bookbanner
CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, March 31, 2008

BASEBALL HAS BEEN VERY GOOD TO ME

Today is our annual Baseball Opening Season Party, so I don't have time to get as much posted as I'd like this morning. Baseball officially opened its season in Japan last week, but the real opener was Sunday, the earliest in history: March??

Go watch a game, there are a lot on today. I may have time to post more later today.

STOP PROFIT

"Hollywood will never get it. The average American doesn’t think like they do."

Oliver Stone is working on a movie about President Bush, which I know nothing about beyond the concept and casting, but based on his politics and Hollywood's recent track record of politically-charged movies is sure to be closer to Fahrenheit 9/11 than Young Mr Lincoln. These kind of movies haven't done well at the box office, the latest "hate on the president, the war is evil" movie tanked in its opening weekend.

The movie was called Stop-Loss and it came in eighth over the weekend, making only $4.5 million total in 1291 theaters (just over $3500 per theater). While this beats Redacted's ghastly $728,782 worldwide earnings over five months. Stop-Loss cost an estimated $25 million to make and it was hoped to to better, since it got good reviews (something the other anti-war offerings from Hollywood such as Lions for Lambs did not). The studio execs miss the entire reason for this, as this quote from Nikki Finke's Deadline Hollywood shows:
"No one wants to see Iraq war movies. No matter what we put out there in terms of great cast or trailers, people were completely turned off. It's a function of the marketplace not being ready to address this conflict in a dramatic way because the war itself is something that's unresolved yet. It's a shame because it's a good movie that's just ahead of its time."
The problem here is that they haven't put out a variety of movies. They've put out the same kind of movie over and over again, and each time the public says "no thanks" and stays home. "No matter what we put out there?" Try putting out a movie that shows the soldiers as good guys doing good work to stop the terrorists, fight the death squads, crush a brutal dictator, help the Iraqi people, and you'd see different results. Granted that's an inconceivable movie that would take a level of courage and conviction that a movie studio cannot even begin to comprehend, but that's what it would take.

Here's the rundown on the movies that Hollywood has offered on Iraq so far, plus the Islamic propaganda movie Valley of the Wolves (teaser - are they making big money overseas to justify these productions?):






NAME OF
MOVIE
DOMESTIC
EARNINGS
WORLDWIDE
EARNINGS
PRODUCTION
COST
Rendition$9736035$24,738,714unknown
Redacted$65,388$728,782$5,000,000
In The Valley
of Elah
$6,777,741$25,722,775unknown
Lions for Lambs$15,000,115$42,036,902$35,000,000
Valley of the
Wolves
n/a$23,465,471unknown

What do all these movies have in common? Anti-American, Anti-war, Anti-President Bush films that did lousy at home. Compare this to a movie like Transformers which made $319,246,193 at home and $388,429,551 elsewhere for a grand total of $707,675,744 in ticket sales alone. Sure, it took $150 million to make, but it doubled that in the US alone. Transformers is a movie that avoided politics, focused on fun, and even portrayed the military in a positive light. Note: the production costs of most of these movies is hard to find; they are keeping them under wraps, probably to avoid revealing the extent of their losses. Most movie cost $20 million or so to make.

The thing is, look over those numbers. The conventional wisdom is "well they are selling to a broader market these days, they are looking to make money overseas where people hate America." The thing is, despite the rhetoric and the loud politicians in cities, people overseas don't particularly hate America. They are mislead by an incredibly one-sided version of events, but they don't think America is evil unless they're in a nation like Iran or China (and I suspect most people there don't really believe the party line either). And look at those numbers closely: how well are these movies really doing? They are barely making money based on the limited information we have on production costs, when compared to movies that do well domestically they are in terrible shape. Here's the top grossing movies of 2007, domestically and foreign:










NAME OF
MOVIE
DOMESTIC
EARNINGS
WORLDWIDE
EARNINGS
PRODUCTION
COST
Spider-Man 3$336,530,303
$554,341,323$258,000,000
Shrek the Third$322,719,944$476,237,137$160,000,000
Transformers$319,246,193$388,429,551$150,000,000
Pirates of the
Caribbean 3
$309,420,425$651,576,067$300,000,000
Harry Potter
$292,004,738$646,464,126$150,000,000
I Am Legend$256,279,068
$327,300,000
$150,000,000
The Bourne Ultimatum$227,471,070$215,440,502$110,000,000
National Treasure 2$217,684,901$230,464,175unknown
Alvin and the
Chipmunks
216,050,880$138,859,644$70,000,000
Ratatouille$206,445,654$414,951,223$150,000,000

By the way, what do all these movies have in common? They are fun romps, entertainment that gives the viewer a chance to ignore their troubles and enjoy a night out with popcorn. None of them are political in any way. As you can see, they all did huge worldwide box office just like in the US (the ones that didn't do significantly more were I Am Legend, which apparently didn't capture the attention of audiences outside the US as much as other films and Alvin and the Chipmunks they were largely disinterested - much as myself).

On average, movies tend to make about 60% of their total profits outside the US, regardless of the content. However, movies that do well in the US also tend to do well worldwide as can be seen above. Yes, these anti-war films do better outside the United States, but not any better than other movies relatively speaking: they get about the same percentage bump, but do poorly overseas as well. In other words: they aren't making up the difference in the out of US market, they're not even making enough money to pay for the film in the case of Redacted.

I'm not sure these guys are even aware that they can make a movie that portrays the troops in a positive light, I suspect they only see bad when they think of Iraq, and are trying to show "what it's really like" because that's all they know. It's easy to isolate yourself in a community of like-minded people when you go to the same parties, read the same magazines, watch the same shows, and wrap yourself in a bubble of information and viewpoint. And even if they did know, I suspect they are disinclined to make such a movie because they know the power of patriotism and what a popular, stirring, and positive movie would do to the viewpoint of Americans about the war on terror.

For five years there's been a steady, almost perfectly consistent drumbeat of misery, failure, incompetence, and doom about Iraq; letting that slip even a little could damage years of effort. So the drumbeat continues, even to the detriment of their very business. That's OK they can always blame pirating.

Maybe it's time for a spoof movie like Superhero Movie, mocking the themes and ideas of each of these: Anti-War Movie. That would require a sense of humor and self mockery, and I think the studio types are too self important to even consider such a thing.

*Tip of the hat to Ace of Spades HQ for the Stop Loss story.

Numbers and data here are taken from Box Office Mojo and IMDB.
[technorati icon]

REAL MEN COOK VI

pepperoncini
I like to experiment when I cook, based on combinations of ingredients and flavors I've used in the past. Cooking shows such as Good Eats help this process a great deal because they involve the science behind why things are done a certain way in a culinarian sense. Recently I took a beef kielbasa and laid it on a bed of turnip greens then dumped red wine vinegar and orange juice (one orange worth) on it trying to make a sweet and sour effect. It cooked for an hour and smelled awful but by the end it really did taste terrific. Sometimes it doesn't turn out so well.

One recipe that came from this monkeying around was when we were getting a bit low on ingredients, so I threw together what I could find. I don't have measurements (I rarely bother to measure ingredients) so these are estimates:

CARIBBEAN LIME CHICKEN
1 split chicken breast, boneless (or de-boned) and skinless
1 lime
half cup of rum
cup of slice pepperoncini peppers
cup of water
quarter stick of margarine

Trim fat off the chicken and cut it into cubes about an inch across.
Melt the quarter stick of margarine in a pan at medium high heat in a skillet
Slice the lime into thin slices, dump the lines and their juice into the skillet
Add the chicken, rum, and pepperoncini to the limes and margarine
The mix should cook at medium high until the chicken is done, leave it untouched until the chicken blackens slightly (the limes and pepperoncini will too, that's ok).

