bookbanner
CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

PONZI

"He's offended the rich and powerful on a personal level. That kind of offense must be punished with excessive vindictiveness as a lesson to us all."

Charles Ponzi
I have to echo the question that Dr Helen asks on her blog. She notes that Bernie Madoff got 150 years for his investment scheme and asks this:
"Why is it that someone who set up a Ponzi scheme gets more jail time than the majority of murderers?"
Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit (where I saw this first) says "I think it’s because he made powerful people look stupid," and I have to agree. Its the same thing with vigilantes, if you kill someone you are hunted down methodically and get punished. If you kill a murderer because justice wasn't done in a court trial, you often get hunted down feverishly and very publicly and strongly condemned, with more jail time. Because the killer was bad, but you just challenged the status quo and made the powers that be look bad.

A commenter named Francis W. Porretto at Dr Helen's site noted this as well:
It's not. But then, most murderers don't collude with the federal regulatory bureaucracy. Most murderers can't spill the beans on the corruption of high-ranking Treasury officials. And most murderers don't successfully steal from private persons and the Leviathan in Washington simultaneously.

Madoff is being silenced. There's no chance, at this point, that anything he has to say about his "public servant" collaborators will ever receive a hearing. He has nothing on his co-conspirators other than his own crimes, so they didn't have to bribe him; they could merely lock him away for life, under the strictest possible regime.

And with all that, I'll bet his collaborators are still jumpier than the mouse at the cat show. If I were Bernard Madoff, I'd be very careful going through doors and such for the next 150 years.
By the way a "Ponzi Scheme" is an investment trick first prosecuted when a guy named Charles Ponzi tried to help his friends make money. What he did was gather a bunch of investors together over time and guaranteed them a return on their money. He said it was for collection and trading of something called Postal Reply Coupons, and indeed he did trade in these. Postal Reply Coupons were a post office voucher that let people send one overseas so that they could reply for free.

How the scheme worked was like this: he didn't make much money on the Postal Reply Coupons, but he did have all that money investors were giving him. As long as new people kept investing, he'd have money to pay back to older investors. There wasn't any actual investment going on, all he did was take part of the money from Peter and Paul and give it to an earlier investor, Joe. As new guys would sign on and pay him, he'd take part of that money and give it to earlier investors.

Charles Ponzi guaranteed double the investment in 90 days. And he did it. It worked for a long time, in several months he was pulling in hundreds of thousands of dollars. The problem with such a scheme is that it constantly requires new capital, it only works as long as more people keep signing on. After a while, there's going to be a limit to how many new people will pay to be part of the project and the whole thing collapses. It did eventually start to collapse, and the Post won a pulitzer prize for their uncovering how the Ponzi investment scheme worked.

Ponzi was eventually busted for mail fraud because there was no law against what he was doing at the time.

To this day, people still fall for these "too good to be true" schemes. They're still out there, and some of them, such as Social Security, are legal.

KOOTOOLE

FRODO:I wish the ring had never come to me ... I wish that none of this had happened.
GANDALF: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
-J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

As part of the push to get people off the streets and not protesting the corrupt and tyrannical government, Iranian television has been showing movies more often than normal. Recently, they ran a Lord of the Rings marathon, showing all three movies back to back. Time Magazine's anonymous reporter in Iran reported on the reactions he saw to the films:
On the screen, Gandalf the Grey returns to the Fellowship as Gandalf the White. He casts a blinding white light, his face hidden behind a halo. Someone blurts out, "Imam zaman e?!" (Is it the Imam?!) It is a reference, of course, to the white-bearded Ayatullah Khomeini, who is respectfully called Imam Khomeini. But "Imam" is at the same time a title of the Mahdi, a messianic figure that Muslims believe will come to save true believers from powerful evildoers at the time of the apocalypse.
...
In the eye of the beholder in Tehran, the movie is transformed into an Iranian epic. When Gandalf's white steed strides into the frame, local viewers see Rakhsh, the mythical horse of the Rostam, the great champion of the Shahnameh, the thousand-year-old national epic. "Bah, bah ... Rakhsh! Rakhsham amad!" someone says in awe.
The writer tries to find some sense of rebellion and parallels to the predicament the Iranian people find themselves in with the movie and its viewers, but he is only with one family and the hope does not equal the reality of crushing oppression.

What fascinated me was the way the Persian family reacts to the movie. Lacking western tropes and faerie tale imagery, they see the images and scenes in the movie through their own background and stories. Gandalf the White becomes the Imam, or even the Mahdi. Shadowfax becomes Rakhsh. The tale is of a far off, fantastic land yet it resonates with all peoples in all places.

This is the power of the myth and of the faerie tale. J.R.R. Tolkien set out to write the definitive English epic, something to equal Beowulf or the Iliad and the Odyssey, and what he wrote was far greater. It wasn't merely English (though the humble, homely hobbits are obviously meant to be the average Brit), it transcended national boundaries and erupts in the imagination of all who read and see the films. The images and concepts are so big and so readily accessible to all people that the Lord of the Rings becomes an epic for all peoples in all times.

There's a reason for that.

Tolkien was a master of literature and mythology, much like his close friend C.S. Lewis. He studied and pulled apart the old stories and legends, learning what made them legendary, what repeated themes and concepts were found in all of them and why. He studied why Odin gave up his eye for wisdom and what it meant, why Zeus and Thor both wielded lightning, why so many heroes died rather than living happily ever after, and what made dragons the enemy. Through these studies, he had the basic building blocks of legend and myth, he understood the why behind each of the stories that engage us so well and are so fascinating even after thousands of years.

Tolkien borrowed liberally and shamelessly from sources all around the world and stories of the past. He took what he loved and adapted, inserted, and gave homage to each of these bits. Names like orc came from old stories, and creatures like trolls from myths of the past. Giants and wizards walked the earth in his books because they strode through the legends of other nations. And the result reaches across all boundaries and sings in the hearts of viewers regardless of their culture.

When combined with Peter Jackson and Weta studio's stunning visuals, the movies are just as good at reaching out. So when Iranian children watch the Lord of the Rings, they are just as captivated and enjoy it every bit as much as those from Japan, England, and South Africa. The legends reach across all boundaries and cultures and resonate with everyone.

There is one amusing little bit from the story I wanted to end with though:
Iranian films are dubbed very expertly. So listen to the Farsi word they use for hobbit and dwarf: kootoole, little person. Kootoole, of course, was and is the term used in many of the chants out on the street against the diminutive President.
The hobbits and dwarves of LOTR are good guys, but the name is meant as an insult. I just thought that was interesting. Just imagine if Jackson had kept the best part of the books - the scourging of the Shire - in the movies instead of a 30 minute sequence of goodbyes.

Picture of the Day

The cold fact behind girls in console gaming:

Gamer Girl
Apologies to the actually hot girls out there who are gamers.

