bookbanner
CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, May 31, 2010

IN MEMORIAM: Hans and Ellen Hansen

"Although no sculptured marble should rise to their memory, nor engraved stone bear record of their deeds, yet will their remembrance be as lasting as the land they honored."
-Daniel Webster

I had a dream about my grandmother last night. It was a brief episode, but I got a chance to hug her and tell her thank you for all the things she taught me and that I loved about her. She was born in Iowa and lived on ranches and in rural areas most of her life until moving to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Born in 1907 she was a flapper in the 20s, playing piano for silent movies in the local movie house and having a great old time. She met my grandfather when he was in a car with friends, spotted her on a streetcorner, and demanded they go around the block so he could talk to her again. I have an old picture of my grandma and she was a looker back then - she had an elegant beauty all the way until the day she died in her 80s.

My grandfather had come to America aboard the Cunard ship Caronin, past the statue of liberty (who he thought looked down her nose at him in his home spun clothes and cardboard luggage), and through Ellis Island. If I ever make it there, I'll look up his name in the registry. From New York City he made his way to Cheyenne Wyoming where he looked up an uncle who drove the horse-drawn carriage of the governor. Unable to speak but a few words of English, he tried the front door and was redirected to the servant's entrance, he recalled.

Hans first came to Oregon for work, at a relative's dairy. However, he did not last long in the dairy, probably because he'd moved to America largely to get away from that work and become a cabinet worker. He never did become one, but he did his own woodwork and produced some impressive pieces such as a scaled down victorian doll house for a cousin of mine. It was four feet tall and had a roof, furniture and furnishings in every room, and a removable wall to access the home. I have a desk in my room he made, pictures he framed, and so on. His dream to be a professional woodworker may have never come true but he did a lot on the side while he worked.

Taking a railroad job back in Cheyenne, Hans Godfried Hansen learned English through interacting with his friends and he especially remembers taking an old catalog, looking up items, and asking their name in English from the other workers. Hans was a short and slight man with a wiry, powerful frame. I remember well his bone crushing grip when he was an old man, and he was a vital, strong man all his life. He was also a very gentle, peaceful man of deep, personal, private faith and patience. When things went hard - and for a man of his day, sometimes they were very hard - he took the burden on his shoulders and carried the whole family through day after day, through depression, through misguided persecution, and through age.

He smoked until the 1960s when he had a heart attack, then he simply put the cigarettes aside and never did again. Until the day he died, he had a pack in the drawer of his workshop in the garage, but never smoked them. Hans was born in Bryndum Denmark in 1897, and he spurned his father's desire to take over the family dairy and, broken-hearted by a girl who turned him down, he moved to America in 1921 at the age of 24.

Ellen Virgina Moorehouse was my grandmother's maiden name. She was born in Des Moines Iowa and then moved to a homestead just outside Cheyenne on a small ranch. Eventually they moved into town where she met Hans in 1929. Married 1931, the two moved into a small apartment and struggled in the depression. At first they used crates from the local store for furniture and remembered well a summer in which the only food they had was bread and tomatoes. Work was hard to come by and the railroad scrap yard didn't always have work for Hans. Not long after the end of the second world war, my grandmother Ellen had a brain tumor at one point, so bad she would have screaming - literally - headaches and would lose rational capacity for short periods of time. Finally they were able to afford surgery and when the doctor opened her up, the tumor that showed on previous X-Rays was... gone. What was it? What happened? No one knows. From that day on she did not have the horrible headaches.

Hans and Ellen had four girls, all natural blond. They must have made quite a stunning sight as a family in Cheyenne, I have seen pictures of them in their youth and they all would have turned heads. In 1954, they moved to San Bernadino where Hans tried to find different work from the railroad, but that was an especially hot April and the job market was not good so smothering from the heat and jobless, Hans took them to Colorado to work at the railroad once more.

I remember my grandmother always had a hearing aid. These weren't the tiny earpieces we have today, it was a pretty large unit and it was attached to a box she wore under her blouse. I remember it clunking against me and often squealing when we would share a frequent hug. Ellen was 18 months old when she contracted spinal meningitis which weakened her heart and damaged her hearing greatly. With the hearing aid she could hear fairly well - I remember buying her a Walkman so she could listen to music easier in the 1980s, but I don't know if she ever used it.

In 1953 the family was on a trip to the mountains, up to a spot called Red Feathers Lake above Fort Collins. While on their way home on highway 14 through the rocky mountains, the brakes failed and the 1948 Hudson plunged off the road into a canyon, rolling until it came to rest against trees far above the road. Although banged around badly - and suffer injuries to this day - everyone survived the horrific crash. Taken into nearby Fort Collins, they were refused entry to the hospital that night and had to wait for the following day. Why?

This is a matter of some speculation but at that time, anti-communist fervor stirred up by the efforts of the House Committee on Unamerican Activities (led by Representative Charles McCarthy(R-WI) ) was at a fever pitch. My grandfather never lost his heavy Danish accent and my grandmother due to her brain tumor acted very strangely at times, and the people in Cheyenne were very odd toward the family. My mother remembers close friends suddenly deciding they were not friends any longer. She attributes it to the red scare; people thinking strange and foreign meant possibly communist.

The doctor at Fort Collins refused to see the family, was it because of this sort of attitude, or because they were not very wealthy? Was he just a colossal jerk? Was he having some personal emergency and had no time? No one knows. Had he acted swiftly, perhaps some of the painful problems my aunts face to this day could have been avoided. Broken bones, disjoined limbs, and worse afflict them all. My mother suffered some kind of brain damage and has had (thankfully controlled) epilepsy since.

Hans retired from railroad work in 1962, he moved to Durango in 1966, and the only thing I remember about that home is a patch of cucumbers grown at the side of a very big, I think white house. Of course I was very small so the house might not have been that large in truth. Hans loved Oregon, even if he didn't care much for dairy work, and he always wanted to return. The Willamette Valley reminded him a great deal of Denmark (I've heard from Dutchmen it reminds them a lot of the Netherlands, as well), and that is where He, Ellen, and their youngest daughter Sue Ellen moved in 1968. They chose Salem, and lived there for the rest of their lives.

There's a lot I don't know about my grandparents which I wish I could ask about; for example there is a picture of my grandfather in a military uniform, in Denmark. He never spoke of those days, but he would have served during World War I but Denmark was a neutral country and did not get involved in the fighting.

My grandfather died in 1986 and my grandmother in 1988. I still miss them after all this time. From my grandfather I learned solid, unshaking faith fed by the Bible every night, a quiet strength and steadfast fortitude to face all difficulties, and he faced things I've never even had to consider. Hans G Hansen was a small man but he was the strongest man, both physically and personally I have ever known. Ellen Hansen was a woman who faced such pain and hardship in her life she could have easily been bitter and angry, and while I remember both being pretty stern when I was a little boy - sternness I no doubt earned quite well - both were deeply loving and caring. My Grammy's deepest concern was for me to love Jesus, because she believed that loving Him would affect every aspect of my life and how I grew as a man. I love them both, and every year I miss their leadership and quiet wisdom more.

If you have grandparents you don't visit much or haven't talked to about their past, take today to do so, even if its just a short phone call. Don't miss this opportunity, do not fail to tap into that font of wisdom, even if they don't seem so wise to you. Learn from them, get to know them, learn about them. You won't have too long to do so, and chances are you'll miss them as long as you live.

*UPDATE: I'll pass on a little bit of background from my aunt, the oldest of the four girls:
[Hans] worked for the "store Dept." at the railroad. He did operate the cranes, also drove truck. I can remember his diving our to Burns for loads of Potoates. I have no idea what they did with them at the RR. Then he was promoted to "Outside Foreman" a job he held with much pride. He had a way of handling the men. He never let his small stature stop him, and if the guys at the RR got to funny with him, he would just "throw them". I guess he was much stronger than most of the men he worked for and they all liked him.
I don't doubt he could handle pretty much any of the men. Grampy (as we called him) was about 5'3 but he was strong as any linebacker, and no man to take any sort of crap from anyone. I'm guessing nobody gave him trouble twice.

KILL FAIL

The late, great Red Adair once said that the "top kill" method of shutting down an oil leak like the one in the Gulf of Mexico would not work because the pressure is so strong that deep it won't make any difference how much mud you ram into the drill hole. Basically, the pressures at over 5.000 feet down are so great that if any oil is leaking out at all, then its so high already that mud won't hold it in. Apparently he was right, because the method did not stop the leak. Every time I wrote about this I used cautious words because I wasn't sure it was going to do the job. Like everyone, except maybe some really rabid environmentalists, I hoped it would but in the end, it failed.

So now BP works on other methods in the crushing depths of almost a mile of water, working effectively without lights as the oil boils out. Some of the ideas include replacing the cap on the drill entirely with one that will successfully shut off the flow. In any case, the oil continues to burst out of the leaking, broken drill line.

