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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.

Monday, September 08, 2014

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Serial Monsters

"They think African Americans are off killing each other. I don't mean to be brutal here, and it's gonna come off harsh...but the media doesn't see blacks as being smart enough to be serial killers."

Criminal Minds is on Netflix, and I've been watching more TV than usual again lately, as I've been kind of worn down.  So I watched the first season and most of the second last week, interspersed with some other more cheerful television.
Its interesting to watch because the mystery and the processes are intriguing enough, but as usual there are some basic flaws; I can usually figure out the mystery before the FBI super profilers do, and they violate some basic annoying rules of crime TV (particularly with cell phones and computers, although they're better than most shows on computers at least).
And since its TV, the profilers are first through the door to capture the bad guy, rather than cops or actual field agents.  But the most significant thing (aside from the usual 'more bizarre incomprehensible serial criminals than exist in a decade per season' episodes) is the way the cases are presented.  Each year there's been exactly one female villain, and all of them, as in every single last one is white.  Every one.
They mention the DC Sniper regularly in the first year, but never note that he was black (or a Muslim, for that matter).  All monsters, killers, rapists, kidnappers and assorted awful people on the show are white as driven snow.
Meanwhile there's another show on television called The First 48.  This is not the Nolte/Murphy movie, its a sort of documentary of real life police cases following the investigation of criminal cases.  First showing in 2004 on A&E, it shows a continuous documentary of a case, usually the first 2 days, but the format has relaxed over the years.
Unlike Criminal Minds, the show The First 48 is real life.  These are real cases, with real cops, doing real investigation of real criminals doing real crimes.  And there's another major difference.  The Weapons Man notes many significant points shown on that program from real life:
  • Murderers are career criminals, usually. 
  • Criminals are generally pretty stupid people.
  • Most victims don’t die for anything big.
  • There’s usually a lot of emotion involved in a murder. The exceptions are the robberies.
  • If some armed robbers never kill any of their victims, that’s strictly accidental.
  • Victims’ lives often parallel their murderers’, closely. For example, those shot by dope peddlers are usually fellow dope peddlers.
  • The younger the criminal, the more self-centered and depraved he or she tends to be.
  • The entitlement culture is often co-morbid in these young robbers. Sometimes a victim is a “striver,” trying to get ahead by honest means; the murderer never is.
  • Murder is a crime of bad neighborhoods.
  • None of the murderers have ever been productive human beings.
  • Most of the criminals are minorities, by a large margin.
  • No murder ever on that show yet was committed with a Legally-purchased firearm.  Not one.
The stark difference between the murderers on shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order and real life stuff like The First 38 and Cops is pretty stark.  Its not that there aren't any white serial killers, its that most killers aren't white - and the black ones who kill lots of people aren't declared "serial killers" but just murderers who happened to kill several people.
White people tend to commit different kinds of crime, often those which do not carry the same kind of sentence.  Fraud, tax evasion, and other white collar stuff is more typical for white criminals, and those carry fines and other sorts of penalties than murder, rape, drug dealing, etc.  Yes, its true, the justice system is designed to treat rape as worse than insufficient tax payments.  Shocking, but true.
At the same time, most the people who do really sinister, awful things like Ted Bundy or the Green River Killer were white guys.  The ones who do lunatic monstrous things for horrific reasons, the ones who build thrones out of the bones of infants they kill and store body parts in freezers are usually white men.
Women are less often bent in such an evil way; the ones that are typically are hands-off and manipulative; they drive others, weaker people into carrying out these evil acts.  Its not that there never have been any awful female serial monsters (there are more than you would think) or that there are no minorities (again, more than you've been led to believe) but the greater majority are white males.
However, this majority is not disproportionate.  In fact, Ann Todd at the FBI said:
"From the FBI's perspective, there has never been a generic profile of a serial killer and no set of characteristics that someone can  'look out for,' '' she said. "Further, serial killers span all racial groups. There are white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian serial killers. The racial diversification of serial killers generally mirrors that of the overall U.S. population.''
In other words: serial killers are pretty much proportionate to the population.  So out of 100 of them, about 72% are white (of which around 17% are hispanic), about 13% are black, 5% are asian, and about 5% are native American.  So yeah, most of the killers are going to be white because the bulk of the population is still (despite what you might have read in the news or see in entertainment media) white in America.  
85% of serial killers are male, and there has been only one known serial sexual predator on record (Aileen Wuornos, who was then turned into a film star) and she used prostitution to lure in and kill victims.  However, there have been many examples of women who have killed many people such as Miyuki Ishikawa, a Japanese midwife who is believed to have killed at least 100 infants during the 1940s, who are not usually considered serial killers.
So why is the perception that these monsters are always white dudes and the overwhelming presentation of white guys as serial monsters on shows like Criminal Minds?  In the real Behavior Science Unit at the FBI (which Criminal Minds fictionalizes), Dr Louis Schlesinger notes:
"That is a total, total myth that there are no black serial killers. "There have been black serial killers for many, many years, but they haven't been publicized. The media simply chooses not to focus on them.''
And there you have it.  The thing is, media tends to focus on the spectacular and the unusual.  When some gang banger kills 33 people for the 5th Street Bangaz over 6 years, he's not treated as a celebrity serial killer, he's just some gangster.  But when John Wayne Gacy kills 33 people over six years, he's creepy and interesting.  The Unabomber was attacking public figures and news organizations, and EZ Wayne is killing poor people and other gangsters, who cares?  Or at least the press thinks that way.
There are exceptions of course.  The "Night Stalker" in California was a media sensation, and he turned out to be hispanic.  But the fame occurs before the reveal; like the DC Sniper, who we were assured by FBI profilers had to be a white guy, probably a gun nut.  Not a pair of black Muslims.
And, of course, there's the PC need to not make minorities look bad, out of sympathy for what is considered an oppressed other, and out of the fear of seeming racist.  So its easy and safe to attack white guys, not so much to attack a black woman.
Schlesinger also notes that serial monsters are not especially brilliant, despite their presentation in the media.  They have a normal distribution of intelligence compared to the general population - some being quite stupid, some being very bright, most average.  So again the "super genius serial monster" portrayed again and again on TV is a silly myth.
And, from what I've heard and read from real cops, the random lunatic is much harder to nail than the smart planner.  If you have nothing to go on, if the crimes are sudden and without reason or pattern, they're significantly more difficult to solve than the carefully plotted ones.
The difference between what we're given in media entertainment and what actually takes place in the world is pretty significant.  And its worth considering when you watch your favorite show; how close to reality are they? What are they (deliberately?) changing or avoiding saying and why?  Watch how often the guns used for crimes are owned by people or bought legally.  Watch how many are white guys.  Watch how often the "burglars don't kill" myth is propagated, or the "genius killer" one is offered up.
Because that's not done by mistake or accident.  They're doing this stuff on purpose, and that leaks into our minds and presumptions of the world.
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.