of our nation.