Some are calling for President Obama to take over for BP and do the job himself (metaphorically, as in the federal government takes charge) but even if this happened, the federal government has no one with the skills, equipment, or training to even attempt such a repair, so they'd end up turning to BP or someone similar in the private sector to do it anyway, so its best to leave this in BP's hands. After all, every day increases their costs and this is their well, so they have the greatest motivation to fix the problem as soon as possible.

Some are saying this could take until August to get done, which makes cleanup efforts on the surface all the more pressing. That the federal government can get involved in, and should I believe. The Obama administration was slow to take real action and still is leaderless, but at least they seem to be trying a bit harder now. Even the New York Times, careful to avoid any mention or direction of criticism at President Obama, reported a month ago
The Department of Homeland Security waited until Thursday to declare that the incident was “a spill of national significance,” and then set up a second command center in Mobile. The actions came only after the estimate of the size of the spill was increased fivefold to 5,000 barrels a day.

The delay meant that the Homeland Security Department waited until late this week to formally request a more robust response from the Department of Defense, with Ms. Napolitano acknowledging even as late as Thursday afternoon that she did not know if the Defense Department even had equipment that might be helpful.

By Friday afternoon, she said, the Defense Department had agreed to send two large military transport planes to spray chemicals that can disperse the oil while it is still in the Gulf.
Unlike the left in dealing with President Bush during the Katrina/New Orleans disaster, I do not expect the government to be perfect or to be fully active on the scene instantly. President Obama's reaction to this has been anemic, and slow, but there isn't all that much they could have done anyway - and I've gone over the failings of the government to get equipment in place long before such a disaster already.

Quote of the Day

"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them."
-Frederick Douglass

Friday, May 28, 2010

TOP COWBOYS

Ransom Stoddard: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Maxwell Scott: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.
-The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Guyism recently tried to create a list of the top twelve TV and movie cowboys ever depicted. As you'd expect, nobody was really happy with the list. They looked over movies and primarily found guys from the last twenty years, ignoring many older characters. However, the list was pretty good offering up this dozen:
  1. William Munny, Unforgiven
  2. The Man with No Name, several movies
  3. Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn, True Grit
  4. Boss (aka Bluebonnet Spearman), Open Range
  5. Wyatt Earp, Tombstone
  6. Josey Wales, The Outlaw Josey Wales
  7. Harmonica, Once Upon A Time in the West
  8. Will Kane, High Noon
  9. Seth Bullock, Deadwood
  10. Marshall Matt Dillon, Gunsmoke
  11. Charlie Burns, The Proposition
  12. Sherriff Bart, Blazing Saddles
Now those are some great characters from westerns, but as a commenter named Alamo pointed out that of this list, the only real cowboy is Boss Spearman from Open Range, the rest being assorted gunmen and lawmen. And he's right, if you want a list of actual cowboys, this list comes up pretty short. But I guess we probably all know what he's talking about here.

I really do like Sherriff Bart from Blazing Saddles if for no other reason than its such a funny movie I cry laughing while watching it. So many great lines and hilarious situations, this movie is only flawed by being almost painfully dated and the bizarre, wandering ending.

Also the list is missing a few really great characters, probably due to the writer being a bit too young to remember some of them. For example, leaving out McCall and McCrae from Lonesome Dove probably is an unforgivable sin. Both of them were actually cowboys and they are amazing characters in what is otherwise a post modernist deconstruction of westerns.

Its hard to pick just one or two characters from Clint Eastwood's career, so I can understand leaving out his ghosts from Pale Rider and High Plains Drifter. But one of the most iconic and awesome characters ever written for a western is John Wayne's character Tom Doniphon, and he should be on that list for being both a cowboy and an amazing, character. I think Chuck Connor's Lucas McCain from The Rifleman probably belongs as well, and you probably should include at least a few of the Magnificent Seven, such as Chris Larabee Adams (Yul Brynner) and Vin Tanner (Steve McQueen). John Wayne alone played dozens of cowboys, and many of them stand out powerfully such as Sheriff John Chance (Rio Bravo) or Wil Anderson (The Cowboys). The entire cast of Silverado should probably be in there, at least Paden (Kevin Klein) and Emmett (Scott Glenn).

This is a list that can't really make anyone happy, like most of its kind, because "great" and even "cowboy" is pretty subjective. And I haven't seen movies like The Proposition so I can't comment on it, but for Australian western-style movies, its hard to do better than Quigley Down Under. I never liked Deadwood for its excessive profanity and absurdly overwrought, Shakespearean dialog, but I do suspect Timothy Olyphant did a terrific job as he always does.

THE USO

"I love to see politicians pray. It keeps their hands out where you can see what they're doing."
-Bob Hope

One of the greatest things I remember about WW2 era films and historical information is the United Service Organizations (USO). An organization set up to entertain soldiers and keep their morale up, the USO was heroic in its own way, with greats such as Bob Hope doing their best to give the boys fighting and dying overseas a chance to find some peace and joy in their lives, something to give them the energy to go on.

The USO was mocked viciously in the (far too) long version of Apocalypse Now but its still out there and its still trying to do its best to give soldiers a break and some fun in their tough jobs. I got curious about what the USO is up to lately, since it doesn't get much play lately and since helping the troops in a war the left would just as soon ignore isn't as popular with the entertainment industry.

They're really busy. For 69 years, they've been entertaining the troops, giving them a bit of fun before shipping out, and sending entertainers, celebrities, and personalities out for the men and women in uniform overseas. It is a known fact that the enemy sneaks up to watch USO shows from a safe distance in war zones - it happened in Germany, it happened in Korea, and it happened in Vietnam. The USO helps families of soldiers at home with games, internet access, nursery centers and more. They send rock bands and comedians overseas to entertain the troops in some of the more dangerous areas of the world.

Included in the plans for this year are a Dave Atell concert in Delaware, many Lt Dan Band (with Gary Cinise) and Modern West shows (with Kevin Costner), NFL coaches, Bands like Naughty By Nature, Sway, Big Boy and DJ E-Man, Papa Roach, the Whigs, and Toby Keith flying to the persian gulf, Afghanistan, Germany and other places just to play - for free - for our soldiers overseas. The cast of the show Sons of Anarchy are headed to Kuwait to do a show, Sesame Street does regular shows for kids of soldiers. Last year the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders did a show in Korea, The Foo Fighters and Jimmy Fallon entertained troops at the White House, Queensryche did a show in Germany, Miss Universe and Miss USA went to Guantanamo Bay, and TV's Craig Ferguson went to Kosovo and Germany all for the USO.

So along with our troops I want to salute this great, non-profit organization and the work they do.

WORD AROUND THE NET

"In real life, a global catastrophe is treated like a mere annoyance"

Kentucky Fried Chicken (calling its self KFC these days to play down any connection with Kentucky and fried foods) released a real heart stopper recently: the Double Down. Made up of two slices of breaded, fried chicken breast containing bacon and two kinds of cheese, the sandwich has been a gigantic success. It had been planned as a temporary special offer, but after selling ten million since the release on April 12, KFC is looking at making it a permanent menu item. Selling for five dollars each, the Double Down is one more product in a line of foods by KFC which seem determined to mock the health-conscious advertising of other fast food joints. Like most KFC food it is really expensive, not very large, and quite messy and greasy to eat. And from all reports, quite tasty.

Independent journalist Michael Yon has been one of the few consistent and balanced voices of war reporting during the War on Terror. Because he tells the story as he finds it, revealing facts and reality that was often in contradiction to the legacy media narrative about Iraq, he is almost totally ignored by the big media outlets. Even though his reporting also had news that hurt the Bush administration or showed things to be going badly at times, he wasn't consistently anti-War on Terror and wouldn't ignore what the legacy media wanted ignored.

Like Michael Totten and others, Yon works on his own, relying on advertising on his website, book sales, and donations for his livelihood. He also goes places other journalists fear and has been shot for his troubles. Yon has been covering Afghanistan quite well, including coverage of the absurd rules of engagement the troops are being saddled with - something Vietnam historians and vets will understand painfully well. He has been plain about how things are not going well in Afghanistan and a change in priorities and approach is needed, just as he was plain in Iraq before the Surge and a change in strategy under General Patraeus.

Michael Yon has been removed from embedding and shipped out of Afghanistan for his troubles. Yon has been the most consistent and powerful voice of the soldier in the War on Terror, reporting what they are doing, how they do it, and why, as well as how its working out on the ground. With the Bush administration, this one small voice was something they were willing to put up with. With the Obama administration, his one small voice is too much. Yon could go back, but his access would be severely limited and his travel greatly restricted. And its not easy to get into a war zone when the brass don't like you.