Serves two.

This serves well over rice, but it might work on noodles as well. The rum will boil away any alcohol if you're worried about serving hard liquor to your kids; it has a unique flavor that works well with the lime. Serve and eat hot, it doesn't store well and tastes pretty weak when it's cooled.

This is part of the Real Men Cook series.

Quote of the Day

"No developed country approaches American giving. For example, in 1995, Americans gave, per capita, three and a half times as much to causes and charities as the French, seven times as much as the Germans, and 14 times as much as the Italians. Similarly, in 1998, Americans were 15 percent more likely to volunteer their time than the Dutch, 21 percent more likely than the Swiss, and 32 percent more likely than the Germans. These differences are not attributable to demographic characteristics such as education, income, age, sex, or marital status"
-Arthur C. Brooks
[technorati icon]

Friday, March 28, 2008

BAD SCIENCE BLUES

"Not only are they abusing the judicial system, but they are emotionally abusing the women."

Anyone here remember Alar? It was an additive sprayed on apples to regulate their growth, make them easier to harvest, and to enhance their color. The activist group National Resources Defense Council put out a report that a byproduct was showing up in applesauce apple juice, and was dangerous. 60 Minutes did a special report, highlighting the study that showed if you force fed rats absurd amounts of straight Alar, they developed cancer. Your child is eating cancer with applesauce!

The government pointed out that only 5% of the Apple crop had actually been treated with Alar in the previous year, and scientists noted that to get the mount of the Alar that these rats were exposed to a human would have to eat a boxcar full of apples each day. The lab tests that prompted the scare required an amount of Alar equal to over 5,000 gallons of apple juice per day. I suspect that any chemical taken in that grotesque a quantity would cause cancer. Alar is still legal, because it wasn't demonstrated to be rationally dangerous, but apple growers, fearing public outcry or loss of sales stopped using it. By the early 1990s, the grocery store I worked at had a sign in the back it had recently retired that said Alar-Free Apples. In the end, the outcries and bad science won the day.

I'm opposed to breast implants no matter how nice they might make women feel: this is frivolous and wasteful, vain surgery that is risky (all surgery has risk) and hugely expensive for no good purpose. There are only some cases (reconstructive surgery, for example) where there's any ration basis for such a procedure. However, there was another such scam of bad science involved in this industry. Since 1992, most uses of silicone breast implants have been banned by the FDA. A class action lawsuit that made lawyers enormously rich was won against the makers of these implants. They caused lupus, they caused rheumatoid arthritis, they broke all the time and leaked they are abusing women as the tag line says at the top.

The problem was that there was no indication of harm caused by these implants. Studies showed that there was no higher incident of immune deficiency or cancer among women with these breast implants than with saline implants or no implants. Some of these studies came out during the class action lawsuit against Dow Corning, the main manufacturer of the implants, but the jury and lawyers ignored it; there was money to be had and a big business to stick it to. Until 2006 the effective ban was still in place, and trial lawyers die their best to maintain it; the alternative is to effectively admit publicly that it was a huge scam to get money out of business (and open themselves up to a countersuit). Yet the Bush administration finally reversed the 14 year old decision.

Silicone is hardly harmful to human beings, As Michael Fumento at Reason Magazine points out:
Annually, some 1.5 million patients receive silicone eye lenses; another 670,000 get artificial silicone joints. All told, about 7.5 million medical devices are implanted in Americans each year. Many of these devices such as pacemakers, heart valves, and shunts which draw fluid off the brain are life savers.
I've written not long ago about the false fears that inoculations cause and the foolish parents who are avoiding protecting their children. In the process they get a free ride from all the parents who do immunize their children, benefiting from the lack of carriers and sick kids. How many have died from this? In England, diseases such as mumps and measles are on the rise, and officials there fear epidemic.

Over at Cracked Magazine, they have a list of the most over-hyped and fake health scares of all time. Number 1 is DDT, the mosquito killer that would have saved hundreds of millions of human lives; malaria is the number one medical cause of death worldwide because of Rachel Carson and the DDT scare. She has a lot to answer to, as do the people who backed her without bothering to consult the science.

Their other choices?
  • Three Mile Island, which killed fewer people than riding with Ted Kennedy (their example is killer robots).
  • Sugar Substitutes (Cyclamates) which they note have killed fewer people than moose attacks.
  • Killer cranberries (I kid you not), which have killed fewer people than, as they note, flying with Buddy Holly.
  • And the fourth is Asbestos in public schools, which was used as fireproof insulation and cost billions to remove. Fewer people died from hot air balloon accidents than from this stuff, it wasn't even the particularly dangerous kind of asbestos (oddly enough, they chose the safest kind for schools).
Go read the whole article, they use some profanity (be warned) but it is a pretty fun read and has great illustrations.

Between this kind of nonsense and the global warming hysteria, it's getting very hard to trust or believe anything scientists say. Add that to the move toward post modernist scientist where the narrative matters more than the facts and there's good reason for healthy skepticism.

One of the things that watching the press cover President Bush and repeat absurd lies like the plastic turkey myth and the "President Bush said Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11" myth has made me extraordinarily skeptical of the things I've taken for granted in the past, and we all joke about. The problem is, as I've said before: the lie is fast and easy to remember and repeat, the truth is boring and unwelcome and long to explain. When the truth suffers, we all suffer.

Other related articles at WATN:
The Ethanol Scam
The Green Scare
Hemp Dreams
[technorati icon]

OF CASH AND CAMERAS

"Two groups likely to embrace traffic cameras, however, are lawyers and political consultants"

Traffic Light Sculpture
Last year I wrote about speeding cameras and how Mythbusters showed that an ordinary car cannot defeat them. True, Top Gear showed that with a supercar and a long stretch of straight road you can do it at around 180 miles per hour, but that's not something most people are going to have available to them. These cameras photograph license plates and drivers and capture their speed on radar, then mail a ticket off. There's some concern about this in terms of dubious accuracy (radar guns aren't 100% accurate, someone else could be driving your car and the driver isn't always easy to see, etc), but what has more people concerned is the Red Light Camera.

This is a system by which a camera is set up on a traffic light, and if a driver crosses the stop line when there's a red light, their car gets a ticket. Again, this might mean Bob borrowing your car just got you a ticket, but there are other concerns. Ostensibly this is about safety and controlling traffic flow. For most people, conscience and moral compunction does not compel them to stop at a red light; being caught or running into other cars does. This increases the chances you'll be caught, thus theoretically increasing traffic safety.

According to Glenn Reynolds (yes, that one, the Instapundit) writing at Popular Mechanics, the first red light cameras were installed in the 1960s, and in the 90's they went digital. Companies such as RedFlex install and maintain the cameras, keeping 85% of the first $4,500 per camera per month, then splitting revenues 50-50 from that point on with the city.

There are some indications, however, that safety isn't exactly the primary reason for cities installing these lights:
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in Albuquerque pictures of traffic violators are worth $10 million, according to an audit which renews the debate over excessive fines.

According to an internal audit of the red light camera program from July of 2005 until July of 2007, the program generated more than $10 million, the city paid about $4.8 million in expenses leaving the city $5.8 million in excess funds.
Most cities putting these up mark a significant profit, bringing in millions of dollars in fines, even after splitting the revenue with the companies that run them (RedFlex is doing well by these numbers). Further, some cities have turned off some cameras because they aren't making enough money:
Dallas has turned off about 15 red-light cameras used to monitor busy intersections. The city said the cameras are failing to generate enough red-light-running fines to justify their costs.