DREDGING THE BAY

"I love doing big movies. It's awesome! You have all these toys. The thing I like about this movie is, like they always say, directors have the biggest train sets! Don't tell anyone, but I'd do this for free. "

Michael Bay is one of the more successful directors in Hollywood today. He's made hundreds of millions of dollars on his movies and has directed some of the biggest and best known films of our times. His first professional directing effort, according to IMDB was a playmate video, and he did several music videos including the Bat Out of Hell II movie for Meatloaf. Then he did the movie Bad Boys, which was very enjoyable and made a mint ($200,000,000 - seven times what it cost to make). And a career built around epic themes, visuals, and explosives was born.

Following up this impressive start with The Rock and Armageddon, Michael Bay established himself as a master in the art of the blockbuster, directing such hits as The Island and Transformers. Some people hate Michael Bay, making fun of his style and the need to have explosions in his movies. Some people who grew up playing with Transformer toys hated his movie, preferring what they remembered from their youth (although if they watched the old shows I doubt they match up to fond memories). However to put things in perspective, none of the movies Michael Bay has filmed are in the top 100 box office hits, adjusted for inflation.

Yet it cannot be denied that the man knows how to make an entertaining movie, how to make a lot of money and how to craft a film. Like him or hate him, he's made an absurd amount of money and personally put his own cash on the line several times to get the job done. He loaned aerial footage he shot for The Rock to another director to use (for free), and he spent half his paycheck on Bad Boys for reshooting the climactic airplane hanger explosion.

Michael Bay doesn't make deep meaningful movies fraught with psychological import and political statements (although some of the things in the Transformers suggest he might not be as left-leaning as many compatriots in the business). What he does is make popcorn fare: fun, exciting, entertaining movie to watch and enjoy. The kind of thing much of Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make. The kind of thing two crazy upstarts in the 70s were making when most everyone else was bogged down in making a statement: George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

Here's a graphic detailing the money ups and downs for Michael Bay:


He didn't do so well on Bad Boys II, Pearl Harbor, or The Island, but the rest have been very impressive winners. Transformers 2 has made $387,346,000 worldwide, so far, after less than a week on screens.

Upcoming projects for Bay include a third Transformers movie, a remake of The Birds (probably producer on that, he's done a lot of horror film producing through his company Platinum Dunes), and a yet-untitled collaboration with Jerry Bruckheimer.

Quote of the Day

"Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers."
-Alfred Lord Tennyson

Monday, June 29, 2009

CHEER UP

Having a hard day? Here's a ferret taking a bath to cheer you up.

Cute Ferret Peek
Hat Tip porknbean at S. Weasel

FIFTY MILLION!!!1!!

''Ideally, no one should have to die or suffer because of money, especially in the more industrialized nations of the world. "

If you've been watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading any news you've likely been bombarded with ads promoting socialized medicine. In those ads you've probably heard a statistic repeated, a scary sounding one that goes something like this:
In the United States, almost fifty million people have no health insurance. In a nation of three hundred million people, having one out of every six go without adequate health care is unthinkable. Won't you pressure your congressman to vote for a gigantic spending bill taking over health care that the AMA opposes during a massive recession?
This census and labor department statistic - almost 50 million without health insurance - is repeated by the left like a mantra. It is a pet number of theirs, yet the number is spewed without any critical examination. What does it mean, who are these people, is it really a problem?

Sean Higgins at Investor's Business Daily came up with a helpful graphic that can make more sense of this dire sounding number:


As you can see, the stat of 45.7 million is a bit inaccurate. When you look at the people who actually are uninsured, there are only about 11 million who actually want and need insurance and are not getting it. Of those, there is an unknown number who are counted because they went without health insurance while between jobs. If you were without health insurance during at all during 2007 for at least a month, say changing plans or between jobs, starting a new job on probation and not getting benefits yet, etc, you are treated as if you had no insurance at all that year.

June O'Neill, CUNY professor and former director of the Congressional Budget Office points out that the 45.7 million number misprepresents the true nature of the uninsured: "It is contradicted by the studies that show the large amount of resources that the uninsured actually do get."

Now, from the top, here are the numbers:

First off, the 2007 study undercounted people on medicare. It isn't a gigantic number, but almost seven million is a sizable amount of people. That gets us under fourty million. Next, the quoted number counts people who are eligible for medicare/medicaid, but are for a variety of reasons are not getting it. Thus, they have health benefits but aren't taking advantage of them. Then there are non citizens. 8-10 million illegal immigrants in the US do not have medical insurance, but are here illegally and thus should not be given federal benefits. Its like counting people in prison as being unemployed.

The next section down is the people who qualify but don't want insurance. The first are the wealthy: people who don't have health insurance because they pay with cash. The very wealthy sometimes have doctors and even health staff on retainer. They don't have insurance because they don't need it. Next are the young singles. If you're young and single, you're at the prime of your health, have few expenses and do not need or desire health insurance. These aren't people in need, they're just people doing without something extra.

When all is said and done the number is actually around one out of every thirty people doing without insurance who probably could use it. Of them, many take advantage of other resources such as local free clinics and state programs. The actual number is much, much lower than the almost fifty milllion being claimed.

President Obama claims there is a lot that can be done to reduce costs in health care. He's said this repeatedly in speeches, and claims that means the socialized medicine won't be as expensive as opponents claim. I have to ask, as others have: if you can cut the costs, why not do it first, and see if that helps before trying a massive government program that will cripple businesses even further? Unless you are lying about the cuts and know they won't work, or simply are interested in selling socialism and don't care about them.

DAKIMAKURA?

"What the hell did we do to these people with the atomic bomb??"

Do you own a body pillow? You know, those big long ones that are something you can hug or have against your back while you sleep? I don't care for one, but I understand a lot of people buy them. In Japan, those are called dakimakura; "hugging pillows." They are a pretty big industry in Japan, with a typically Japanese twist: you can buy removable covers. Covers with manga and anime characters printed on them, life-sized characters. Such as this:

Dakimakura girl
Usually they are girls, scantily clad or just plain naked. They have two sides, of course, although they aren't mirror images. Usually the character is peeking over their shoulder. Never fear girls, you can get dakimakura too:


At least he's not as feminine looking as most manga guys who are supposed to be sexy. These are fairly tame examples. In Japan, the pillow can be used for... well let's just not go there.

FAILURE TO CONNECT

"It is no secret that our economy is struggling"

One of the hallmark traits of the postmodernist is the ability to feel without thinking rationally. This allows such a person to hold two contradictory ideas at the same time without worrying or even comprehending their conflict. Because of this, policy that is desired or implemented by postmodernists often suffers from "unintended consequences," results that weren't desired or understood but should have been abundantly clear from the beginning. Somehow I got signed up to the activist group Care2 and I get emails every day from them in my junk email address.

Yesterday I got two emails that illustrate this very concept. The first was this:

Hunger Hurts the Working Poor
In today's troubled economic climate, more than 36 million Americans are struggling with hunger each day. Many believe hunger is a problem only for the homeless, but statistics show that 40 percent of those seeking food assistance are employed.
It is true that the poor are always hardest hit by bad economic times. When prices go up, wages stay stagnant or decrease, or jobs are lost, the poor see the worst of it. Thus, the logical answer would seem to be to boost the economy, to take steps to remove any impediments to recovery and work towards growth.