Ron Futrell at Big Journalism notes the difference in reaction to this news by the media as compared to other, far less noteworthy events:
I’ve seen reporters stand shoulder to shoulder with other reporters in situations that seem downright silly when compared to what we’re talking about here. At a boxing news conference years ago one of the fighters didn’t like a certain reporter and didn’t want him there—so he kicked him out. Those of us in the media departed together in a show of support. I’ve been kicked out of an NBA locker room, and watched the rest of the media join me in exodus. The media even stood by Fox News when the Obama Administration went after them last year. The media usually stand together on these issues, but not in this case.
The big differences are that he's not "one of them" in a professional job sense, and that he's hurting President Obama with some of his reports.

Hillsborough, New Hampshire is home to Joe LeVangie, World War 2 vet. EJL Management, which runs the Maple Leaf complex, ordered him and all other residents in the housing complex, to remove all flags. The order came down because the complex has a "no decorations" clause in the contract, so maintenance removed Mr LeVangie's flag bracket. Joe is confused, because he's been living in the complex for nine years under the same contract and flew a US flag every day of those nine years without any problems. What changed, he wonders? The Hillsborough police working with EJL management have come to an agreement that will allow flags to be flown as they have in the past, according to WMUR news, but there is no explanation why suddenly the US Flag was banned.

Greenwood high school in Indiana was sued by valedictorian Eric Workman, who demanded they not allow a prayer during the graduation ceremonies. A federal judge named Sarah Evans Barker (a Reagan appointee) ruled that the poll among students asking about the prayer and the decision to allow it was unconstitutional under the 1st amendment. The judge ruled that a poll asking students if they wanted a prayer or not violated the "establishment clause" of the 1st amendment and was thus unconstitutional. The school has responded by saying it will not screen any speeches by the four seniors who will be giving them, so whatever happens is out of their hands. This seems like an appropriate response, and I imagine young Mr Workman is none too popular at school these days.

Oregon's Secretary of State Kate Brown has issued a warning to the Independent Party in the state. The Independent Party is the fastest growing party in the state, with more members than all other third parties combined. The charge Ms Brown states is that the IP is coming very close to violating campaign laws by requesting donations from candidates for their party's ticket. The IP responded by saying they sent everyone a donation request letter, and that the fact that the candidates got one is no particular distinction. While this probably wasn't the best way to handle the donation issue, what the IP is trying to do is raise enough money for a vote of all its members on who to allow as a candidate. If they cannot raise enough, they will go with the usual caucus or convention system. One has to ask why Secretary Brown felt the need to go to the press with this - other than the fact that she's a Democrat, in a heavy Democrat-controlled state, who sees the IP as a potential competitor.

Also in Oregon, the Democrat governor Kulongowski has decided that tax increases aren't going to be enough to stop the rising debt the state is accruing after years of overspending and exorbitant programs such as the health care plan. So he's called for a 9% across the board cut in state spending. Previously when such cuts were suggested by conservatives, the cries from the ruling Democratic Party were always that this would put criminals on the streets and fire cops, but apparently he's find a way to do so without cutting primary services of the state. The fact that the tea party is loud outside his office on regular occasions and the entire nation is leaning rightward when it comes to fiscal issues probably had no influence on his decision. Sure.

President Obama has been pushing for a "jobs" bill to be passed by congress, and while it has some elements of an attempt to stimulate job creation, it also has some other aspects. For example, as Susan Ferrechio writes in the Washington Examiner:
At a cost of nearly $65 billion, the "doc fix" measure, as it has been nicknamed, would stave off such Medicare cuts for the next three years. Typically, Congress has voted to prevent these cuts on an annual basis, even though they were built into the system as a way to keep the cost of treating Medicare patients from getting out of control.

This year, lawmakers promised doctors a long-term fix if they would back the Democratic health care reform bill. Initially, this expenditure was included in President Obama's $1 trillion national health program, but it was stripped out in order to keep the bill from adding $59 billion to the deficit.

Now it comprises nearly one fifth of the cost of the jobs package.
In other words, to fake the cost of the Government Health Insurance Takeover Act (which was lowballed by several hundred million by the Democrats to begin with), they left out a large part of the cost and are tacking that part on to the "jobs" bill. Essentially, each year the government has to subsidize doctors to let the medicare costs not destroy them, and that doesn't change with this new health insurance system.

Whittaker Chambers was the chief editor of Time magazine. He was a communist who eventually abandoned his youthful foolishness (in the 1920s and 30s it was fashionable, until people found out what it was really like). He approached FDR with a problem when war broke out though: he knew a lot of hard core Soviet-loving communists who might cause troubles for the country. FDR shrugged and told him to get lost. Alan Snyder writes at Big Government:
When Chambers finally realized the administration was apathetic to the traitors in its midst, he had to reassess what he knew of FDR and his policies. In his classic autobiography, Witness, he describes how this rebuff affected him:
And with astonishment I took my first hard look at the New Deal. . . . All the New Dealers I had known were Communists or near-Communists. None of them took the New Deal seriously as an end in itself. They regarded it as an instrument for gaining their own revolutionary ends. I myself thought of the New Deal as a reform movement that, in social and labor legislation, was belatedly bringing the United States abreast of Britain or Scandinavia.
What shocked Chambers was that he recognized for the first time that the New Deal was far more than a reform movement. It was ”a genuine revolution, whose deepest purpose was not simply reform within existing traditions, but a basic change in the social, and, above all, the power relationships within the nation.”
Ultimately that's what all these big government socialist programs have been, an incremental, step-by-step shift to the left, moving the US away from capitalism toward socialism. That's why the Tea Party has to work and win now, because each time one of these big programs passes unstopped we get closer to the European model of government which says "we don't care if you do not like this, we'll put it in place anyway and you will eventually come to depend on it."

South Korea is looking for UN backing to punish North Korea for its sinking of a warship. While some think the US is secretly involved looking for yet another war, sane people and all the forensic evidence examined by independent world experts show this was North Korean aggression. The North Koreans meanwhile are beating the war drums in response to being caught, cutting off all contact and ties with their southern neighbors. Some say this is all just posturing, since the North Koreans do not have the manpower, money, or fuel to fight more than a few days. China certainly is not inclined to help the lunatic ruler of North Korea. However, I am not so certain. If you have a crazy leader and a mindlessly loyal military combined with nuclear weapons, it is not inconceivable that Kim Jong Il thinks that he has the ultimate weapon which will destroy all his enemies, and thus cannot be stopped. There's only three reasons to have nukes: intimidate your enemies into not attacking, secretly attack an enemy without it being traced to you... or for war.

According to a report by Dennis Cauchon at USA Today, private pay in the United States has shrunk while government pay has increased.
Paychecks from private business shrank to their smallest share of personal income in U.S. history during the first quarter of this year, a USA TODAY analysis of government data finds.

At the same time, government-provided benefits — from Social Security, unemployment insurance, food stamps and other programs — rose to a record high during the first three months of 2010.

Those records reflect a long-term trend accelerated by the recession and the federal stimulus program to counteract the downturn. The result is a major shift in the source of personal income from private wages to government programs.

The trend is not sustainable, says University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes. Reason: The federal government depends on private wages to generate income taxes to pay for its ever-more-expensive programs. Government-generated income is taxed at lower rates or not at all, he says.
In other words, the government is getting richer while the rest of the country gets poorer, and the government does not create wealth. This isn't stimulus, its a recipe for economic collapse, yet some economists think this is just dandy. Perhaps this explains why polls of people in government show an exact opposite measure of support, optimism, and opinions about the success of the "stimulus" package from those of private citizens.

William Jacobson at Legal Insurrection has noticed a new trend in legacy media reporting. "Little Noticed" is the phrase to describe aspects of the Government Health Insurance Takeover Act. He has almost two dozen examples of this being used over and over again by the press. Some examples:
  • "As well as these and other major job-killing provisions, two little-noticed tax changes would also affect employment."
  • "A little-noticed provision of the new health care reform law requires employers to provide new mothers with “reasonable break time” to express breast milk for nursing children who are up to 12 months old. "
  • "A little-noticed provision in the new health care law may not only dramatically increase paperwork for small businesses, but also put them at a disadvantage against their larger competitors."
And so on. Take a look at the whole article, the apparent thrust of these reporters is to try to make it seem like not only is the bill something surprisingly full of junk, but that they're so extra special for finding this out.

Venezuelan dictator Chavez, friend to Hollywood leftist twits and president for life, has decided that companies providing food are corrupt and he has to take over that industry as well. The Latin American Herald Tribune reports:
Venezuela’s National Guard seized roughly 120 tons of merchandise Thursday from the country’s largest food company, the guard’s commander said.

The “preventive confiscation” came after authorities say they detected inconsistencies in reports from the Empresas Polar conglomerate about the content of several warehouses in the western city of Barquisimeto, Gen. Luis Bohorquez Soto told state television.
...
The operation was part of President Hugo Chavez’s efforts “to protect the Venezuelan family” and avoid the phenomenon of empty shelves at grocery stores, the general said.
Venezuela suffers from regular shortages of food, following price controls and government takeovers of various support and supply industries. Unable to blame these problems on their idiotic socialist schemes, the Chavez government blames corruption and foreign interference.