Dallas lawmakers originally estimated a gross yearly revenue of about $15 million for the system. The city is about $4 million below that estimate.
That's still $11 million in revenues, but apparently its not enough. In order to squeeze more revenue out of these cameras, some cities have been shortening the length of time that the yellow caution light is on:
On Thursday, the Lubbock, Texas city council voted to delay installation of red light cameras after a local television station exposed the city's short timing of yellow lights at eight of the twelve intersections where the devices were to be installed.

"Many folks believe this is a money grab and then we found out through KCBD Television there's a discrepancy in timing," Councilman Gary Boren said, as quoted by KCBD.
The National Motorist association has a list of at least six cities that are guilty of this little trick; even on lights without cameras. You can't really blame the camera companies for this, the lights are all controlled and timed by the city engineers. They're just trying to catch people, not for inattention but for not being ready for the unusually short lights.

The lights may not even help increase safety. What happens when you reach an intersection with a red light camera and are paranoid about being caught? You slam on the brakes to make sure the super-fast yellow lights don't change on you (again from Popular Mechanics):

A study of red-light cameras in Washington, D.C., by The Washington Post found that despite producing more than 500,000 tickets (and generating over $32 million in revenues), red-light cameras didn't reduce injuries or collisions. In fact, the number of accidents increased at the camera-equipped intersections.

Likewise, red-light cameras in Portland, Ore., produced a 140 percent increase in rear-end collisions at monitored intersections, and a study by the Virginia Transportation Research Council found that although red-light cameras decreased collisions resulting from people running traffic lights, they significantly increased accidents overall.

The big question is whether or not we want cameras monitoring our every move. This kind of thing is usually depicted as one of the signs of crushing tyranny (from the cameras in TVs to make sure you watched Big Brother in 1984 to the street corner cameras in the original graphic novel of V for Vendetta to the eye-scanning cameras in Minority Report). England already has a network that started with speeding cameras, now the British Government has 35 million licence-plate "reads" per day through thousands of cameras across the nation. Big Brother is watching.

The technology is there to make this feasible, but is it right? Is this proper for government? Is this the just and free America that we all love, and do we really want this to spread?

This is ultimately a perfect example of the problem with modern ethics. Because we've systematically demolished every structure and basis for doing right or knowing what is good in society now people have no internal reason to do so. We have no compulsion or reason to do right, so the government has to step in and make sure you pay for doing what, temporarily at least, has been deemed wrong. In the absence of personal moral inclination, external force is required.

Because people are losing their sense of social duty and moral responsibility, because they do not believe they are accountable to someone greater than themselves nor that they ought to obey a certain objective ethical code, they have to be restrained by force from doing wrong. And as we can see and will see with increasing frequency, in such a culture economic fears prompt increased calls for greater government regulation; the worse things get, the more people will call on big government to fix everything, regardless of what they lose in the process.

Now is a good time for a quote from Demolition Man, which is where this kind of thing is heading:

"Smoking is not good for you.
Anything not good for you is bad.
Hence, illegal."
-Lenina Huxley

*big tip of the hat to Instapundit for various links used here.[technorati icon]

BIG GOD-ISM

"the reconciliation of persons through justice
and communities living in righteousness,
and the articulation of meaning."
-The United Church of Canada

Q. What do you call a Christian Church that doesn't want to mention or praise God?

A. Not Christian.

Toronto's West Hill United Church has a female pastor named Gretta Vosper, and she's had it with Jesus being loved so much. This Easter, the church replaced the words "Jesus Christ" with "Glorious Hope" in one of their hymns. Why? The Globe and Mail has the story:
There is no authoritative Big-Godism, as Rev. Gretta Vosper, West Hill's minister for the past 10 years, puts it. No petitionary prayers (“Dear God, step into the world and do good things about global warming and the poor”). No miracles-performing magic Jesus given birth by a virgin and coming back to life. No references to salvation, Christianity's teaching of the final victory over death through belief in Jesus's death as an atonement for sin and the omnipotent love of God. For that matter, no omnipotent God, or god.

Ms. Vosper has written a book, published this week – With or Without God: Why the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe – in which she argues that the Christian church, in the form in which it exists today, has outlived its viability and either it sheds its no-longer credible myths, doctrines and dogmas, or it's toast.
Christianity, she argues, is not keeping up with the times and needs to change to match today so it can regain its relevance. How do we do this? By ignoring religion and focusing on self help and social activism.
She wants salvation redefined to mean new life through removing the causes of suffering in the world. She wants the church to define resurrection as “starting over,” “new chances.” She wants an end to the image of God as an intervening all-powerful authority who must be appeased to avoid divine wrath; rather she would have congregations work together as communities to define God – or god – according to their own worked-out definitions of what is holy and sacred. She wants the eucharist – the symbolic eating and drinking of Jesus's body and blood to make the congregation part of Jesus's body – to be instead a symbolic experience of community love.
Does she believe in God? Not so much.
“I can find myself in there [the statements of faith] but there's whole parts of it where I go, ‘Oh my goodness, this is terrible.' If someone says to me, ‘Do you believe in God?' I can come up with an answer that would satisfy the courts of the United Church. But would it reflect what's stated in their statement of faith? I don't think so. But it wouldn't be very far from what my colleague down the street, and what his colleague down the street from him, would say. That's the problem.”
The church is already pretty radical (any church with a female pastor has danced off the edge of orthodoxy to begin with). For example, here's what they say about the Bible:
The Bible is central to The United Church of Canada. As a source of wisdom, personal prayer, and devotion, we believe the Bible can bring us closer to God. It remains one of our best ways of experiencing God's continuing work of creation and liberation in the world, while offering us forgiveness, healing, and new life in Jesus.
Dude, it's like a really cool book that's all spiritual and stuff. One among many. But it does mention God and Jesus, and I can see where she'd have problems with that. And it suggests that we actually need forgiveness, and that's clearly a problem for this woman as well.

The new statement of faith completed in 2000 is in the form of a song, because those old statements were too statementy, man.

in love,
the one eternal God seeks relationship.
So God creates the universe
and with it the possibility of being and relating.
God tends the universe,
mending the broken and reconciling the estranged.
God enlivens the universe,
guiding all things toward harmony with their Source.


God in this theology is lonely and wants us to be his friend, he reaches out but we turn away in sin, doing naughty things. Sin, of course, isn't what Christians usually believe, no, it's insufficient leftist orthodoxy:

the concentration of wealth and power
without regard for the needs of all;
the toxins of religious and ethnic bigotry;
the degradation of the blessedness of human bodies
and human passions through sexual exploitation;
the delusion of unchecked progress and limitless growth
that threatens our home, the earth;
the covert despair that lulls many into numb complicity
with empires and systems of domination.


Your sin is harshing my mellow, man. Jesus wasn't in charge, he was just a really nice guy, almost as good as Gandhi, but the man wouldn't stand for it:

Because his witness to love was threatening,
those exercising power sought to silence Jesus.
He suffered abandonment and betrayal,
state-sanctioned torture and execution.
He was crucified.


Love, of course, threatens us all. Many is the time I've seen and heard of someone healing and doing good being tortured to death by the powers that be. Nothing upsets a government like someone doing good deeds. Jesus' death "empowers us" to live in love in an uncertain way, and his resurrection (you know, if you believe that sort of thing) overcame death by making it so nothing can separate us from God's love. Before that? God's love had standards, you know. Couldn't cross a certain line.