Yet here's the other email I got the very same day:

Success! Sweeping Climate Bill Passes House
The House of Representatives just passed the American Clean Energy Security Act -- a victory for our planet and a cause for celebration among all Care2 activists!

Together, we've sent hundreds of thousands of letters to Congress, urging them to enact the strong protections against climate change contained within the Waxman-Markey climate bill.
So they're worried about the poor suffering under bad economic times... then celebrate an effort that will make the economy far worse. Thus, they are complaining about the very situation they want to contribute to. This probably never even occurred to the writers of these articles (Joe Baker being the only one credited, for the Waxman-Markey article), that their desire to implement the cap and trade legislation will absolutely and inevitably result in higher prices which will lead to greater poverty and hunger for the poor.

Care2's answer, of course, is more government. They want food stamp benefits increased. How is that supposed to be paid for? Well, higher taxes on the rich of course. The "rich" being defined as "people with more money than me" for most people.

This was such a classic example of "compartmentalized" emotive thinking I had to pass it on: the first is a necessary consequence of the second, but they are both pushed as being good things without seeing or perhaps even being able to comprehend the relationship. Because they feel bad about poor people going hungry (as defined by a few skipped meals a month), and they feel worried about pollution which Gore says will destroy the world.

Two things driven by irrational emotion, put into separate compartments so they never interact or mingle rationally, pushed by the same activist organization. And believe me these guys have seen few causes they won't champion. They're the guys I got an urgent email telling me that we all have to help out "unsocialized cats" aka feral cats. Why, shelters are killing them! (whether they're aware that PETA is doing so is unclear). Their plan? A federal government funded program to capture, spay and neuter the cats, and set them free.

In fact, every single email I get is that exact pattern: economic times are hard, but x is a problem, won't you pressure congress to spend money on y program? Thus making economic times harder? Yet I have no doubt thousands of people sign on, eager to help, feeling for the cause they are told about, not thinking about what their solution will do or whether its a good idea or not.

Quote of the Day

"Women want mediocre men, and men are working hard to become as mediocre as possible."
-Margaret Mead

Friday, June 26, 2009

ENUMERATE

"As every schoolchild learns in civics class, the national government is one of limited powers"

What is the Enumerated Powers Act? It is a bill which Representative Shaedegg has introduced for vote every year since the 104th congress in 1995 . The bill is simple; it requires each bill voted on in congress to include what specific part of the US constitution authorized the bill. In the 105th congress, the House of Representatives included part of the bill in its rules (this rule was removed under Speaker Pelosi and Democratic Party control).

Every time the bill is proposed, it is either voted down or never makes it out of comittee. It is being proposed again this year for a vote by Shaedegg. It's certainly dead on arrival, which is odd because there's nothing in the bill that forces congress to be honest or proper in their citation. The Pelosi Enrichening Bill of 2009 might have absolutely no constitutional authority behind it, but the congressmen who propose the bill can claim authority comes from the Interstate Commerce clause.

However, Andrew Grossman at the Heritage Foundation believes it would have some positive effect:
Though the Act could not guarantee the constitu­tionality of legislation, it would have a significant effect on Congress. Most clearly, when invoked it would shift debate to fundamental questions of the rule of law. There is an educational value to this exercise that stands to attract additional Members, over time, to the "constitutional caucus."

Most importantly, requiring legislation to state the basis of its authority would reveal the hollow­ness of the constitutional doctrine underlying so much congressional action. Every bill would be an opportunity for Americans to think seriously about our constitutional order, the wisdom of its design, and the consequences of departing from its strictures.
...
Every act of Congress must fall within some enumerated power or else it is illegitimate, a usurpation of the power retained by the people and their states and a threat to indi­vidual liberty.
...
Finding constitutional authority for an act should not be an afterthought and cannot be accomplished by adding special incantations to the bill text, but is the primary inquiry in determining whether a proposed act is legitimate and an appro­priate use of federal power. In a better world, the Enumerated Powers Act would be superfluous and the constitutional design a regular topic of congres­sional debates. That is not, however, the world in which Congress legislates today.
This bill will go nowhere again, most likely with the excuse that the unconstitutional and idiotic cap and trade and health care bills must be passed and there's just no time for these kind of shenanigans.

BK STRUGGLES

"Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce
Special orders don't upset us"

1976 BK Ad
Burger King is struggling financially. They've pulled entirely out of some markets such as King County in Washington and have always been number 2 to McDonalds. To address this, the fast food joint has been pulling out all the stops with ads, trying to target young men and get their money. The problem with BK is their food in my opinion, it just isn't very good, even for fast food. James Lileks took a look at their ads today:
Every attempt BK made to come up with a character failed; every attempt. There’s a reason McDonald’s doesn’t run ads with John Wayne Gacy as Ronald, no matter how much people don’t like Ronald. You feel sorry for the shaking guy and you wonder why a King is capable of magic. And why he looks like someone from a Scottish Monarch Pride Parade.
The King ads won awards and was considered a masterpiece in advertising... but it didn't work. People thought the ads were interesting and talked about them, but nobody wanted to go eat at Burger King because of them. A creepy plastic King just didn't make people think of tasty burgers. So now they have a sort of juvenile sexual innuendo for their latest ad, again missing the point. Instead of trying to get people to want to try their food, BK is trying to craft a sort of vibe, a sense of hipness and excitement related to their brand name. Eat here, kids, its now, its wow, its happening! Well, its worked for Apple. Maybe BK should double their prices and get U2 to do an ad.

Maybe if they'd focus on good quality, tasty food instead of snazzy advertising, they'd do better. Just a thought.

BEING COI

Shocking news, just in from S. A. Miller at the Washington Times:
House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. has backed off his plan to investigate wrongdoing by the liberal activist group ACORN, saying "powers that be" put the kibosh on the idea.
That's okay, they changed their name to COI. All those problems are gone now. Honest.

*UPDATE: Ace at the HQ points this amazing coincidence out:
So John Conyers gives up his (already half-hearted) probe into Obama's pet community organizing group just as his wife is up for sentencing by prosecutors who answer to Barack Obama.
Totally unrelated, I'm sure.

RETRO DESIGN

"Beautiful! Perfect! How can we fix it?"

Something that has long frustrated me is the need auto manufacturers feel to continually redesign cars. When they reach a point at which they have a beautiful design and a popular model, they just cannot leave well enough alone and keep tinkering until the model isn't popular any more. Take Dodge's Caravan minivan. It was the number one selling car in America for years, it was an amazing machine. The only flaws were a flukey back gate door and a weak transmission (typical for Dodge trucks). It drove like a small car, smooth and easy. It had plenty of room, was designed perfectly for its purpose and looked good. Yet they kept messing with the design until downhill it went.

Look back over the classic cars of the past, the beautiful, sweeping designs and contours. Consider the Thunderbird, as featured in Lucas' American Graffiti:

1955
Beautiful, iconic car. They messed around with the design until it looked like this by 1994:

1994
What model is that? Could be any of twenty American cars. Nothing distinctive, nothing attractive, and nothing special. Ah, but someone at Ford got smart. They looked at that classic model and thought "hey, that's still a beloved car, why can't we do that again?" The result looked like this:

2004
Retro designs started at Dodge with the Viper and continued with other models such as the Challenger, and the Chrysler PT Cruiser. All are well-liked and good selling models.