Over at Right Wing News, Ed Driscoll rounded up a terrific collection of news stories in which the legacy media either deliberately buried stories, usually to the benefit of tyrants and thugs as well carried as false stories that enemies of the US (and freedom of the press) wanted spread. For example, there was the absurdly false Koran flushing story that Newsweek gleefully ran with, or Eason Jordan's admission of avoiding stories which would upset Saddam Hussein. Driscoll suggests that maybe, just maybe that contributes to people being less inclined to buy their product, and thus their financial woes?

When President Obama ran for office, he claimed once that because of him the sea level had stopped rising. People listening didn't break out laughing, which is proof of how mesmerizing he was... and how stupid they were. Now, it turns out, scientists are backing off of the sea level rise claims related to global warming.
In a new scientific paper, Nils-Axel Morner, former emeritus head of the paleogeophysics and geodynamics department at Stockholm University in Sweden, says that observational records from around the world -- locations like the Maldives, Bangladesh, India, Tuvalu and Vanuatu -- show the sea level isn't rising at all.

Morner's research, revealed Monday at the fourth International Conference on Climate Change, demonstrates that there is no “alarming sea level rise” across the globe, and it says a U.N. report warning of coastal cities being deluged by rising waters from melting polar ice caps “is utterly wrong.”
Perhaps over a decade of cooling has something to do with it. Global warming hysterics rushed to condemn, demonize, and utterly refuse to believe anything the Heartland gathering had to say. I guess consensus only counts when it is in line with your political viewpoint.

Spain has been aggressively following the kind of "green" technologies and has been trying to build a "green" economy around these efforts. This is exactly the dream of President Obama and other Democratic Party leaders in the United States, and much of the "stimulus" package went to spending schemes that follow this pattern. However, as Christopher Horner reports at Pajamas Media, Spain is finding out that isn't exactly working:
Spain’s “green economy” program cost the country 2.2 jobs for every job “created” by the state. However, the figures published in the government document indicate they arrived at a job-loss number even worse than the 2.2 figure from the independent study.

This document is not a public report. Spanish media has referred to its existence in recent weeks though, while Bloomberg and the Washington Examiner have noted the impact: Spain is now forced to jettison its plans — Obama’s model — for a “green economy.”

Remarkably, these items have received virtually no media attention.
Not really all that remarkable is it, Mr Horner?

And that's the Word Around the Net for May 28, 2010.

LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS

"I will not rest — or be satisfied — until the leak is stopped at the source, the oil on the Gulf is contained and cleaned up, and the people of this region are able to go back to their lives and livelihoods."
-President Obama, days before going on vacation

Now that British Petroleum appears to have stopped the leak in their oil well which was pumping out an estimated 90,000 barrels of oil a day or more, the focus has turned to how to deal with the oil already on the surface. Over 50,000 square miles - an area larger than the country of Greece and about the size of New York state - is believed to be floating with oil, and that area is spreading closer to the mainland every day. In some places, it has already reached the shore.

So what to do? President Obama's ingenious plan "plug the hole" muttered while he went on vacation, seems to have been accomplished, but now what? Well BP was largely to blame for what happened, and they're working hard to try to address the problem. Yet there are others working on the problem, too, putting their minds to finding a solution.

British Petroleum has three basic industry standard solutions on the table they are considering:
  • Burn off what they can
  • Add chemical solvents to the oil so it breaks down faster
  • Skimming the oil off
Of these, the skimming is probably the most attractive because it recovers at least some of the oil. Doubtless all three will be used. However, there are other people coming up with solutions too. The most famous is Kevin Costner's centrifuges which spin out the water and retain the oil, processing 200 gallons a minute. With the vast size of the oil, that's a pretty tiny amount, but he has 30 built and more on the way. BP is presently testing his machine, which seems to be a good way of stopping the oil from reaching key areas. Costner started work on this machine after the Exxon Valdez disaster, spending over $24,000,000 of his own money.

Other solutions include a simple plan to scatter hay on the top of the oil spill then collecting the mess with aquatic harvesters. The theory behind this is simple: oil will tend to stick to whatever it touches, and the hay floats. This will allow the hay to collect the oil, then be picked up. It wouldn't get all of the oil, but it would be a fairly cheap way of getting quite a bit of it. Here's the You Tube video demonstrating the idea:


The real problems I see is that he puts a lot of hay on that oil, an amount that would be difficult to provide even from the entire nation's fields; and that the collection devices are made to get hay, not gummed up oily hay, so they would likely jam and break down in short order without modification. Still its a cheap idea, and its worth a shot. So far BP has not contacted CW Roberts Contracting or Otis Goodson who came up with it.

San Francisco based A Matter of Trust collects hair, fur, and feathers donated from around the world, and is willing to assemble booms of nylon packed with this material to absorb some of the oil and possibly stop it before it spreads beyond the booms. BP was in contact with the organization but has decided against the idea, stating that they have enough booms of their own, but A Matter of Trust is stockpiling them in case the government needs some.

In Italy a company called Fluidotecnica Sanseverino produces an oil- separation device they call Oilsep CC Ecology. This is a non-chemical process that isolates oil from water and they have contacted BP as well. So far BP has not responded, for reasons of their own (possibly price).

Other solutions include an organic compound of hair and mushrooms to sop up the oil, peat moss (which is incredibly absorbant), and naturally-occuring microbes that are found in deep sea trenches which eat oil and produce oxygen. One thing is for certain, this will eventually be cleaned up and the area will return to normal.

This is not, by the way, the worst oil spill in history. In 1979 a Mexican oil rig lost pressure to the mud being used to replace the oil drilled out, had a blowout, burst into flame, and collapsed. Red Adair's team (the man who founded Haliburton) finally got the well shut down ten months later, when over 3 million barrels of oil had been spewed out of the well. You can still, according to some reports, find oil on the beaches of the gulf of Mexico from that disaster.

In comparison to that disaster, the BP one is significantly less troubling. What frustrates me more is that they had already seen this happen and had still nothing in place to deal with it.

Quote of the Day

"It's breathtakingly stupid to think of minimum wages as an anti-poverty tool. If it were, poverty in places such as Haiti, Ethiopia and Bangladesh could be instantly eliminated simply by proposing that these country's legislators mandate a higher minimum wage."
-Walter Williams

Thursday, May 27, 2010

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S DREAM

"a nation like Greece, in turn, either pays what it has borrowed or it doesn’t. All the op-eds in the New York Times cannot change that fact.

Victor Davis Hanson in a recent column looked at the world and what has happened in the last three years alone. In essence, we've gone from a resurgent Europe mocking people who predicted socialism would wipe out their economies and prove unsustainable to a reality in which that exact thing happened and the Euro seems destined to complete collapse.

When President Obama was elected, magazines like Newsweek proclaimed it a huge socialist victory. Hanson describes Obama's dream this way, and I believe it is 100% correct:
A social-democratic America would come to emulate the successful welfare states in the European Union. These twin Western communitarian powers would together usher in a new world order in which no one nation was to be seen as preeminent. All the old nasty ideas of the 20th century — military alliances, sovereign borders, independent international finance, nuclear arms, religious and cultural chauvinism — would fall by the wayside, as the West was reinvented as part of the solution rather the problem it had been in its days of colonialism, imperialism, and exploitation. A new green transnationalism would assume the place of that bad old order, a transnationalism run by elite, highly educated, and socially conscious technocrats — albeit themselves Western — supported by a progressive press more interested in effecting social change than in merely reporting the tawdry news.
President Obama had a dream based on academic theories almost wholly separated from reality, the kind of ideological structures built out of discussions with people who nod a lot and like-thinking minds insulated from how the world works. The kind of ideology that thinks that being nicer and more open to our enemies makes them less enemies, the kind of ideology which believes that people are basically decent and trustworthy, if only treated better and given a chance. Hanson points out the basic flaw in this ideology:
After all, is Iran closer to getting a bomb or further away than it was a year and a half ago? Are terrorists more or less likely to attack and kill inside the United States? Is Syria now a more or a less helpful player in the Middle East? Is Israel safer or less safe, more or less a U.S. ally? Are Putin and Chávez now more helpful players on the world scene, in appreciation of Obama’s olive branches? Does a North Korea or an Iran feel more or less emboldened to run risks in testing the status quo? Is China more or less provocative in the Pacific?
Treating people nicer doesn't change their basic self interest nor their goals. Bowing to tyrants and giving old allies the cold shoulder doesn't make our enemies hate us any less or decide not to follow through on their plans. It makes them at best less hostile toward the person being nice to them - but not less hostile enough to stop what they're doing.