This is pretty standard liberal theology in the Christian Church (rather than orthodox). It is what men like J. Gresham Madchen fought against his whole life and warned about repeatedly. It's what the mainstream Christian Church in the western world has embraced, to the point that it's not liberal theology any more, it's standard in most big denominations. Sermons in these churches aren't about sin and wrath and forgiveness, salvation and service in gratitude for sacrifice. They aren't about the doing and dying of Jesus put to our account in saving grace. They're about Christ as a really neat example and love and how to help yourself and feel better about your life, how to get along with your boss, how to heal your hurts.

The hymns are about how much we praise God and focus on ourselves, the prayers are brief, if even uttered, the sermons short and often replaced by skits or dialogs with famous people. Church isn't about a sinful people needing God's salvation. They're about a sick and hurt people needing God's example with this useful self-help book, therapeutic narcissism that's about you rather than God. The worship service is still there, it's just shifted the focus of worship.

This kind of Christianity has bled away churchgoers by the hundred thousand, people just don't care for it. Why go to church on Sunday if I can get it at home by reading this book, or just feeling better about myself? Why even worry about the trappings of religion if all you get out of it is the same thing Dr Fridman Soid offers on the couch already? If all you get is therapy, what's the point of bringing God into it?

The reason the church has waned in the west is because of this kind of theology, not from any lack of it. This is like hitting someone to stop the bleeding: you're the cause, sister, not the solution. Godless Christianity is pointless Christianity, it makes a religion out of social activism and makes self into God by being the final arbiter of right and wrong - or perhaps worse, the church leaders into gods by being the ones who determine and command action.

One of the more obnoxious and ignorant things people say is that they want to focus on the practical, not all that dead theology, or as this woman's book puts it: the Way We Live is More Important than What We Believe. So... is that a belief, that how you live is more important? And you're basing what you do on that belief?

The word "practical" is an old style construction of another familiar word. Pirates were said to be "piratical" when they sailed around stealing, killing, raping, and pillaging. Someone who was overly concerned about results and success was said to be "pragmatical." We don't see these words used much any more, but it's the sort of language that gave us the word practical: from practice. Being practical is practicing something rather than thinking about it.

And what do you practice? What you know, what you believe. You must have the belief before you can practice it, you must know and understand before you can act. Thus, it is an improper (at best) focus to demand that we push belief aside and just do. We cannot do without knowing first.

Dry knowledge and doctrine without action is worthless sophistry.
Action without knowledge and doctrine is random and foolish, and ultimately destructive.

You must have both, and both must be proper.

Godless Christianity is like a foodless dinner. The plates and silverware may be in wonderful order and of fine construction, the people may be dressed well, the music appropriate, the candles very pretty... but the entire point is the food. You cannot have Christianity without Christ. Trying to do so isn't innovative, it's what every other religion on earth has been doing for almost as long as humans have been around. It's old, failed, and pointless. It's self-defeating nonsense.
*Tip of the Chapeau to Hot Air Blog for this story
[technorati icon]

Quote of the Day

“Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man ‘the devil.’”
-Dr James Cone, Black Liberation Theologian
[technorati icon]

Thursday, March 27, 2008

THROWING FITNAS

Fitna the Movie
A few days ago I posted about Dutch filmmaker Geert Wilders' new movie about Islam. His ISP received complaints about the movie before it even had been put on the website and they suspended the account so that it couldn't be hosted. Well now its out for people to watch.

I haven't seen this film yet, I hope to find the time today to watch it, but the film Fitna is online finally, despite attempts to stop it. At least, for now.

*UPDATE: The Dutch government warned Wilders not to release the movie because of concerns it is "hate speech."

The Dutch government had warned Wilders the film could spark violent protests in Islamic countries, like those two years ago after the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.
"The film equates Islam with violence. We reject this," Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said in a televised reaction.

"We...regret that Mr. Wilders has released this film. We believe it serves no other purpose than to cause offense."
Meanwhile, in a Canadian-type move, a tribunal is examining whether or not Wilders is guilty of hate speech against Muslims by this film.
The film was released the evening before a Dutch judge was due to hear a petition of a Muslim group seeking an independent review of the film to see whether it violates hate speech laws.

The Dutch Islamic Federation was asking the court to impose a fine of €50,000 ($79,000) for every day the film is available to the public.
Stop him at all costs, can't have that freedom of speech when it annoys a Muslim, somewhere.

**UPDATE: The website showing Fitna has been shut down in response to threats, here is the statement:
Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, Liveleak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.

This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else. We would like to thank the thousands of people, from all backgrounds and religions, who gave us their support. They realised LiveLeak.com is a vehicle for many opinions and not just for the support of one.

Perhaps there is still hope that this situation may produce a discussion that could benefit and educate all of us as to how we can accept one anothers culture.

We stood for what we believe in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high.
Meanwhile, the torrents to download the movie are still out there, and courtesy commenters at Hot Air, here's a few sites you can go to that still have the movie up.

Alternate Torrent Site
Google Video's copy
Direct download of the 50 meg MP4 movie
My Pet Jawa has a copy up still
Flash version of the movie
Another MP4 version
Another Mirror

This is the internet, jokers. You can't silence it.

OUTSOURCING

"I am not only troubled that there may be serious security concerns with the new passport production system, but also that GPO officials may have been profiting from producing them"
-Rep. John D. Dingell (D-MI)

Getting a US passport can take a while, and while it's being processed, they take your birth certificate and keep it, returning it with the document. There's no local office where I live, so you have to send the documents to Seattle and wait a week or more. I don't have a passport, although I wouldn't mind having one just to say I did. It's a useful document and people from other nations, particularly Europe, find it odd that most Americans lack a passport.

The US Passport offices have been under some scrutiny lately as it was revealed that each one of the presidential candidates had their passport records examined. Whether this was politically motivated or simply someone looking over the information while bored at work is not clear. For one day a great deal of noise was made about it, then the story vanished as it was revealed all of the candidates had been explored, and that one of the people responsible worked for an Obama supporter.

However, out of that something new has come to light. Apparently, the Passport office has been skimming. There is such a huge demand for US passports that the government has been outsourcing to various other nations to help process the official documents:
Struggling with a deluge in passport applications, the State Department did what much of the government does to deal with a manpower crunch: It hired more private contractors.

But the practice of outsourcing allowed hired hands to snoop around in presidential candidates' files. And now it's pointing to questions about whether outside contractors should have access to such sensitive information about any citizen.

The nation has needed to use nongovernment workers as well as federal employees from its earliest days, Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, said this month in a congressional hearing that focused on military contracting.

But he asked, "Have we gone too far in recent years by perhaps relying too much on contractors?"

The government routinely relies on private firms to do sensitive work — from managing weapons systems to protecting traveling diplomats to helping maintain records that contain private information on U.S. citizens. The Bush administration in particular has embraced the practice of outsourcing as a way to save money and improve efficiency, particularly in Iraq where there are just as many defense contractors as there are service members.
Now, I'm with Representative Ortiz here: why is the US government letting other nations handle sensitive documents, even weapons production? Sometimes this is as bad as Israel supplying the palestinians with weaponry: what exactly is the thought process here, again? The office in Thailand doing this work has already been victimized by Chinese espionage, according to the Washington Post.

Yet the security concerns aren't the only problem. The Washington Post has a series on the US Passport office and how business is being done, in a real exercise of investigative journalism by Bill Gertz:
The Government Printing Office's decision to export the work has proved lucrative, allowing the agency to book more than $100 million in recent profits by charging the State Department more money for blank passports than it actually costs to make them, according to interviews with federal officials and documents obtained by The Times.

The profits have raised questions both inside the agency and in Congress because the law that created GPO as the federal government's official printer explicitly requires the agency to break even by charging only enough to recover its costs.