Some retro designs go to extremes. Take Bugatti, who is consistently putting out the most exciting and amazing cars today. The Veron is one of the fastest production cars made (over 250 mph top speed), and sells for as much as a small house:


And it looks simply amazing.

But this is their latest effort, a concept car with an even greater retro feel:


StratosStratos
Not a car to approach speed bumps with, but certainly one that would gather a lot of attention. Bugatti is an innovative car designer, he also came up with this retro beauty for an updated Bugatti Atlantic from the thirties, this time for Chrysler:

Atlantic
Here are a few more retro-inspired cars to consider:


Bentley S3EMorgan
StingrayMercedes Benz F-Cell
That last one from Mercedes Benz about as retro as you can get, almost like their very first cars which looked literally like a carriage without a horse in front.

There were beautiful, amazing designs in the past, and its very good to see car makers looking back at them again. Certainly the engineering is better now, the designs can be more sleek and aerodynamic, and the car its self enormously better, but there's a lot of good in the past that designers can exploit.

Or they can go this direction:

BMW2015

Peugeot Angel


I'm fine with new designs, although these look a bit impractical. I like innovation and exciting new ideas in cars and elsewhere. I just think it would be a shame to lose those beautiful old designs, to not take advantage of them.

Quote of the Day

"There's no precedent in human history for economic growth on declining human capital -- and that's before anyone invented unsustainable welfare systems."
-Mark Steyn

Thursday, June 25, 2009

ONE BROTHER LESS

“The world truly admired Darrell Powers. I absolutely adored him.”

Daryl "shifty" Powers has died. Yes, Farrah Fawcett did too - she of the magnificent smile and amazing flip hair in the 70s, but Shifty was a hero. One of the "band of brothers" made famous in the Stephen Ambrose book and later Hanks/Spielberg HBO series, Powers was always a hero to his family and as an army sharpshooter was a true hero for his service in the cause of freedom and justice.

Like the rest of the men, he didn't see himself as a heroic figure, which is typical for the soldiers who served at the time. Even after his military career he still strove to do good:
And, too, Powers served as a loyal, steadfast representative for the country he fought for: from graciously meeting with a former enemy German soldier to eagerly accepting any chance to speak with modern-day members of the U.S. military.

Ivan Schwarz, a producer on the “Band of Brothers” HBO series, remembers Powers as a “kind, generous soul with a great sense of humor.”

“Shifty was an incredibly humble human being,” said Schwarz, now executive director of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission in Cleveland, Ohio.

“He was like most of the other [Easy Company] soldiers we met for the series. They were good guys who were kind of shocked that, 50 years later, people were making a big deal over them for just doing their duty.

“That’s exactly how [Powers] was, too,” Schwarz said.
So I salute his passing and the men who survive him, particularly the astonishingly capable and wise Captain Winters. Now I want to watch the whole series again.

HARRY POTTER'S BIKE

My brother sent this to me in email today:


That's actually pretty clever, with the broom running the steering, but it looks very difficult to steer. Your whole weight would be on the end of the broom and small movements from that end would translate into large turns because of the lever action.

COI

Corrupt and lawbreaking community organizer and lefty activist group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) has changed its name to COI: Community Organizations International. This is a common ploy on the left; when one Orwellian phrase or organizational title has become to tainted by revelations of their behavior and beliefs, change it to something else to regain the momentum and fool the public a bit longer.

Just so you're aware: new name, same scoundrels, lawbreakers, and government money sponges.

*Hat tip to American Digest for the news.

*UPDATE: Only the International ACORN changed its name to COI, the smaller US only groups are still known as ACORN.

ABC'S HEALTH CARE SPECIAL

"I missed it because it ran opposite of the ShamWOW guy on Home Shopping Channel. "

ABC gave President Obama two hours to pitch his health care plan to the nation. I didn't watch it, it sounded boring to me. Here's how the time spent broke down, according to the Business and Media Institute:


Yeah, 60% Obama talking. 28% Obama's buddies talking. 12% Hand-Picked ABC questioners. In other words, it was everything conservatives said it would be: a huge informercial. That's pretty lop sided in favor of one viewpoint.

Not allowed: any Republican critics. Nor would ABC show any paid ads presenting opposing viewpoints. The show was filmed in the White House and when Obama was confronted with a particularly thorny question, ABC went to a commercial break, giving him time to consult and work out an answer.

Since President Roosevelt (FDR) the press has not shown such deference and respect to the office nor the man in it. It is refreshing to see them not be so incredibly hostile and adversarial as they were during the Bush and Reagan administrations, but it is also sad to see them be so very inconsistent and lacking in critical approach.

Not many people tuned in, probably expecting it to be as one-sided and boring as I did. The infomercial was the tied for the lowest rated show in the time slot, drawing only 4.7 million viewers and a 3 share. A CSI:NY repeat and the premier of The Philanthropist on NBC both pulled in more viewers. Too bad it drew that many eyeballs, lets hope they were critical. I can guess that a large percentage of those viewers were industry professionals, news writers, and bloggers.

*UPDATE: Eric says in the comments that the GOP viewpoint did get a bit of a showing through some more challenging questions, so that's a positive for ABC, even if it wasn't intentional.

A TALE OF TWO POLITICIANS

"I did not have sex with that woman."

Stripper
Two married politicians went down to South America. One met a lover and spent several days. The other went to see a stripper and, according to her, paid her the equivalent of $1000 for "a few minutes" of a private show.

One you've heard of: Governor Sanford of South Carolina.

One you probably haven't seen or heard the news story of: President Clinton, husband of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The sitting governor is a slightly more potent story than a former president, but both are South American sex scandals. The bigger difference is party affiliation: Sanford is a Republican, Clinton is a Democrat. No one expects any different from President Clinton who is a sleazeball sex fiend to begin with. Apparently people expect more from a Republican governor. Certainly the press finds that story significantly more interesting.

TAX TO SUBSIDIZE

Newspapers are failing around the world. As people turn to the internet for their news, print is struggling to compete, and advertising revenues have plunged causing even more problems for the industry. In the Netherlands, the government has a cunning plan: tax the internet to prop up print journalism.

So far the plan has only gone so far as a feasibility report, but the Dutch legislature is working on a way to adapt the study's findings. Most Dutch newspapers are privately owned, but this plan would give the government partial ownership - a price any self respecting journalist would find far too high to pay.

IMAGINE IF BUSH HAD...

"Once is happenstance.
Twice is coincidence.
Three times is enemy action."
- Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

Treasury IG
There have been 4 Inspectors General fired at the White House now. Each of them was investigating a friend of Obama or a left leaning activist groups. The first we heard about was Walpin, who President Obama tried to force to resign. When Walpin refused, President Obama, in defiance of the law he sponsored, fired him. Walpin was investigating misuse of funds by Americorps and CUNY and President Obama claims he was fired without following the law he helped pass because he was "confused" and seemed senile. At least one witness at the meeting refered to disputes that characterization.