President Obama's dream was based on such a flawed and ignorant view of human nature and life that it could not be sustained. Its a fine dream on many levels, but with even a little bit of rational examination falls to pieces like John Lennon's narcissistic and selfish Imagine song. Imagine a world where nobody judged me and I could do anything I want without feeling guilty. The world is filled with people who will not voluntarily do nice things for others, who are basically selfish and lazy and who, encouraged by a culture which has systematically demolished every single structure to encourage good behavior and discourage bad, see no reason to be otherwise.

All the best wishes and finest intentions in the world cannot change reality. And the reality is that people are not basically decent, that enemies of civilization and good are not that way because they were mistreated, and that if you give a man a fish every day chances are he will never, ever learn to fish on his own, and probably will soon demand tartar sauce. Of course, only a heartless conservative would turn down such a simple, obvious demand.

MEGA MOSQUE IMAM

"As a New Yorker, born and bred, and American, born and bred, I support this community center."

Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf is behind the gigantic Muslim center being planned for construction on "ground zero," where the World Trade Center used to be. When reporters or the planning committee for Manhattan ask him about this plan, he's very multicultural and full of the politically correct sorts of language:
"We have condemned the terror of 9/11. We have worked to ensure that our mosques are not recruiting grounds for terrorists."

"My heart goes out to all of the victims of 9/11. They are all heroes. But I urge you to include in your sympathy the family of Mohammad Salman Hamdani. Born in Pakistan, his parents brought him to New York as a small child. He wanted nothing more than to be an American, and he was."

"My colleagues and I are the anti-terrorists. We are the people who want to embolden the vast majority of Muslims who hate terrorism to stand up to the radical rhetoric. Our purpose is to interweave America's Muslim population into the mainstream society."
And so on. If you ask him he'll give the answers the left wants to hear and believe. In English. However, when he's speaking in Arabic or to those he considers friends, you get a different sort of picture.

For instance take what this man said right after 9/11, on 60 minutes:
BRADLEY: Are- – are — are you in any way suggesting that we in the United States deserved what happened?

Imam ABDUL RAUF: I wouldn’t say that the United States deserved what happened, but the United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.

BRADLEY: OK. You say that we’re an accessory?

Imam ABDUL RAUF: Yes.

BRADLEY: How?

Imam ABDUL RAUF: Because we have been an accessory to a lot of — of innocent lives dying in the world. In fact, it — in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA.
Or here's what he's said in Arabic, courtesy Walid Shoebat at Pajamas Media:
More recently — in fact on May 26, one day after his Daily News column – Abdul Rauf appeared on the popular Islamic website Hadiyul-Islam with even more disturbing opinions. That’s the same website where, ironically enough, a fatwa was simultaneously being issued forbidding a Muslim to sell land to a Christian, because the Christian wanted to build a church on it.

In his interview on Hadiyul-Islam by Sa’da Abdul Maksoud, Abdul Rauf was asked his views on Sharia (Islamic religious law) and the Islamic state. He responded:
Throughout my discussions with contemporary Muslim theologians, it is clear an Islamic state can be established in more then just a single form or mold. It can be established through a kingdom or a democracy. The important issue is to establish the general fundamentals of Sharia that are required to govern. It is known that there are sets of standards that are accepted by [Muslim] scholars to organize the relationships between government and the governed.
When questioned about this, Abdul Rauf continued: “Current governments are unjust and do not follow Islamic laws.” He added:
New laws were permitted after the death of Muhammad, so long of course that these laws do not contradict the Quran or the Deeds of Muhammad … so they create institutions that assure no conflicts with Sharia.
This is the man who - in Arabic - utterly rejected the idea of reaching out and working with other peoples, rejecting religious discussion. It's Sharia or nothing for him. Maybe, just maybe he's telling the left what they want to hear, rather than what he really believes and has in mind. This is not new, it was pretty standard practice for terrorist leader and nobel prize winner Yasser Arafat, who would make grand speeches about injustice and peace in English, then go on the radio in Arabic and speak about grinding the bones of Jews to powder and obliterating them as a people. The left chose to believe what he told them in English and ignore what he was saying to his own people in his own language.

It's mind boggling to me that the very people who scream the loudest about respecting cultural sensibilities and going out of one's way not to offend then defend the building of an Islamic victory monument on the bones of those slain by Muslim extremists. That's an example of compartmentalization I find difficult to believe possible in anyone sane.

What gets me even more is the audacity of this Imam even believing such a scheme would be considerable, let alone feasible. How weak must he view the west, how gullible and pathetic, to allow this kind of thing to even be discussed? How wretched must a culture be to not just tolerate but embrace and support its destroyers in their midst?

TOP KILL SUCCESS

"We'll get this under control"

It appears that the "top kill" technique of stopping the BP oil spill is working, for now at least. The Top Kill solution worked like this:


Mud and other natural debris were pumped forcibly into the base of the oil rig on the bottom of the ocean floor, almost a mile down. This jams the drill hole which the oil is spooting out of, and blocks the spill. In theory this should hold long enough for a more permanent cap to be put in place.

Now the only problem is the sea of oil - some estimate as much as ten thousand barrels a day worth - and what to do with it. The ocean can easily disperse and diffuse that much oil; many times that much seeps from the ocean floor every day. The problem is its all collected in one fairly enclosed area, and is spreading to beaches. However, this is something that the federal government and the oil business have dealt with before and know what to do, if not usually on this vast a scale.

Like President Obama said, there's plenty of blame to go around:
  • BP and the rest of the oil industry were completely unprepared for this sort of even, even though it obviously was possible. This is inexcusable.
  • President Obama's response team and personal interest in this has been slow and tepid.
  • Regulators and government agencies who were supposed to keep an eye on the business failed to do so, even issuing environmental impact study waivers to BP for this rig earlier.
  • The people who built and maintained the rig clearly didn't do their jobs very well and that was Halliburton.
Some on the left are even trying to blame President Bush for this disaster, over a year since he was out of office. Their logic is that the response teams, procedures, and technology were put in place by President Bush, and Obama simply didn't have time to figure it all out and make it better after 15 months in office. I guess that means 9/11 was President Clinton's fault, considering even less time passed before the terrorist strike and with Gore's failed tantrum trying to steal the presidency Bush had even less time and flexibility to ready for office before his inauguration.

Yet I have to agree in one sense. I do blame President Bush, and president Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and so on... because despite these oil rigs being built and working for decades, apparently no president at any time - including President Obama - was really ready for what could happen. Disasters at sea in American waters are a federal government problem, and this should have been envisioned and prepared for long ago. Even what little provision they did try to set up - inflammable booms to allow burning off surface oil spills - was not required until the Clinton administration, and to this day have not been made available anywhere.

At this point it has become obvious that a combination of having no clue how to handle such a disaster and President Obama's almost total lack of leadership - or even apparent interest in the disaster - is wearing out everyone's patience. Obama is doing the only thing he really knows how to do: rabble rousing. He's holding carefully staged (but sadly, oil-soaked-bird lacking) press conferences to demonstrate how mad he wants people to see him as, he's attacking the oil industry and calling for heavier regulation, he's throwing blame around at everyone but himself, but he's not getting anything positive done.

The Coast Guard got into action almost immediately, and they've been on the scene working hard. They're getting things done. The BP disaster response team has been working around the clock for weeks, building new technology to try to fix the problem, and it appears they may have succeeded, finally. They're getting things done. Coastal states such as Louisiana have started building sand barriers to stop the oil flow instead of waiting for federal government environmental impact studies. They're getting things done. President Obama is making speeches, and even his supporters are becoming exasperated.

Ultimately this disaster proves several things. First, it proves the oil industry was unready for the worst case scenario, something completely unacceptable in business or any other area of life, but especially for something this potentially destructive. Second it proves the US government was completely unprepared for such a disaster, despite having laws to prepare for this. Third, it demonstrates yet again President Obama's lack of leadership and incompetence in an executive role. By now he's getting the hang of what to do after a year of on the job training, but any time a new crisis (a real one, not the "kids are too fat" or "we're eating too much salt" faux crises) comes up, he's paralyzed like a deer in the headlights and reverts to type: make speeches, stir up animosity against his foes.

What it does not prove is that we need to stop drilling for oil. One accident in decades with thousands of these rigs is not proof that this is too dangerous or destructive to consider. That's like banning all exploration because natives kill a colony or a ship sunk while trying to round the horn of Africa. That's the kind of defeatist idiocy that stopped the space program for a decade after one accident with the shuttle. People who make this argument are folks who already thought we shouldn't drill for oil and are looking for any excuse.

And it proves that big companies like BP who are so entrenched in the halls of power and have so many cronies and inside leverage in government are able to get away with things ordinary companies never would. That has to stop, both at the corporate level, but especially at the government level. We've had far too many buddies of industry in positions of power manipulating law, controlling regulators, and ignoring good practice because they know congressmen have their back. I can't help but think of The Godfather where the mob had judges and congressmen in their pocket so they could ignore the law and laugh at the government.