Lawmakers said they were alarmed by The Times' findings and plan to investigate why U.S. companies weren't used to produce the state-of-the-art passports, one of the crown jewels of American border security.
The Government Printing Office gets a budget. They use this budget to do their job, in this case part of the job being to print passports. Because the work load was getting so great, the GPO started to outsource its work to other nations, which was so cheap, their budget came in at 100 million in the black. Where does this profit go? Bill Gertz continues in part two of the series:
When the government's main printing agency booked $100 million in unexpected profit it went on a spending spree: large bonuses to top managers, trips to Paris and Las Vegas, and an official photo of the boss that cost $10,000.

The bonuses, some nearly as high as $13,000, and travel are raising questions among congressional investigators and Government Printing Office officials about whether the agency is misusing its newfound wealth and whether it received the proper authority for some of the larger compensation payments from the Office of Budget and Management.

Additionally, investigators are looking into whether Public Printer Robert C. Tapella paid close to $10,000 for photographs of himself for his office and during his swearing-in ceremony in November.
The 100 million is going in bonuses to the workers. This isn't new; every government agency gets a budgeted amount of money. If somehow part of that agency spend less than that amount, then they face the threat of their budget being cut next year: they didn't need as much, obviously. So they make work, hire people, and get the money spent. It's typical of government budgeting, the kind of thing a brutal audit would clear up and save taxpayers billions. Good luck getting that done.

I can only think of a scene in The Last Emperor in which the young emperor suspects corruption and demands an inventory of the royal treasury. The workers burn the treasury rather than have it revealed that for hundreds of years they've been stealing from the emperor.

I kick the legacy media in the teeth a lot here, and they deserve it and more, yet the press still does a good job at times. The Government Printing Office which is in charge of the passports, is said to be doing a top to bottom examination of their procedures and security, which can only be a good thing that might not have happened without these stories coming out.
[technorati icon]

BLACKWATER BLUES

"It’s new, it’s so bad they named it after the hated American mercenaries, because it kills the innocent just like they do."

Hard to say where the origin of this particular factoid is, but the IPS (Inter Press Service) should know better as an established press service. The story is about Malaria:
FEVER NAMED AFTER BLACKWATER

FALLUJAH, Mar 26 (IPS) - Iraqi doctors in al-Anbar province warn of a new disease they call “Blackwater” that threatens the lives of thousands. The disease is named after Blackwater Worldwide, the U.S. mercenary company operating in Iraq.

“This disease is a severe form of malarial infection caused by the parasite plasmodium falciparum, which is considered the worst type of malarial infection,” Dr. Ali Hakki from Fallujah told IPS. “It is one of the complications of that infection, and not the ordinary picture of the disease. Because of its frequent and severe complications, such as Blackwater fever, and its resistance to treatment, P. falciparum can cause death within 24 hours.”

What Iraqis now call Blackwater fever is really a well-known medical condition, and while it has nothing to do with Blackwater Worldwide, Iraqis in al-Anbar province have decided to make the connection between the disease and the lethal U.S.-based company which has been responsible for the death of countless Iraqis.(*)
Get that? Iraqis are calling it Blackwater Fever, which is named after the lethal US contracted company responsible for the death of "countless Iraqis." Now, this is written by a news agency, by two fellows named Ali al-Fadhily and Dahr Jamail, but it reads like a tract, it's blatant propaganda.

Blackwater Fever is a rather old name, dating back at least to the early 1920s. It is an old name for a severe form of malaria (falciparum malaria) because of what color urine turns in the victims. It is not new, it has been known around the world, and has been called this for decades at least.

Not that this stops some left leaning, anti-Iraqi freedom bloggers from falling for the story, nor their readers (here's a sampling):
The repukes will spin it this way: Blackwater Fever is a good thing - much like Disco Fever…
-by Vet


Winning over the hearts and minds of Iraqis on a daily basis , aren’t they ?
-by MCMetal


Diseasing them over there so we don’t disease them here.

Relating Blackwater to a Disease is very appropriate.

Bush/Cheney/Blackwater
Hague Trials ‘09
-by Buckie Boy
However, there was some integrity there, a few commenters tried to stop the foolishness and even asked for an update with a correction. Here's one story of Blackwater Fever from a commenter, trying to point out the facts in the case:
my friend grew up in South Africa and if memory serves, in South Africa in the 19th century “Blackwater Fever” was the name for malaria. His uncle survived “blackwater fever” because the Zulu people took him in. People who caught blackwater fever had but one potential remedy. the Zulu people had a “cure” that South Africans put in place. Persons infected with blackwater fever were strapped down to an ant hill for three days in the sun. the only thing they drank was Zulu beer. if the sun, beer, malaria, and ants didn’t kill them after three days, some were said to survive.
-by Vince3542
The funny thing is, after their grossly slanted intro (Countless deaths? Lethal?) the story goes on to point out that this isn't new, that it isn't named after the security corporation, and that it isn't an Iraqi particularity:
The deadly disease, never before seen in Iraq on at least this scale, seems to be spreading across the country. And Iraq lacks medicines, hospitals, and doctors to lead a campaign to fight the disease.
More hospitals are being built and many doctors who fled the country under the Hussein regime are returning, but the destruction of infrastructure by the former dictatorship is taking time to repair. In the process, Iraqis suffer and die, thanks to the corruption of Saddam Hussein that the UN Oil for Food program helped continue.

Are some Iraqis confusing the name with the security organization? Possibly, and for a news group like IPS, it only takes one to make a story, particularly for the primary writer who has made a career of smearing the US, spreading false stories and propaganda that can be seen in this story clear as day. This isn't a mistake, this isn't poor research, this is deliberate bias and is trash, yet that doesn't stop some from swallowing it whole because it says what they want to hear.

Other related articles from WATN:

C14 H9 CL5
For Whom?
[technorati icon]

AT ANY COST

"If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?"
-Vince Lombardi

One of the hard parts of living a virtuous life is that there comes a point at which you draw the line and decide to lose, at least in earthly terms, in order to do what is right. This is why so few of us are truly virtuous, and none of us virtuous at all times: immediate gain or desired goals may suffer for doing what is right and proper.

Politics is one of the areas where it is generally assumed you must put your ethics aside and do "what it takes" to get the job done, compromising and cutting corners. That in order to be a politician, one must be willing to do wrong in order to get the final right. Politics is, in other words, eminently a realm of Ethical Pragmatism.

This viewpoint is what led President Nixon to direct his men to break into the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel to see what their plans and strategy was, even though he was certain to win. Ethical pragmatism is the idea that if something works, then it was the right thing to do, or at least it ended up right, which makes what you did okay in the end.

This view of politics is on crass, repellent display this election year to a degree that is even worse than usual. The people running for president and various pundits around them are demonstrating a willingness to do anything, anything for their team to win.

For example, we have Senator Obama's need to stay loyal to a hateful, Anti-American, racist, and crackpot conspiracy mongering church and pastor to retain black votes and establish his racial bona fides. See, he's really black! In the process, he smears whites, and even is willing to sacrifice the memory, honor, and all respect he should have for his own grandmother to score political points. Why? Because it's about winning, it is about getting that nomination and getting into the white house. Becoming president justifies anything, no matter how repellent, so that you can implement your ideas.

We have Senator Clinton who has shown the Clinton tendency to crush enemies, display unbelievable lust for power, and violate every ethical standard conceivable in order to gain that power to such a degree that even former supporters are admitting that conservatives were right about them all along.