Now the Inspector General of AMTRAK has been fired, following that of the International Trade Commission and the IG in charge of TARP and stimulus spending. That's a pattern, and while each individual may have been well worthy of having their jobs terminated, it is significant that within a few weeks these men who are in charge of independently watching for corruption and misuse of funds were all fired.

Following on the heels of Attorney General Holder's halt to prosecution of Black Panthers grossly and obviously guilty of voter intimidation suggests a problem with the concept of justice in the Obama administration. For most of us justice means fairness and legal adherence. For the Obama team it apparently means social parity and assisting the oppressed and powerless against the white oppressor.

This story is starting to get some traction and while it is absurd to think the at best incompetent congressional ethics watchdogs will act, the press is starting to ask questions and this, the first real scandal of the Obama administration, is stinking too much to ignore. It might have some effect on the president's actions and policy, and almost certainly is having effect on peoples' perception of the man who claimed he'd bring an end to this kind of thing if elected. They were dumb enough to believe him, now they're starting to realize he was just another politician.

President Obama's "new politics" look an awful lot like Nixon's old politics.

*Hat tip Moe Lane for the Goldfinger quote idea and both him and Reil World View for the IG stories.

OLD NEW WRITERS

"Writing is the only art where a ‘prodigy’ can be anyone under 40."

author
I'm 43 years old and I'm in the process of getting my first novel published. As it turns out, most people take a while to get their first book done, for a lot of reasons. At the Whatever blog, John Scalzi took this question:
Whenever I hear about a “new” novelist, they turn out to be in their 30s. Why is that? It seems like you hear about new musicians and actors and other creative people in when they are in their 20s.
His answer was in depth and worth reading, but in essence he says this: because it takes time to perfect your skill to the point of being worth publication, because it takes a while to find a publisher, because the process of publication takes a while (years in some cases), and because it takes time to write a novel. To that I would add that it takes time to be ready to even begin writing. You can have all the skill in the world but no story to tell, and young people are full of energy and creativity, but rarely are they full of life experience and the travails of existence that drive wisdom and the ability to tell a good story.

Of the last ten Campbell "Best New Novelist" awards, 8 were within 3 years of being 37, and there's a lot of good reasons for that. It just takes time to get to where you can even write, let alone be published. The only way to become good at writing is to write, even the finest, most talented genius in the world takes time to get skilled at their craft. You have to read a lot too, read many different things, different genres, different writers, from different ages. That input tends to stay in your memory even if you don't consciously dredge it up: the way words are used, how phrases are crafted, what techniques are used to craft a scene, how to build drama, how to write different characters, and many more intangibles.

Another thing to consider is that, while I wrote my book (around 80,000 words) in about a month, it took me over a year of just pondering ideas and letting them sit in the back of my mind, gathering scenes to put into place, and letting the log gather barnacles, as C. S. Forrester put it. He likened the process to a log being dropped to the bottom of a lake, the log being his ideas. He'd think of some things, then let them lay in his mind a while, dredging it up later to look it over and see how it had grown and enhanced over time. So while the actual writing (and re-writing) process isn't necessarily a lengthy exercise, writing in a real sense takes a long time to develop.

Here are a few authors and their age at first publication courtesy commenters at Whatever:
Steve Erickson was 35 when Days Between Stations was published.

Lucius Shepard’s first novel,
Green Eyes, was published when he was 37.

William S. Burroughs was 39 when
Junky was first published.

James M. Cain was 42 when
The Postman Always Rings Twice was published.

L. Frank Baum was 44 when
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published.

Raymond Chandler was 51 when
The Big Sleep was published.

And Charles Bukowski was 51 when his first novel,
Post Office, was published.
I write several thousand words a day on this blog, in comment sections around the internet and in my personal work. By doing so I'm practicing not just typing but spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and presenting ideas. Much of what I write is more essay-form, such as on this blog, but it still helps me be a better writer. And I have many, many miles and years to go before I can consider myself a good writer. I'm good enough to put out a little print-on-demand adventure tale, I'll probably never be good enough to write something like Treason's Harbor (by Patrick O'Brian).

The trick is to understand the difference between being not the finest writer on earth and being no writer at all. It is possible that you can go through all the steps, work very hard at your craft, hone your skills and write a book that is just awful because you aren't a writer. That is no indication of some special weakness in yourself, each of us has some talents and some weaknesses; it takes wisdom and courage to recognize where they lay and admit where they do not.

At the same time, You don't have to be the best writer on earth. You just have to be the best writer you can be. I'll never measure up to giants like C.S. Lewis and Patrick O'Brian, or even greats like Raymond Chandler. That doesn't mean I'm a lousy writer, it means I'm not the absolute best. You don't have to be the best, you just have to be good enough to be published, and good enough to look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of your work. It's good to be humble enough to recognize you aren't the next Steinbeck. Just don't let it grind you down

Some folks seem to be talented at nearly anything they try, others are much more narrowly focused, but I suspect the latter seems that way only because we tend to see some areas as talents and others as merely common achievements. Arts and athletic gifts tend to be overemphasized and held in higher esteem than being a hard, consistent, good worker, or having superior health, or being able to reach out and communicate to almost anyone. Just plain hospitality is a gift often overlooked. Or the ability to inspire others, even the ability to suffer in a manner that others learn and grow from watching and being with you.

I struggle with grammar still. I never have had much formal training in grammar despite graduating with a B average in school (putting in a minimal effort) and having a few years of college. The education system I was churned through simply didn't bother much with grammar because its hard to teach, boring, and often frustrating for students. As a result I wasn't challenged as much as I should have and you can tell by reading my work: often I garble and mangle sentences and misuse punctuation. On this blog I rarely edit my own work, so sometimes what I thought and typed is nearly incomprehensible. Sometimes I'll edit a line without carefully considering context or completely changing the tone and tense of what is being said, so it becomes confusing. So I have a long road to travel in that, as well.