That has to change, or we'll all keep paying this kind of price. And make no mistake, the cost of oil just went up and will continue climbing rapidly, everywhere, on the excuse of all that oil not being collected and the costs of cleanup being passed on - even though this only affects BP and the oil from that region. Look for 4 dollar a gallon gas plus, this summer.

Quote of the Day

"We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world"
-Helen Keller

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

MUSKETEERING

"Once in the Bastille, there is no afterwards. "
-Count Rochefort, The Three Musketeers

Queen Anne of Austria
The Three Musketeers is one of those books that's so good you want to go back and read it again once its done. It is quite long, but that's a good thing, because you love the characters and situations (and for me, especially the sensibility of the characters and their love of honor and duty) so dearly that ever new page is a delight. A while back I did a post on movies that could stand a remake, and this was one I wanted to see done.

Its true that over the last years a couple of Musketeers remakes were made, with one in 1993 (Chis O'Donnell, Charlie Sheen etc) and one more recently which jarringly tried to add martial arts into the mix so it was more a Chinese opera than a Dumas story in 2001 (Justin Chambers, Tim Roth, Catherine Deneuve). Both had some good points, but none of them truly match the wonder of the original story. In truth, you could make several movies from the one book - and the 1973 version with Oliver Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Michael York was in two parts and did a fairly faithful job of following much of the story, but it left a great deal out.

What is needed is a good, tight story following the book more closely, taking its time to tell the story in the modern moviemaking style - very gritty and realistic, with brutal faithfulness to the time so it doesn't feel so dated and set in its decade (the previous listed examples can be dated easily by hair alone).

There is a new effort being put together by Hollywood, targeted for a 2011 release date. So far we know Orlando Bloom is going to be the main villain of the piece - the Duke of Buckingham (an interesting choice, since he's never played a villain and I think he'd be better at that than hero). Milla Jojovich is cast for the evil Lady DeWinter, and the queen is Juno Temple, a young teen actress which is appropriate since in the book she's 14 years old. The Musketeers (there's actually 4, including D'Artagnan, but he isn't technically a musketeer for most of the book) are played by these fellows:

Aramis: Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans, Robin Hood - he hasn't had much work)
Arthos: Matthew MacFadyen (Robin Hood, Frost/Nixon, lots of television)
D'Artagnan: Logan Lerman (Butterfly Effect, 3:10 to Yuma)
Porthos: Ray Stevenson (King Arthur, Rome, The Book of Eli, the Punisher in the most recent film)

Now these aren't total unknowns but they are pretty obscure and none of them are primarily known for being pretty boys or famous for just being actors. That seems like a good step in my opinion, so that the roles are not overshadowed by the people playing them. For example, I like Charlie Sheen a lot, but he's always playing, well, Charlie Sheen. That's all you see and think of when he's on the screen. And Chris O'Donnell has the acting talent of a block of salt.

So although the movie is pointlessly in 3D (that's the big trend in Hollywood by mindless idiots: Avatar made a bazillion dollars, Avatar was in 3D, make our movie 3D and we'll get rich!), I'm hoping that it will be something well made. At the very least, it should look really, really good and be plausibly set in the proper 16th century time period.

Incidentally, although the titular musketeers are best known for their swordplay, they really did specialize in the musket which was a pretty new weapon in the time this story is set. Its just that the musket is a one-shot weapon, so once it's done you draw your sword.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

A poll at the Japan Today website:


I've watched a lot of Japanese animation and every single time anyone American is ever shown, he's a brutish military thug, the bad guy that is humiliated by the slightly effeminate hero or the outrageously sexy heroine. I guess being nuked does that to people.

ARREST THE STREET PREACHER

"Once freedom goes it becomes a matter of elite fashion just who the police harass."

Dale Mcalpine is a 42 year-old man living in Cumbria, England. He is a Baptist minister who was on a streetcorner preaching to shoppers and passers by when a police officer spoke to him. The exchange went like this, according to Mcalpine:
"He told me he was homosexual," Mr Mcalpine said.

"I said 'the Bible says homosexuality is a sin'. He said 'I'm offended by that and I'm also the LGBT liaison officer within the police'.

"I said 'it is still a sin'."

He said three uniformed police officers then appeared and accused him of using homophobic language.

"I'm not homophobic, I don't hate gays," Mr Mcalpine said. "Then they said it is against the law to say homosexuality is a sin. I was arrested. It's crazy isn't it?"

Mr Mcalpine was charged with breaching section 5 of the Public Order Act by allegedly using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress.
The police have recently dropped the charges against Mcalpine, stating "following a further review of all the evidence in this case we were no longer satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction." Mind you, he still had that intimidation on his record, and others who learned of the arrest know what can happen if you dare say something a homosexual doesn't care for.

Why this English town with a population of 25,000 people needs a lesbian gay bisexual and transexual liason officer is not exactly clear. What is clear is that section 5 of the Public Order Act is broadly worded enough that saying something some protected minority group dislikes is sufficient cause for arrest by the police. While freedom of speech isn't as protected and sacred in the UK as it is in the United States, the concept of freedom of expression as we today enjoy it originated in England's common law. Which makes events like this even more depressing.

Consider the Cheif Superintendant Steve Johnson's thoughts on the matter:
"We would like to reassure the public that we respect, and are committed to upholding, the fundamental right to freedom of expression.

"We are just as committed to maintaining the peace and preventing people feeling alarmed or distressed by the actions of others in public places."
One of these things is not like the other. The concept of "fighting words" or words so extreme or dangerous they are likely to cause damage, danger to people, or are so outrageously antagonistic they can be restricted is one that most people recognize and will agree with. The classic (if dated) example is yelling "fire" in a crowded theater. The resulting chaos, potential threat to life and limb, and the damage to the theater's income all are too great to permit that expression of someone's freedom of speech.

However, this law and in particular this officer's interpretation of the law goes beyond actual danger to perceived displeasure and discomfort. Being "alarmed or distressed" is part of life and almost entirely subjective. What might alarm or distress one person has no particular effect on another. That means its your problem if something someone says causes distress. If you feel offended, that's your problem and you alone are to blame for it. Offense and discomfort are not, and never shall be, sufficient reason to restrict freedom of expression.

People have a responsibility to be concerned for the offense and discomfort of others in a social setting, and cultures will tend to restrict themselves with various social mores and shame patterns (such as the way people react to racial epithets), but in no possible way is that cause for legal action or criminalization. This law criminalizes saying something that someone else might be offended by, or at least claim they were distressed by.

This kind of law is exactly what the Canadian "Human Rights" Councils have made their living off of, giving the most politically correct and easily offended legal power to crush dissent and silence those who say things they do not want to be said. The entire point of freedom of speech is to say things that the government does not want to hear, that is exactly why the founding fathers insisted upon it, and why the concept came into being. When the government begins criminalizing speech based on offense, they've crossed the line from protecting society into tyranny and censorship of ideas.

Ultimately, Great Britain is facing a crisis right now, where they arrest street preachers for daring to say something that is an absolute fact (the Bible does, in fact, call homosexual behavior a sin, in both old and new testaments) while ignoring and even defending far more dangerous and outrageous speech and behavior by Muslims.

As Natalie Solent puts it on Samizdata (where I saw this news story first):
Once freedom goes it becomes a matter of elite fashion just who the police harass. In 2010 it was Baptist street preachers. Twenty years earlier it was homosexuals. Twenty years later it may be homosexuals again. Get yer multiculturalism right and it could be both.
Just file this under the new counterculture: the man coming down on the people who question their rigid ideology and challenging the way things are. Remember kids: if you want to fight the man and be a radical challenging the status quo, move to the right.

Quote of the Day

"When Obama last held a big news conference, there had not yet been terrorist attacks at Fort Hood, Detroit, and Times Square. Scott Brown was an unknown Massachusetts state senator. There was no national health care bill, much less national health care law. Tiger Woods appeared to be a model family man."
-Byron York

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SONGS I LIKE: Cool Change (Little River Band)

It's kind of a special feeling
When you're out on the sea alone
Staring at the full moon, like a lover

The Little River Band is one of those soft rock bands from the 70s and 80s that people tend to mock. More associated with music in department stores than rock concerts, this is one band I'm a little embarrassed to admit I really do like. The 1970s had far too many mushy, sappy bands like Captain and Tenille and dozens of one-hit wonders with music that is difficult for even the most emotional person to stand. The Little River Band is in a different class, even if their music is still technically in the same category.

Formed in 1975 in Melbourne Australia, the Little River Band was the first band from that nation to enjoy commercial success in the US. Tight harmonies and softer music characterized the band's music, making it more broadly accessible than many rock groups. Their first big hit in the US was "Its A Long Way" and they followed that up with six straight big hits including "Cool Change."

"Cool Change" is about a love of sailing, something that most people who have done so are filled with, based on what they say about it. There is apparently something about being in the ocean in that immense water that is so peaceful and compelling and writer Glenn Shorrock had to write about it. I envy that passion and wonder what it is truly like. Cool Change is about the peace and solitude that overcomes the singer when he's finally alone, away from the lifestyle, the hard work, the busy cities, the noise and the stress. out on the water, sailing and watching the billion bright stars in a clear night sky.