Senator Clinton is careful to keep her direct association with much of what's done for her benefit to a minimum, although she couldn't help telling a pointless lie about facing danger in Bosnia, one recently shown to be utterly absurd. Yet her presidential campaign is characterized by this kind of ethical pragmatism.

The most recent example (as of this writing) is a letter sent to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, chastizing her for daring to suggest superdelegates vote for who they promised to rather than switching to Senator Clinton, with an unsubtle warning about funds:
We have been strong supporters of the DCCC. We therefore urge you to clarify your position on super-delegates and reflect in your comments a more open view to the optional independent actions of each of the delegates at the National Convention in August. We appreciate your activities in support of the Democratic Party and your leadership role in the Party and hope you will be responsive to some of your major enthusiastic supporters.
This letter was signed by many very big Democratic Party donors, of whom about a third stayed in the Lincoln Bedroom during the Clinton presidency (it was rented out to campaign donors).

Just this week, Jake Tapper spoke to a Democratic Party official about the only way Senator Clinton can win the nomination. How far is she willing to go?
What will she have to do to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, in order to eke out her improbable victory?

She will have to "break his back," the official said. She will have to destroy Obama, make Obama completely unacceptable.

"Her securing the nomination is certainly possible - but it will require exercising the 'Tonya Harding option.'" the official said. "Is that really what we Democrats want?"

The Tonya Harding Option -- the first time I've heard it put that way.

It implies that Clinton is so set on ensuring that Obama doesn't get the nomination, not only is she willing to take extra-ruthless steps, but in the end neither she nor Obama win the gold.
This effort by Senator Clinton to win despite being on the losing end, using any means she needs to shows a desire for victory regardless of what damage is done. I don't think the implication is that she' can't win the "gold metal" (the presidency), it's that she'll kneecap anyone that gets in her way, then is sure that these tactics and her own inevitability will sweep her into the white house regardless of what she's done.

In a way, she might be right: once the primary fights are over, the legacy media will shift focus from the horserace - the battle for the nomination - which they love more than anything else, to the need for a Democrat, any Democrat, to win the presidency, no matter who or what they do or have done in the past. Without anyone being reminded of the things that were said and done, will voters remember in November, or will they focus on the latest news instead?

Yet this primary battle probably wouldn't even be an issue, Senator Clinton would have been out of the race already had it not been for a deliberate effort by several conservative pundits - notably Rush Limbaugh - to keep her in the race. Rush Limbaugh in particular used his significant radio profile and millions of listeners to "cross over" and vote in primaries for Senator Clinton, to have Republican and conservative voters vote for her so that Obama's ride to the nomination was complicated. It worked, she's still in the fight when she was doomed, these crossover votes were sufficient to keep her going.

The idea is that this helps the Republican Party by making Democrats look bad and making their nomination process a horrible mess. The longer this is dragged out, the more trouble it is for the Democrats to select a nominee, the less competent and worthy of power they seem. If this gets to the convention and a power struggle results (especially with the more excitable supporters causing trouble outside with demonstrations and even riots) the worse the Democratic party looks to the American people.

Calvin's CerealThe press eats up these primary fights like Calvin loved his Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs, it's their favorite season. News is easy to write, they literally admit how fun and easy it is during election times. All they have to do is stick a mic in someone's face and there's plenty to write about. Senators Obama and Clinton find dirt to point to about their opponent, slip the material on the sly to a news agency, and away they go. The longer this season goes, the more this will happen, and in the process, voters are disgusted with both candidates. Make no mistake, radio personalties like Rush Limbaugh benefit from this process as well: even a Clinton presidency would help Rush Limbaugh's listeners and ease in producing a show. For the 1990's, his show practically wrote its self.

Rush Limbaugh's glee at how things are turning out for the Democrats is unmistakable. I have a different perspective.

America is not helped as a nation by this torturous process, the longer and more spectacular and grotesque the system becomes, the worse it is for the electoral process no matter how entertaining it might be. While I'm no friend of the Democratic Party as it now exists (at least, most of the leading politicians in it), I don't care to see what's happening because of the corrosive nature on voters and citizen trust of the system. Each time they see a mockery of the electoral system, it makes each voter incrementally less trusting and less interested in being involved. A Republic can only exist as long as the citizens are actively involved; when that fails, the Republic falls to tyranny.

Making a mockery of the electoral process makes a mockery of voting and confidence in government in general. So far each four years as a nation, the United States has managed to survive this process, but each election the confidence of voters erodes as the spectacle becomes more ghastly and less respectable. How long can this continue? It is not in anyone's interest to make the process worse, not in the long term.

Further, ever since Vice President Gore's pathetic attempt to steal the election in 2000, the world's opinion of the United States and its electoral system has been greatly damaged. For more than 200 years, the US was the pinnacle of elections, it was what every other nation looked to for how to run an election. It worked, every time, year after year. Each election for the last 8 years has been worse, making a mockery of the nation and its system. That means nations looking at becoming a free place with elections has one less place to look for confidence that it works, for a hope that they can be free. Like it or not, the United States has responsibility that goes beyond its borders.

As fun as it might be to watch the press finally cover the Democrats like they have Republicans for generations, as entertaining as the bloodbath is, it's not good for anyone. We need to do what's right, what's best in the long term, what is wisest, not what is most beneficial for our team to win. Winning is, in fact, not everything. In the end, it does not really count for much at all compared to doing what is right.
A return to first principles in a republic is sometimes caused by the simple virtues of one man. His good example has such an influence that the good men strive to imitate him, and the wicked are ashamed to lead a life so contrary to his example.
-Niccolo Machiavelli
Other articles on this topic from WATN:

Considering Virtues
Playing For The Team
Politicking
Who Would Jesus Vote For
[technorati icon]

Quote of the Day

"You often hear it said, of some political or other opportunist, that he would sell his own grandmother if it would suit his interests. But you seldom, if ever, see this notorious transaction actually being performed, which is why I am slightly surprised that Obama got away with it so easily"
-Christopher Hitchens
[technorati icon]

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NANO LUXURY

Tata Nano
At the end of World War II, an Indian businessman named Ratan Tata set up a locomotive building business and did well. Over time the business expanded to buses and trucks, and ten years ago, Mr Tata built their first care, the Incica hatchback. Critics thought he couldn't pull it off, yet the car did well enough that five years ago he began work on building the world's cheapest car. This January, the car was unveiled; a $2500 car called the Nano in a New Delhi demonstration.

Now Mr Tata wants to get into the luxury car market: he just bought Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford Motors in a $2.3 million deal. This follows up a $13 billion purchase of the british Corus Group. Tata already owns Tetley Tea and is one of the most powerful companies on earth.

India is embracing the concepts of cpitalism and business, and in the process is doing well as a nation. US companies rely heavily on Indian call centers (with mixed success) and India in return is one of the United States' biggest fans. It's great to see a business like this do so well, and I've long wondered why auto makers have moved away from the small cheap car.

From the original Volkswagon Beetle to Hyundai, a cheap, small, thrifty car does well on the market. Yet Tata is moving in the opposite direction of most automakers. Honda started the trend with cheap cars in the late 70s and early 80s, tiny things that were hardy, well-made but inexpensive cars for young people and less wealthy buyers. Those old Hondas got tremendous gas mileage, but as time went on, Honda went on to more and more expensive cars and pushed toward luxury and greater profits. Hyundai is moving the same way: start cheap, then make higher end cars, cutting out the cheaper cars. It's a way of establishing a brand name and quality in peoples' minds.

Tata started out with a typical mid-market car and then put out a cheap car. There is a big market out there for inexpensive cars, one that Volkswagon conspicuously missed in their re-launch of the VW Beetle aimed at boomers. Every college student and High School senior can use a cheap car, and the auto company that fills this need will do well. Granted, US emissions, safety, and other regulations make it very difficult to build a car under a certain threshhold (the Nano couldn't sell in the US) but the market is strangely empty at present.