If you want to write a book, the time to start is now. Start writing, and write every day. Set aside time and take that time to write, and it doesn't even matter what you write. Get something down each day, and fill that time with writing. Here is my advice on how to do it well:

  1. Keep to a schedule. Start and end at roughly the same time, or have a set goal of how much to write each day. Stay with that. I write from around 7-12 AM (PST) each day, or until I get at least 3 articles and a quote up on my blog. Then I write other things as I have time and need.
  2. Keep distractions to a minimum. Do not have the radio on, the TV on, the cell phone on. Do not have people around who'll talk or interrupt you. Do not do something else while you are writing. Focus on what you're doing and why. This will help you complete thoughts and maintain the flow of concentration and maximize output.
  3. Write on a computer. I know, this is cold and difficult for some, and if you don't have a laptop it can be uncomfortable or awkward. I wrote my novel in bed on a laptop, but it was on a computer. The fact is, you're going to have to put it on a computer eventually, so unless you really like transcribing your own material of over 60,000 words (that's the minimum length most publishers will consider for a novel, according to Mr Scalzi), best to just write it on the computer to begin with.
  4. Take at most one day off a week, barring emergency or illness. Write every day if possible. I write on this blog 5 days a week, but on my own nearly every day in some capacity. Take one day off, though. Take a day off from your official, hard work because you need the break. Even if you have a lot of momentum and are in the middle of an idea, jot some notes down and take a day off once a week. You can write other things, like emails and comments or notes, but don't do your work every single day or you'll burn out.
  5. Be willing to be criticized. This is incredibly difficult for me, and I suspect most others. Even if the criticism is stupid or wrong or confused, take it gracefully and gratefully. They wouldn't criticize or offer suggestions if they didn't care about you or were not interested in your work. Its a compliment, unless they're just being cruel and mean. Take editing advice from people who read your work, listen and think about what they said. This is so hard because what you wrote was what you thought should be written, and sometimes (perhaps often) the people who advise you are wrong. Yet sometimes (perhaps often) they will be right, they will see something or know something you did not. Listen to them and consider it, if only briefly.
  6. And finally, I'd suggest that you finish something. This can be the bane of would-be writers. I know, I have two dozen started stories and one finished. Finish a story, no matter what quality it is or how much others like it. Finish it because the process is so much different than just writing. Bring a story through its various arcs and portions to a completed and satisfying conclusion teaches things you cannot learn any other way. Finish at least one story before you can consider yourself a novelist.
And remember: you're a writer if you write. Being published means you're a professional writer, but you are a writer even if you never are published.

The one big question I've never found the answer to is this: how do you find a reputable agent if you haven't been published yet? Related is this: how do you get publishers to listen to you without an agent? I went for an online publisher that prints on demand, they have editors, publicists, cover designers, and so on; it is a real publisher, but its print on demand, which means it isn't a real real publisher, because I'll never get into any major book store chain through these guys. Book stores don't care for print-on-demand because they can't get a deep enough discount to carry the books.

So how on earth do you break through that first barrier? I simply do not know.

John Scalzi thinks self publication and print on demand is stupid, wrong, damaging to writers, horrible, and a scam. He particularly despises the publisher I'm working with:PublishAmerica. Yet for someone like me, it's the only real option. He doesn't suggest anything to answer my questions above. So its PA for now, despite his concerns which honestly strike me as incredibly overblown and dubious.

*UPDATE: added a new bit of advice, probably the most important. Don't worry if you are't the best in the world.

Quote of the Day

"You can lead a man to Congress, but you can't make him think."
-Milton Berle

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

THE DEATH OF BEAUTY

“Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul”
-Ernest Dimnet

The last time I was in Seattle's train station they were renovating the place. It had a decayed, depressing fifties feel to it, with drop tile ceiling that was stained and sagging in places, old cracked plastic seats, and a tile floor that looked ancient and worn. The counters were wood but not very well made and everything just had a shabby, worn down feel to it. Yet they were renovating, and in the process of this, they had a section of the drop ceiling removed to show what the station looked like where it was being rebuilt.

The ceiling was at least thirty feet up. Hidden behind those ugly old tiles was carved stone and decoration, cornices and swirls and half pillars, a scene of beauty from decades past that was amazing. It was like a window into a better, vanished time, a glimpse into a past before utility and cost were king. That building was made with care and time to look beautiful and be a permanent, impressive edifice, a statement against the city's skyline of the railroad's luxury and the wealth of its owners. By the 1990s it looked like a statement of the misery, poverty, and failure of Amtrak.

There are a few of these old buildings around in Salem where I live. You can tell the ones made before 1940. They look like someone put extra time into making them beautiful, it wasn't just a building, it was a work of art. For the builders, it wasn't enough to make a functional frame, it had to have aesthetic value as well. Those gargoyles and curls and lintels and the stonework didn't add anything functional to the building, they added attractiveness.

When the Empire State building was built, it was done with a deliberate attempt to create a new, American architecture. It was designed to be different from European or Chinese or Russian architecture, it was to stand out and be unique in the world and pave the way for future US buildings. The Chrysler building was made to be reminiscent of their cars, a gleaming chrome and steel tower of sleek lines and curves. They wanted beauty to be there, not just a building.

Today, this is what we get:


That's the Boston City Hall, touted as a wonder when it was built. Built in the 1960s, it stands out as an eyesore next to the grand old beauty of the other historical state buildings.
New York Plaza. There are a lot of these concrete blocks in New York City, and this one is right on the waterfront. The real estate there is astronomical in cost and this is what they chose to build with all that expense.
Portland BuildingThe Portland Building, with the sculpture Portlandia out front. This building is as squat, ugly, and uninteresting as it looks in the picture in person. It was meant to be a major architectural landmark for Portland, Oregon, a sort of Empire State building for Oregon. It's just an ugly block of concrete.
Then there are the truly strange buildings, either the mistake such as this ghastly ugly elephant building:


It looks like an elephant.. made out of basic legos by a 4 year old.

Or the overengineered structure designed not for beauty or utility, but because some designer had a vision of doing something wonderful architecturally, something unique and special but ultimately goofy looking or just ugly:


There's a certain beauty to these, just strictly in terms of engineering, but they're still not decorative or truly beautiful. They just are things that look like they shouldn't work and were a huge pain to design. They're clever, they're skillful, and they are very difficult to do, but not beautiful. Now, the architects were trying to do the same thing as the designer of the Empire State Building here. They wanted something innovative, cutting edge, new. What they forgot is beauty, something aesthetically appealing. What they got was something often ugly and bizarre.

At the Infrastructurist, Yonah Freemark and Jebediah Reed look at 11 train stations that have been torn down. These were old, beautiful buildings, each a carefully designed edifice with decoration and design merely for the sake of beauty. Then they show what replaced those beautiful structures. James Lileks is big on this as well, he loves old architecture and bemoans what has replaced it.

What happened? Well, the artists and architects in the 1950s wanted to throw out all the rules. They were trying to deconstruct the very idea of architecture, to strip away everything but the raw, basic engineering and design of it. They were post-modern, and the results are generally as soulless and ugly as post modernism everywhere. Perhaps there will be a backlash but for now the entire craft is focused on what technology allows them to do with design that which was impossible in the past and that is all we get from innovators in the field.

WALK, MAN

The VCR and the DVD
There wasn't none of that crap back in 1970
-Everclear, AM Radio

Sony Walkman
I remember listening to a Walkman the first time. To put the device in context you have to think about the technology of the time. Headphones were of two kinds. The first were huge clunky things like the earmuffs you see on guys working around jet engines a lot, the kind of headphones that weigh as much as your torso and look like you cut a cantaloupe in half and stuck it on your ears. Those gave you good sound and high quality. Then there was the earpiece. This was essentially a plastic tube with an uncomfortable chunk of plastic you jammed in your ear. They usually came with transistor radios and had a tinny, cheap sound.