If there's one thing in my life that's missing
It's the time that I spend alone
Sailing on the cool and bright clear water
Lots of those friendly people
And they're showing me ways to go
And I never want to lose their inspiration
Time for a cool change
I know that it's time for a cool change
And now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it's time for a cool change

Well, I was born in the sign of water
And it's there that I feel my best
The albatross and the whales they are my brothers
It's kind of a special feeling
When you're out on the sea alone
Staring at the full moon, like a lover

Time for a cool change
I know that it's time for a cool change
Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it's time for a cool change

I've never been romantic
And sometimes I don't care
I know it may sound selfish
But let me breathe the air, yeah
Let me breathe the air

[Instrumental]

If there's one thing in my life that's missing
It's the time that I spend alone
Sailing on the cool and bright clear water
It's kind of a special feeling
When you're out on the sea alone
Staring at the full moon, like a lover

Time for a cool change
I know that it's time for a cool change
Now that my life is so prearranged
I know that it's hard for a cool
Cool, cool change

It's time, it's time, it's time
It's time, it's time, it's time
For a cool, cool change
Oooooh, I know it's time for a cool
Cool, cool change
Now that my life is so prearranged
Well, I know, I know, I know, I know
That it's time for a cool change
Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is, yes it is
It's Time for a cool change

This is part of the Song I Like series

LINE ITEM AGAIN

Talking tough about cutting spending is easy. It's where the rubber meets the road that members on both sides of the aisle have fallen short."
-Rep. Jim Matheson (D-UT)

In the 1996, the GOP-controlled house under the leadership of Newt Gingrich passed the Line Item Veto, which Democrats controlling the Senate also passed, eager to give a Democratic president more power. The idea behind it was that the president would be allowed to effectively cross off different parts of a bill and veto some of it, but leave the rest intact.

Unfortunately, this went to the supreme court, who ruled (properly, I believe) that this was unconstitutional. It gave the executive branch legislative powers to edit bills rather than give them a yes or no signature or veto. So the line item veto died. The idea of it, however, has come up several times, usually by the party of the president when congress is controlled by another party.

I'm in favor of the concept, even though it is unconstitutional as the bill was written in the 90s. Giving the president the power to reign in the exuberant spending of congress is only a good thing, and since it doesn't permit him to add more spending in, that means it can only be used to reduce federal budget size and expenditures. That's all good in my eyes.

President Obama has come up with a different version of the line item veto concept which he wants congress to pass. Susan Ferrechio at the Washington Examiner explains:
The White House proposal would allow Obama and future presidents to scour spending bills for wasteful earmarks and other expenditures and then send Congress a package of cuts that lawmakers would have to either accept or reject by an up-or-down vote.
This would mean that congress still had the say on these changes, but the president was given an advisory power over legislation, something he already enjoys. In practical terms, its not likely such a change would make much difference, but it could be used by presidents to highlight and focus attention on specific aspects of a bill.

For example, the recent military appropriations bill as it now stands has education funding tacked on to it, simply to get it passed. I'd rather congressional rules prohibited them from doing that kind of thing - bills should be more pure: one concept, one spending, no wild crap tacked on because its likely to pass. But that's not uncommon, and it would give the president the power to say "sure, this is all great except this stupid addition guys, vote on that separately." This idea would also let him pull a hidden part of a bill out and make congress debate and vote on it under scrutiny of the public when it otherwise might not have been noticed.

In a move that surprises no one, congress doesn't want to pass this idea, or even look at it. Congressmen such as Mike Pence (R-IN) are saying that congress ought to get a budget done before working on something new, for example. And he's got a point: the Democratic Party leadership in congress is dragging its feet furiously, attempting to avoid debate and a vote (and the publicity) on a budget vote, because their proposed budget so far is so gargantuan, wasteful, and absurd that it would make them look even worse to a public enraged with overspending. From all accounts, this budget is even bigger than last year's.

President Bush tried such a proposal in 2007 (which leftists considered a terrifying destruction of democracy at the time) and it was refused by the Democrats in congress them. Of course, at that time, the executive and legislative departments were political enemies, so they didn't want to give him the power to touch or question their work. Yet even with an ally in the White House, the Democrats in congress don't care for this bill.

MARGARINE IN THE NEWS

At St Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast
where I stole the margarine
-Frank Zappa, "St Alphonso's Pancake Breakfast"

Margarine. Nobody is fooled into thinking its butter, regardless of the labeling. And adding in various elements such as buttermilk don't really make it taste much better. But it is pretty good as a substitute for real butter on toast and for cooking, and since it is non dairy people who are lactose intolerant can eat it safely. Margarine also has a significantly lower fat content than real butter, which makes it healthier to eat for many people.

My mom usually calls this stuff "oleomargarine," or just "oleo" and I always wondered what the origin of that was. I figured Oleo was a brand name that she grew up with like "Kleenex" tissues, which most people just call Kleenex. Recently I ran across a post on Listverse via I Am Bored all about bogus "facts" people believe (like cell phones give you brain cancer and Einstein failed math). The last one on the list was "Margarine is 1 molecule away from plastic."

I'd never heard that particular myth, but what interested me was the history of margarine. I always figured it was a pretty new product, but its actually from the 19th century. First some background, from the Wikipedia entry for the history of margarine:
Margarine originated with the discovery by Michel Eugène Chevreul in 1813 of margaric acid (itself named after the pearly deposits of the fatty acid from Greek μαργαρίς, -ρῖτης or μάργαρον (margarís, -îtēs / márgaron), meaning pearl-oyster or pearl).[1] Scientists at the time regarded margaric acid, like oleic acid and stearic acid, as one of the three fatty acids which, in combination, formed most animal fats. In 1853, the German structural chemist, Wilhelm Heinrich Heintz, analyzed margaric acid as simply a combination of stearic acid and of the previously unknown palmitic acid.
Wikipedia is often full of junk, but on bland topics like this, it works pretty well as a reference. That wasn't the origin of margarine, but it helps set up the name, which comes in the next stage of history. Emperor Louis Napoleon III of France in 1869 had an idea. He wanted to mimic his grandfather's groundbreaking work for armies on the march (Napoleon Bonaparte was the first to issue canned food to his soldiers, using a brand new technique), so he issued a reward for someone who could come up with a cheaper substitute for butter. Butter spoils rapidly when not cooled and was fairly expensive even in those days where there were more dairy farms in France.

Answering his country's call was a chemist by the name of Hippolyte Mège-Mouriés, and he worked with various fats and oils until he came up with the idea of injecting hydrogen into heated vegetable oil. This, with a few other ingredients, created a white lump of material which he christened oleomargarine, based on the previous chemistry noted above. Nothing about it resembles plastic in any way (it has no petroleum, for instance, and is chemically very different).

This wasn't a very big seller for Mouriés, unfortunately, so he sold the patent to a Swedish company called Jurgens in 1871 (they make cosmetics today). Almost immediately margarine faced strong opposition from the dairy farms. They didn't care for competition for butter, one of their best products. Butter doesn't store well, so people will always be back for more. They saw margarine as a serious threat to their business, so they started pressuring governments to restrict and control margarine's business.

By the mid 1880s, the US federal government had introduced a 2 cent tax per pound of margarine ( roughly 50 cents today). Most states required margarine to be sold uncolored, which made it look less like butter and less tasty. Some even required the coloring to be pink. My mom remembers buying margarine that came with color packets, you squirted the food coloring in and mooshed it up in a pouch until it was more or less evenly yellow colored. Any state that let you buy margarine with color in it paid a tax markup on the price. Bootleg colored margarine sales actually began to emerge in the early 20th century.

World War 2 brought a great increase in the sales of margarine (uncolored, naturally) because the dairy products were primarily being sent to soldiers in the war, used to make cheese, ice cream, dried milk, and so on. With the shortages of dairy products, people bought margarine instead and got used to it. This cheaper, longer-lasting product was good enough and after WW2 it never was shut down again as much as the dairy industry had managed to in the past.

The last states to drop coloring and margarine-restricting legislation were big dairy states Minnesota (1963) and Wisconsin (1967). By the late 1960s a new product which was a lower fat version of margarine came out, and the regulators worked on how to classify this addition. It had a different mix of oils and water than real margarine, so they called it a "spread" which is actually what I Can't Believe Its Not Butter is. It's not even margarine.

Wikipedia has an interesting stat about margarine and butter intake as it has changed over the years, taken from Butter Through the Ages:
In the United States, for example, in 1930 the average person ate over 18 pounds (8.2 kg) of butter a year and just over 2 pounds (0.91 kg) of margarine. By the end of the 20th century, an average American ate around 5 lb (2.3 kg) of butter and nearly 8 lb (3.6 kg) of margarine.
I really do prefer butter, which has a significantly better flavor, but margarine is more useful for certain things and I can't eat butter. Plus, margarine is cheaper.