Maybe Mr Tata can fill that void in the United States; certainly it wouldn't hurt his business efforts.
[technorati icon]

THE FACE OF PEACE

"Those berets are a symbol of their solidarity with the Vichy French collaborators"

The "peace" movement is getting increasingly violent and angry, letting their mask slip and showing the hate within that has nothing to do with peace. Here's the latest example, from a clash between West Chester "peace" protesters and A Gathering of Eagles.


Filth like that make the frustrated knight inside me reach for his sword. This is how to spread peace and the alleged message of non violence? A grown man slapping a woman?

Move America Forward has a few recent incidents of "peace" protesters showing their true colors:
  • In Vestal, NY, an incendiary device was thrown at an armed forces recruiting center
  • Toledo, OH - manure dumped on recruiting center.
  • Milwaukee, WI - human feces smeared inside a vandalized recruiting center (that has been subject to multiple acts of vandalism - rocks smashing windows, etc…) In one instance they marched with torches to the recruiting center, set off smoke bombs, and splattered paint across the center.
  • In Rockville, MD, bricks smashed windows of an Air Force recruiting center
  • In NYC, prior to the Times Square bombing, protesters had targeted the recruiting center, shutting it down…rocks thrown at Manhattan recruiting center…and burning rag thrown at Parkchester recruiting center.
  • A San Jose, CA military recruiting center was set on fire.
  • An Asheville, NC center was also set on fire.
  • 8 shots were fired into a Denver, CO recruiting center.
  • In Raleigh-Durham, NC, rocks smashed windows of a recruiting center.
  • In Lufkin, TX, recruiters’ cars were shot at with pellet guns.
  • Hoax bombs were planted at Portland, Astoria, and Salem, OR recruiting centers.
  • A Pipe bomb was planted at a St. Louis, MO recruiting center.
  • A fake bomb was also planted at a Stamford, CT center.
  • In Washington, DC, hundreds stormed the recruiting office at 14th and L and ransacked the office, destroying property.
  • In Silverdale, WA, an antiwar protester slashed 42 tires on recruiting vehicles.
  • At some point you have to realize these guys aren't about peace at all. They're about opposing the United States military, and the US Government. They didn't give a damn about Bosnia and Haiti and Kosovo, and all the other places that the US military was sent during a Democratic Presidency. They didn't throw a fit when President Clinton bombed terrorist sites and WMD production centers around the world. They didn't care because they aren't about peace, they are not anti-war, they're anti-Republican, they are opposed to anything that isn't sufficiently leftist.

    We have Nobel Peace Prize (for what that's worth) winners calling for the violent death of President Bush, bombing of military recuitment centers, and all the events above as proof. Some of these protesters might be about peace; if they are, they need to get away from the company they keep. I suspect for some of these fools the frustration of having Democrats win congress yet do nothing to stop the war other than over fifty meaningless votes to cut off funding and demand the troops come home is pushing them over the edge.

    In the process, they're demonstrating that they are everything they claim to oppose and put their stated goals and principles to lie. Remember: these are the people who vote for Congressmen Pelosi, Murtha, and Reid, and Rangel; these are the people who support Senator Obama for president. Company I think America needs not to keep.


    *hat tip to Melanie Morgan for this story[technorati icon]

    CHANGING TIMES

    "We spend our time searching for security and hate it when we get it."
    -John Steinbeck

    Portable Cell Phone Booth
    Bob Dylan wrote that the times, they were a-changin', and philosophically he was right. The shift was away from modernist thought to post-modernist thought and relativism. Traditional values and Christian worldview gave way to secularist values and worldview. Yet through all that, popular culture remained remarkably similar. Television, movies, rock music, the same basic brands parents and grand parents knew all were around through this transition. Sure, the ads were different and the content more liberal (both politically and in terms of pushing boundaries) but ultimately much remained the same.

    As we move into the 21st century and the 3rd millennium AD, we're seeing many of the old institutions stumble and fall. Newspapers, who for over two hundred years held sway as the primary source of news and information, are struggling to continue. Television is holding less attention as the Internet makes the same content available on demand (with fewer ads).

    Recently even new brands like Sirius and XM radio have stumbled, with the two major companies merging (and XM likely to vanish as a brand). Even cell phones, a phenomenon that really only took off in the last fifteen years is seeing casualties, as Motorola is looking at selling it's part of the market since it hasn't done well. Internet stock trading sites like Quick and Reilly didn't make it.

    Even the old brands our parents grew up with are changing and fading. The site 24/7 Wall Street has a list of the brands that we might see disappear soon. Douglas McIntyre writes:
    K-Mart is one of the two big brands at Sears Holdings (NASDAQ: SHLD), Eddie Lampert's failing retail play. Based on same store sales for last year, K-Mart is the less successful of the two retail operations. Spending to promote K-Mart and Sears may cost more that the holding company can afford. It certainly makes sense to kill off the K-Mart name and re-label all of the stores with Sears. It could save hundreds of millions in promotion dollars every year.

    Dodge is part of the Chrysler company which was recently bought out by private equity firm Cerberus. Chrysler management has already said that the company has too many brands and too many dealers. It is trying to cope with a vicious downturn in the US auto market. Keeping a car brand means huge advertising and marketing costs and product development. Dodge vehicles will probably be re-branded as Chrysler and Dodge will go the way of the Dodo.

    Circuit City (NYSE: CC) has been synonymous with electronics retail, but companies like Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) and Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) have brought too much marketing muscle and wholesale buying power to the industry. Outside investors are already circling Circuit City trying to "improve shareholder value". That means that there is a good chance the chain will be sold. The price of the company's shares has already dropped from over $30 less than two years ago to just over $4. Best Buy could be the most logical buyer by keeping the locations that do well and closing the rest. Virtually all the merchandising, management, and public company costs would go away as would the Circuit City brand.

    Gateway was recently bought by Taiwan PC firm Acer. Some investors may not remember when Gateway was considered a peer of both Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) and Compaq. In 1993, Gateway was in the Fortune 500. Acer will not keep the Gateway brand and its own. The dual promotion costs are too high. Starting soon you will be buying an Acer PC online or at your electronics retailer.
    Other major companies he mentions are Old Navy, Countrywide Insurance, and even Vonage. These are companies that aren't performing well and might be absorbed in mergers or simply sold off and disappear.

    Institutions people were so familiar with they don't even notice them any more like phone booths and the home phone have begun to disappear entirely. Where will Superman change? Network nightly news shows are showing less and less profit while costing more and more - executives are looking at 24 hour news shows that produce more content for less price, and thinking about how to strip down the price.

    The ideas of culture change and shift over time, but institutions are what make a culture familiar and comfortable; we're seeing a lot of changes in those institutions, rapidly. Much of this is due to the internet age, some of it because technology is leaving them behind, and some are because companies are moving overseas. The future looks different than we remember, and that's not such a bad thing. I'm sure you've noticed other things that are changing.