When I saw the Walkman's tiny headphones I thought of that tinny earpiece, the mono squeaky scratchy sound you got from that little transistor radio. Good enough for the news, terrible for music. My older brother had one and he let me try it for a bit, I think it was Caress of Steel by Rush in the player. It blew my mind. The sound was incredible, it was deeper and fuller than I ever expected. It filled the world with music, like a soundtrack to a movie, and was so light and convenient I didn't even notice it. I wanted one in the worst way.

Yet as Greg Beato points out on Reason, the Walkman was questionable product at first:
When Sony introduced the Walkman 30 years ago, on July 1, 1979, it was, in a sense, already obsolete: Both Sony and Philips were already well on their way to developing the compact discs that would make trying to surgically repair the distended guts of your favorite REO Speedwagon cassette with a paper clip mere fodder for misplaced nostalgia. Plus, a tape recorder that didn't record? How was that progress, except for the companies selling tape recorders that did record and record labels selling pre-recorded cassettes?

As NYU management professor William H. Starbuck recounted in the International Journal of Technology Management in 1996, even many Sony executives were dubious about the device's commercial potential. It cost more to produce than its target market-teenagers—was likely to spend. While Sony chairman Akio Morito championed the Walkman and ordered an initial run of 60,000 units, managers in the tape recording division, fearing the company would lose money on every sale, secretly halved the order to 30,000.
Its been 30 years now, and you can still buy a Sony Walkman, despite the fact that cassette tapes are disappearing off the shelves and you can't even find a company that makes pre-recorded ones any more. That's a product that's in demand. And for good reason.

Again, some context. To get a good stereo back in 1979, you had to buy several different stacking components at several hundred dollars each. It took special skill to select and put these together, the component stereos of the 70s. It took skill to even use one of them. The speakers were big as a coffee table and cost hundreds of dollars as well. College kids would sleep on the floor and have spam to eat off a cast off spool from an industrial cable next to milk carton and board-and-concrete-block shelves, but they had a bitchen $1500 stereo. Walkman compressed that into the size of a paperback book and stuffed it in your pocket.

You could clip that stereo on your belt and walk around, jog, and work while listening to your favorite songs and even the radio on the deluxe version. Sure, the sound wasn't quite as good as that top end Bang&Olafsen stereo with the Nakamichi Dragon tapedeck and the Carver Amp. Sure, it didn't have those killer Infiniti speakers that could blow the windows out of the house. But it sounded damn good and was portable.

These days, as Beato puts it "any high-tech gadget that's not tiny enough to pose as a choking hazard to small children is not truly sexy" but back then the Walkman was an incredible piece of engineering. Sure you couldn't text, sure you couldn't send pictures or play games on it. Sure you couldn't even use it as a phone once in a while. But it delivered quality music right to your head. With a 90 minute cassette you had enough tunes to last you on a jog, on a bike trip, and while you worked. Throw in a few more tapes and you had a full day. The mix tape took on a whole new importance.

I still have a Walkman because I make tapes still and have stacks of mixes. Sure, an MP3 player delivers better sound and has gargantuan capacity. Sure, you can make the ultimate mix that lasts a week. But that Walkman costs less than ten bucks now and when you stop a tape, it stays there no matter how long you leave it. I like those old tapes still, and while some of the oldest ones are starting to lose their charge and sound a bit grainy, I have some great memories with them, flashing back to the times I listened to them most and things that happened then.

So thirty years old, let's salute the Sony Walkman. It started an incredible trend of personal gadgets and still is going strong.

DECLARATION OF NEUTRALITY

"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along."
-President Bush the younger

President Bush was considered a warmonger, an arrogant white male trying to impose his ideology on the world when he called for all countries to be free. His "Bush Doctrine" of supporting and encouraging democracy everywhere and opposing tyranny and terrorism was called cowboy diplomacy and bemoaned for not understanding the nuances of other nations and cultures. How dare he say that other people wish to be free? Their culture is different than ours.

With President Obama, we have that voice in charge of foreign policy. He seeks to engage and talk to our enemies, to sit down at the table with an open hand of friendship with terrorists and tyrants. "No preconditions" was his line during the campaign, and while he's backed off from that slightly, he's still interested in talking with thugs and monsters around the world. His Cairo speech was an example of this approach, a speech specifically targeted at Muslim listeners, using their language and idioms while avoiding the calls to liberty that President Bush always includes.

President Obama's response to the attempts to bring change and greater freedom to Iran has been an attempt to not interfere, to not take sides. He condemns "violence" without saying whose or for what reason. His stated purpose for this is that the Iranian clerics would blame the US for interference if he spoke up more clearly, but they were doing so anyway because that's what tyrants do: everyone is to blame for problems except them, and the US is the big enemy, always necessary in a dictatorship.

This approach toward diplomacy and foreign policy is at odds with America's role in the past, and with the growth of liberty everywhere in history. When South Africa's blacks wanted to end apartheid, they turned to the US, begging for help. Eastern European nations under the crushing boot heel of Soviet oppression credited President Reagan's harsh words against the USSR for inspiring them, considering the US as an example of liberty they could some day maybe achieve. Ronald Reagan's "shining city on the hill" was true for them, and now they have a chance of being such a light themselves.

When the United States struggled against oppression, the colonies declared independence and became rebels against the British government with these introductory words:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
This declaration was not a statement for the United States, not a declaration of what white people or those with a Judeo-Christian heritage seek. They were not limited to primarily European immigrants. This was an absolute statement for all peoples, in all places, in all times. This was a statement of liberty and the innate rights of all mankind that applies to everyone, even if they aren't white. It is this basic triad of rights: life, liberty, and property (which Jefferson swapped to "pursuit of happiness") which are the core of civilization and freedom and they are true for everyone, even when we do not have their free exercise.

Thus, when Iranian students, or North Korean dissidents, or Sudanese villagers, or Iraqi mothers, or Chinese Christians or any other truly oppressed group calls for freedom, it is not simply the emotional need, but the duty of all peoples, everywhere, to support them. Their longing for freedom is not an inconvenience that interferes with President Obama's ability to sit down and fix everything. The fact that this makes it more difficult to work with the Iranian government is irrelevant. Any government that oppresses and crushes its own people, taking away their liberties and the free exercise of their rights without just and proper cause through due process is an illegitimate government. That is exactly what the Declaration of Independance states.

President Obama is a typical leftist in that he believes some very basic, flawed things:
  • That all people, deep down, are basically decent and good
  • That evil that men do is because of ill treatment and bad influences, and proper treatmen t can inspire and lead them to do good
  • That a smart and enlightened enough person can reason with and talk people out of any horror and toward proper behavior
  • That violence is always wrong and bad
Every one of these is a sophomoric, immature view of life, stunted at a certain point of development not by evident fact from the world around us, but from a deep need within, an emotional desire for these things to be true. For if they are true, they give us power, the power to fix things with our brilliant speech and persuasive manner. Our enlightenment, our wisdom is enough to conquer the world's horrors, if only we're given the power and the time to do so.

The fact that this almost never works is not evidence of it being false, but evidence of interference by the unenlightened. The problems are deeper and will take longer to solve, they think. The fools of the past with their belligerent, macho attitude and oppressive white European Christian ways have ruined it for everyone, but in time we can still fix it, they claim.