So now you know more about margarine than you ever really wanted to. And I know why my mom calls it oleomargarine; that's technically its proper, generic name.

Picture of the Day

Quote of the Day

"When President Obama discussed the new Arizona immigration law with Mexican President Felipe Calderon at the White House Wednesday, he was doing something he has never done with the governor of Arizona. Although Obama has repeatedly criticized the law, he has not once talked about it with Gov. Jan Brewer, nor is any such discussion in the works."
-Byron York

Monday, May 24, 2010

THE HARD FUTURE

"Pensions represent the failure of the leaders and the failure of the system."

For some time now I've had a theory about the European Union and its formation. Why would separate and sovereign countries who for millennia fought bloody wars against each other wish to form a union? Certainly it had nothing to do with fear of enemies; the NATO alliance was formed to deal with that and the EU was formed when the primary threat to Europe (the Soviet Union) was dissolved.

Ostensibly The European Union is meant to make Europe a collective trade partner, more powerful than each nation is individually, and present a single superpower out of a group of lesser powers. This coalition then could theoretically compete with the US and other superpowers for the benefit of the individual members. It also could bring greater unity between the nations and stabilize their currencies with a single, new one in the Euro.

However, I don't think that was even a major reason for the formation of the European Union. Europe is made up of nations that are all heavily socialist, with governments providing the services and protections which individuals and businesses provide in a free market. Socialism always carries with it a very high price tag, and that price continues to grow every year not just due to inflation or population growth, but due to the ever-expanding role of government and an ever-contracting productive populace. The more you pay people to not do something, the less they'll do it.

All of these nations, particularly the really powerful ones in Europe such as Germany, France, and England, had a dilemma facing them. Socialism only works until you run out of rich people to rob from to pay everyone else. As the expenses mount up and the money coming in dwindles, eventually you reach a point you cannot keep doing this any longer. The EU was an answer to that dilemma. By eliminating or lowering trade costs between European nations, by eliminating the costs of converting between currencies and stabilizing to a single currency, and by creating a more powerful trade coalition to gain more favorable deals with other nations, the EU was hoped to make it possible to continue that socialism longer.

The problem is, it didn't work. Nations like Greece, Portugal, Spain, and others were more of a drain on the system than the benefits it produced. EU rules about national debts and borrowing were broken by some nations, then lied about by their governments. The benefits brought about by hard work of the people of Germany was presumed upon by Greece, who brought little but debt to the table.

Socialism eventually cannot continue, it not just damages economic growth and penalizes industry, it simply costs so much that in time it cannot be paid for. In good economic times you can put this off longer. When things go badly, then that day of reckoning comes sooner. The banking and financial collapse (brought about by socialist schemes, incidentally) made that day come now rather than decades down the road.

Steven Erlanger at the New York Times (believe it or not) puts it this way:
Europeans have boasted about their social model, with its generous vacations and early retirements, its national health care systems and extensive welfare benefits, contrasting it with the comparative harshness of American capitalism.

Europeans have benefited from low military spending, protected by NATO and the American nuclear umbrella. They have also translated higher taxes into a cradle-to-grave safety net. “The Europe that protects” is a slogan of the European Union.

But all over Europe governments with big budgets, falling tax revenues and aging populations are experiencing rising deficits, with more bad news ahead.

With low growth, low birthrates and longer life expectancies, Europe can no longer afford its comfortable lifestyle, at least not without a period of austerity and significant changes. The countries are trying to reassure investors by cutting salaries, raising legal retirement ages, increasing work hours and reducing health benefits and pensions.
The fact is, all those well-meaning ideas are actually corrosive and destructive to an economy and a people. The harsher reality of a free market ultimately results in greater liberty and a longer prosperity. For an economy to work, someone has to be doing the stuff nobody wants to do and someone has to work hard to bring about the benefits everyone demands.

In essence, the United States has been holding Europe up on its shoulders since the middle of the Second World War, even as Europe throws rocks down on the US mocking and attacking its system they relied on to continue to stand. It isn't just the military costs the US has absorbed, it is the economic power of the US driving the world forward and absorbing the increased costs of other nations. When the US falters, everyone else stumbles too - and Europe was hopping around on one crippled foot to begin with.

All those promises of great retirements and lavish benefits from the government have prompted people to stop bothering with caring about their own future and stopped businesses from trying to provide them for a fee. And when the cost comes due at an enormous level at a time the money isn't there - like now - then everyone is left with nothing. Those promises were not just foolish, but sinfully irresponsible. They could not be kept, but they were offered anyway, in exchange for more power and a greater dream of socialist utopia. A utopia which cannot happen in the real world.

Socialism is in essence a huge ponzi scheme. They work great, as long as you can keep finding new suckers to pull into the scheme. When you can pay earlier investors with the funds given you by a larger number of later investors, the ponzi scheme really does work and pays off really well. Eventually you run out of later investors, and there's nothing to pay anyone with. Socialism works exactly like that. Capitalism might seem cold and cruel, but ultimately it is far more caring and providing than a lying failure to provide what you've promised, leaving people totally unready for what happens next.

As the population of Europe ages and the natives dwindle, the population of immigrants, largely dependent on the welfare system, increase. That means fewer and fewer people providing and more and more people dependent on the system which has less and less money. Mrs Erlanger goes on:
According to the European Commission, by 2050 the percentage of Europeans older than 65 will nearly double. In the 1950s there were seven workers for every retiree in advanced economies. By 2050, the ratio in the European Union will drop to 1.3 to 1.

“The easy days are over for countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain, but for us, too,” said Laurent Cohen-Tanugi, a French lawyer who did a study of Europe in the global economy for the French government. “A lot of Europeans would not like the issue cast in these terms, but that is the storm we’re facing. We can no longer afford the old social model, and there is a real need for structural reform.”

In Paris, Malka Braniste, 88, lives on the pension of her deceased husband. “I’m worried for the next generations,” she said at lunch with her daughter-in-law, Dominique Alcan, 49. “People who don’t put money aside won’t get anything.”
What's worse is that the formation of the European Union meant even heavier socialist spending, with leftists taking control of the EU government and mandating socialist scheme after another.
Gross public social expenditures in the European Union increased from 16 percent of gross domestic product in 1980 to 21 percent in 2005, compared with 15.9 percent in the United States. In France, the figure now is 31 percent, the highest in Europe, with state pensions making up more than 44 percent of the total and health care, 30 percent.
Most of these changes were environmental regulations but there were a great deal of other expenses, not the least of which the bureaucracy of the EU its self. In other words, instead of easing the socialist burden, the EU increased it. Sadly, they do not see this as the real problem. They think socialism isn't bad, just the way its been applied, so they are trying to retain all the schemes but cut costs somehow and ultimately that cannot succeed.

The problem is, for generations now, people have not just grown up comfortable with these schemes and relying on them for their life, but they've been educated by schools, culture, and entertainment that it is wrong to want things any differently. Unlike the US, Europe does not have a vibrant and contributing right wing of politics. They merely have a slightly less left wing - the right wing of Europe would be Democrats in America. This socialist mindset is so entrenched that it is unthinkable to the population to make any changes. They depend too much on government programs, expect too much of the system, and have been spending so much over their lives into getting these benefits, they feel owed.

Which is why Greece has riots, because the people feel lied to, betrayed and unable to understand that they cannot continue the way they were. They have no choice but to change, and that change will be especially painful for people unable to even conceive of a different way. The US is earlier on this track than Europe, but it is on the same path. That's what the Tea Party is worried about. That's what the founding fathers wanted to avoid. The Tea Party can see that this has to be stopped before it becomes a part of society, and before the collapse eventually, inevitably comes.

We've gone too far down this road in the US already. It will be very difficult to wean people off the public teat, but it has to be done now, before it gets so much harder.

*UPDATE: Christopher Booker in the Telegraph warns that a collapse of the Euro at this point would be incredible disaster:
If the euro does disintegrate, as
Mrs Merkel warns, the consequences would be incalculable. Replacing all the national currencies was a gargantuan task, by far the most ambitious ever attempted in the name of European integration, and there is no Plan B. Without a currency, trade would collapse – leaving Britain, dependent on Europe for 50 per cent of its trade, just as seriously affected as everyone else. A system failure on this scale would make the 1930s pale into insignficance.
Merkel's answer? Heavier tariffs and worldwide taxes.

What we're seein in Europe is a larger scale version of what we saw with banking industries in around the world. Bad practices, stupid decisions and poor monetary policy backed them into an unsustainable corner and they screamed that to let them fail would be worse than bailing them out. But to not let them fail is to allow them to continue in their bad policies without consequence, setting up a far worse fall in the future. And so it is with countries. Best to not get to that point in the first place, no matter how painful it seems to do so.