    Now if only we can get rid of gas stations and move on to something better than the antique internal combustion engine.
    [technorati icon]

    Tuesday, March 25, 2008

    Quote of the Day

    "No greater injury can be done to any youth than to let him feel that because he belongs to this or that race he will be advanced in life regardless of his own merits or efforts."
    -Booker T. Washington
    [technorati icon]

    IRAQ MYTH #17: CASUALTIES

    "This is the most intensive combat I've seen since maybe some of the combat in Iwo Jima or some of those places in World War II."
    -Representative John Murtha (D-PA)

    Daily Casualty Rates
    Left leaning sites and pundits are trumpeting a new Grim Milestone as more than four thousand US soldiers have died in the war on terror, particularly in Iraq. The focus on casualties is a phenomenon that started in the coverage of the Vietnam War, since it tends to grip people at a gut level. Nobody likes to see their soldiers die, and each death is at tragedy for a family that leaves ripples of pain and sorrow in society around that point. I salute and honor each of these men and women and pray for their families in their time of sadness.

    Every time a good guy dies, it's a tragedy, one death is painful and a terrible price to pay. That's why we went to war, to prevent more deaths, to stop the evil from spreading and to deal with the source of it. Yet when viewed historically, the crowing and trumpeting of casualty numbers by the left becomes sadly ignorant at best, and deliberately deceitful at worst.

    At the Gateway Pundit a few weeks back, he did a little research and found out some numbers that people like Matthew Yglecias and Markos Zuniga either don't care to know or can't be bothered to find out:

    Here's a few battles of the past and their death tolls, with the duration:
    Battle of the Bulge (41 days)-- 19,276
    Batan Death March (one week)-- 10,000
    Battle of Guadalcanal (186 days)-- 7,099
    Battle of Iwo Jima (39 days)-- 6,821
    Battle of Pusan Perimeter (61 days-Korea)-- 6,706
    Operation Market Garden (9 days)-- 3,664
    Battle of Guam (20 Days)-- 3,000
    Again, the point is not to minimize the tragedy of these soldiers, but to put the events into their proper perspective.

    Fewer soldiers are dying from armed conflict in Iraq than civilians dying from ordinary life in America. That tells me that this ghoulish fascination with numbers on the left has nothing to do with concern for soldiers or real desire to protect them, and everything to do with deliberate attempts to manipulate public opinion through untruth and distortion.

    A more reasonable, proper approach is at Strategy Page, which points out:
    Since late 2001, there have been .12 American combat deaths per division day in Afghanistan. During the Vietnam war, the average division lost 3.2 troops a day, which was similar to the losses suffered in Korea (1950-53). In Iraq, the losses have been .44 deaths per division per day. By comparison, during World War II the daily losses per American averaged (over 400-500 combat days) about twenty soldiers per day. On the Russian front, German and Russian divisions lost several times that, and often over a hundred a day for weeks on end.
    The amazing part is how few soldiers are being hurt, the real news is how stunningly ahistorical the casualty rates are, not the landmark numbers of 2000, 3000, and 4000. Yet the constant drumbeat is casualty rates, coffins coming home, deaths of soldiers.

    Related is one of the most staggeringly ignorant statements of the war is to compare the number of dead that the US suffered on 9/11 and compare that to how many soldiers have died, or Iraqis and Afghanis (Afghanis usually ignored since that's the "good war" and people who make this comparison don't care about those deaths).

    Pearl Harbor, which marked the beginning of US involvement in World War II had a grand total of 2388 people killed, of which 2340 were military personnel, soldiers and sailors. By the end of World War II, 72 million people had died, of which 446,000 were US soldiers. Japan, for killing just over 2000 people in Pearl Harbor, lost 2,680,000 people in total.

    This implied demand for symmetrical casualties is absurd: the reason you go to war is to prevent more casualties on your side, and to stop an enemy. If your choice is between allowing crushing tyranny which leads to endless death and misery and the deaths of soldiers in war, you have to make a horrible decision: both are ghastly, yet one is more so than the other. War is always bad, but when you're fighting against something worse, it's the right choice.

    Previous articles on Iraq casualties and perspective:

    Asymmetry
    Putting Pearl Harbor Into Perspective
    Milestones
    Day of Infamy
    Running the Numbers
    [technorati icon]

    A QUICK ONE

    Several news sites have this headline:

    Western Antarctic Ice Chunk Collapses

    Which I guess is news, if you're not familiar with the phenomenon of glacier calving, but what struck me was the direction. So... which direction is west in Antarctica? Where's your reference point, when the continent is centered on the south pole? Isn't every direction in Antarctica north?

    It is interesting in one sense, apparently the glacial calf this time is about the size of... Manhattan. This isn't the largest, apparently, but the news story doesn't bother telling what that would be.

    BANK CRISIS

    "Demand for food-bank assistance is climbing rapidly"

    Economists are concerned about the future of the US economy, and while the legacy media does its able best to talk down consumer confidence and perception, there are some valid concerns about what's coming. Banks in particular are in trouble; not banks with money, but food banks.

    With the price of food going up so rapidly (have you priced eggs lately?), people are less inclined to buy a few extra cans of food to give to the local food bank. This means that your local food bank that helps out needy people with basic, wholesome food is having troubles keeping its shelves stocked and ready for helping others. Food banks are getting it from both sides: they are also facing increased demand.

    Rising gas and utility prices are stressing people who live on the edge of trouble and small changes, and the food prices push this even further. To make matters worse, with the slowdown in the housing industry, jobs like cabinet making, construction, and other seasonal work are not hiring like they have, or are hiring more slowly, which means that people might do without work longer. Add to that the cold weather which has made landscaping, farming, roofing, and other jobs delayed, and you've got an economy where more people need a little assistance.

    Food banks are primarily volunteer driven, the food they distribute is from government commodity surplus (government cheese, for instance), corporate donations (mislabeled cans, etc), and individual donors. The rising commodity prices have caused there to be less surplus for food banks, and the businesses that moved overseas aren't donating food that they used to - canneries, in particular.

    I spoke to Phil McCarkle (a fine Irish name) at the Marion and Polk County Food Share and he pointed out a few facts, along with some from their website:
    • Most food comes from a goodly distance these days; on average, food travels 1400 miles to your local store (this averages out food traveling overseas with food you get from local packing plants such as potato chips and beverages).
    • Food costs rose a national average of 5.1% last year
    • Food banks originally started in 1965 with the Johnson "War on Poverty" which had legislation establishing the legal rules and tax benefits for donations to food banks
    • In 1980, President Reagan released food subsidy surplus to the public (the origin of the government cheese jokes), greatly assisting food banks.
    According to the Wall Street Journal, food banks nationwide are feeling the pinch, such as the local Silverton food bank which has seen a 35% increase in demand for food and overall in Marion and Polk counties the demand has gone up 14% overall for food boxes. In Marion County alone, over five thousand food boxes went out last month, and that's in an area with a population of about 385,000 people. 44% of those assisted are children; each food box is for a family.

    Canned foodsYour local food bank can use your help; they are noticing the same problems you are, but are helping the most needy until they can get back on their feet. Check out any local church or charity, chances are they will take food to help with this effort. You can donate money and time, as well.

    The Marion-Polk County Food Share has begun looking into new ideas, such as taking fallow county land near the prisons and turning it into farms; local farmers are volunteering labor and fertilizer, local canning companies are harvesting and canning the food, donating the generic-level product to the food banks. It's ideas like this that help meet the need without demanding government money that we all can support. For years now the local movie theaters have had a yearly "Canned Film Festival" where the price of a ticket is one can of food, this tends to bring in quite a bit of goods for the food banks.

    Next time you go shopping, consider getting a few non perishable, healthy items and donating them, we can all pitch in to help out our neighbor; that's not just a good idea, its the right thing to do.

    *UPDATE Phil McCorkle emailed me with some corrections and information; the average price of food went up 5.1%, not 6% as I originally posted. He also pointed out that helping out with your local food bank need not be a significant chuck of your paycheck: ten dollars will buy a food box for a family, feeding them 3-5 days.
    [technorati icon]