So we have President Obama, willing to invite the brutal, terrorist-backing, hate-filled, misogynist, anti-Gay, religiously intolerant, and murderous Iranian government's representatives to a nice picnic and sit down where they can discuss matters. We have President Obama characterizing the opposition to evil as a "closed fist" and offering an open hand of friendship to nations which hate the United States and the west, and more importantly see this open hand as a sign of surrender, fear, and weakness. They see this as capitulation, as backing down because the Arab and the Muslim fought so hard and cost the US so much. They see themselves as winning by their brutal murderous tactics and thus are encouraged to do more of the same.

President Obama isn't just wrong here. He's turned the entire ethical system on its head, encouraging and rewarding evil and avoiding and mocking good. He considers the actual oppression of peoples to be a cultural nuance, and the perceived oppression of peoples by companies trying to make a living as brutal and something that must be stopped in the name of justice. This is why the left is wrong, not because they are insane or innately horrible and evil like they claim the right is for disagreeing. Because their basic worldview is so confused and based on such a stack of lies and misconceptions that they are unable to act properly in the face of reality.

The conflicting, insane demands of multiculturalism, political correctness, and a faux diversity result in confusing and similarly conflicting behavior. The truth is a tool to change the world, there are no absolutes other than that statement... and that the right is always wrong and wickedly so... oh, and that justice - as defined by equality of outcome - is the highest goal of man. For now, we have to suffer through these people having all the power they need to attempt their solutions to the world's problems. It isn't that they are deliberately evil, they are really and honestly trying to do good. It is that their basic presumptions of life, their presuppositions, are so in error and so unquestioned and unexamined that they cause far more horror that anything they're attempting to repair.

For now. I can only pray that this will be reversed and adults are back in power, soon. For all their flaws and stupidity, and even corruption, the GOP was a better choice in power. Because the left is at least as corrupt and flawed, but childish and mistaken in their basic understanding of reality. Which is why the US now negotiates with terrorists.

Quote of the Day

"What's the two things they tell you are healthiest to eat? Chicken and fish. You know what you should do? Combine them, eat a penguin."
-Dave Attell

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

56 STARS

"No way could I have tattooed so many stars on her face against her will"

56 stars
The story broke over the weekend: A Belgian girl went to get a tattoo at a local parlor and went to sleep. She said she wanted 3 stars, but woke to 56 of them all over her face. The original story broke in the Telegraph by Bruno Waterfield:
"When he started to tattoo me, I did not feel pain and I fell asleep. I awoke as he tattooed me on the nose and I saw what he had done. I counted 56 stars," she said.

"I cannot go out on to the street, I am so embarrassed. I just look ugly, a freak, mutilated."

Miss Vlaeminck and her family are seeking damages worth £9,000 to pay for laser surgery to remove the tattoos.

But Rouslan Toumaniantz, who runs the Courtrai tattoo parlour called The Tattoo Box, has denied the allegations and demanded payment of 50 euros for the stars.
Now the first thing I thought of when I heard about this was "bull. She asked for them, she got what she asked for, and now she's having regrets." You just don't sleep through that long a process and nobody finds tattooing painless. It involves repeatedly stabbing through the skin with needles and injecting ink. Unless you're Suzanne Somers, you feel that.

Well now the truth has come out (again the Telegraph, writers uncredited):
But the 18-year-old has finally confessed she did not fall asleep, that she wanted all the stars and was "fully aware" of what Mr Toumaniantz was doing.

Ms Vlaminck told a Dutch TV crew: "I asked for 56 stars and initially adored them. But when my father saw them, he was furious. So I said I fell asleep and the that the tattooist made a mistake."
She's paying to have half of the stars removed. Her whole family has tats, and she went in to get some herself, and apparently went a little too far, in her father's mind.

Yet, her father probably went too far for his father's mind. And where do you draw the line? Usually there are good objections to getting tatoos, not the least of which is when you're 70 and have "up yours" tattooed on your forehead, you'll look even more like a loser when its all wrinkled and faded.

KINDLING?

"I think this serves as a perfect example of why DRM is bad for customers"

The Kindle is a popular gadget with a lot of folks. It is in essence a dedicated screen and controls that is able to display writing. You can download books from Amazon.com and read them on Kindle; you have to buy the book before you download. The downloads are cheaper than a real book. Some people love these things and are using them to read instead of real books. Personally I'll take a book any day, 10 times over, than an electronic screen for reasons I'll get to in a moment, but there's an unknown catch. Megan McArdle explains:
The customer rep asked me to send every one of the books in my Amazon library to my iPhone. Most of them gave the message that they were sent but a number of them returned the message "Cannot be sent to selected device".

"Oh that's the problem," he said "if some of the books will download and the others won't it means that you've reached the maximum number of times you can download the book."

I asked him what that meant since the books I needed to download weren't currently on any device because I had wiped those devices clean and simply wanted to reinstall. He proceeded to tell me that there is always a limit to the number of times you can download a given book. Sometimes, he said, it's five or six times but at other times it may only be once or twice. And, here's the kicker folks, once you reach the cap you need to repurchase the book if you want to download it again.
The limit on how many times you can download a book is set with the book. It is not displayed or told anywhere. No where does the Amazon site tell you that you can only download books a limited number of times. If your Kindle dies or you replace it with an upgrade (one a year), you have to get a new copy, which you might have to buy again.

I am just not a gadget head. I don't have to get the latest deely, I don't have to have a super zowie cell phone or I-Pod or movie viewer or Kindle. I don't really care, I get gadgets for their use, not their mere existence as the latest new electronic thing. That's probably why Twitter doesn't appeal to me where it does others.

I'd much rather just read a book. Its true that used books have gone up considerably in price recently, almost double. It is true that books wear out and fall apart. Yet I can take a book anywhere, read it as many times as I want, and it never needs batteries. If the sun shines on my book, it still can be read whereas a Kindle screen becomes impossible to see. I don't have to worry about breaking my book. People might steal a book, but its highly unlikely. A Kindle is a hot commodity. My books never need upgrading. Books cost a fraction what a new Kindle does. I don't need internet access to get a new book. An old book costs very little and is every bit as good as a new one... an old Kindle is that much closer to simply dying and never working again. The reasons for sticking to print are so many that I cannot envision ever getting a book reading gadget.

It is true that Kindle has advantages. You can search the books for phrases and words. You can have a host of books on one device and keep your library in one place. You can even use the Kindle as a wireless internet reader. So its not without some use, and Amazon estimates that they are selling 40,000 units a month. If someone were to buy me one at 360 bucks, I suppose I'd find a use for it. Chances are some of the books I want to read would be in their 300,000 title collection. Most probably wouldn't. But at up to 10 dollars a book, I'd be hard pressed to afford or want to buy any without having a real copy in my hands.

Why is it called a Kindle? My guess is that they were figuring that's all books would be worth once it came out: kindling. More publicly they probably mean that it will kindle ideas and interest in reading. If you want to get one to kindle your ideas, feel free; just remember that you don't buy those books. You rent them.