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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Friday, April 29, 2011

GENERICIDE

Start buying all your Louie in the hood
And your sprung, on the two for one
Fake Louie at the swap meet, son
-Sir Mixalot, "Swap Meet Louie"

Thermos
My mom calls margarine Oleo. Its a really old term, back when the official name was Oleomargarine. As I wrote about a while back, that's actually closer to the real scientific name of the stuff than what we call it today, but before I researched it, I thought that perhaps Oleo was the brand name of a margarine she grew up with.

We do that a lot. Kleenex instead of facial tissue for example, using a well-known, established brand name for a product. You have to figure companies love it when their brand becomes so well known and has such market saturation that people think that's the official name of anyone's product of the same type.

Here are a few other examples of this phenomenon in American culture:

Bubble wrap - the official name is Inflated Cushioning
Dumpster - supposed to be Front Loader Waste Container
Chapstik - Lip Balm
Lava Lamp - Liquid Motion Lamp
Frisbee - Flying Disc
Hacky Sack - Foot Bag
Hula Hoop - Toy Hoop
Jet Ski - Stand-Up Personal Watercraft
Band Aid - Adhesive Bandage
Jacuzzi - Whirlpool Bath
Astroturf - Artificial Turf
JumboTron - Large Screen Television
Ping Pong - Table Tennis
Bondo - Auto Body Filler
Brillo or SOS Pad - Steel Wool Pad
Crazy Glue - Fast-Acting Glue
Walkman - Portable Cassette Player
Formica - Plastic Wood Laminate
Crock Pot - Slow Cooker
Google - Search Engine
I-Pod - Portable MP3 Player
LazyBoy - Recliner
Pam - non stick cooking spray
Photoshop - computer image manipulation program
Post-It Notes - Sticky Notes
Scotch Tape - transparent adhesive tape
Q-Tips - Cotton Swabs
Walkie-Talkie - portable two way radio
Rollerblade - In line skate
Sharpie - Permanent Marker
Teflon Pan - Pan with non stick coating
Taser - Electroshock weapon
Tupperware - modular food storage container
Vaseline - Petroleum Jelly
Tonka - toy truck
White-Out - Correctional Fluid
Winnebago - Recreational Vehicle
Xerox - Photocopier
Styrofoam - extruded polystyrene foam

Bayer Genuine AspirinSome products used to be a brand name but over time lost that privilege, a danger that companies have to be aware of. For example, Aspirin used to be trademarked by Bayer AG. Some others: dry ice, cellophane, escalator, kerosene, thermos, trampoline, video tape, yo-yo, and zipper.

Some are more regional than others, I never hear anyone around here call asphalt "Tarmac" or use "hoover" when they mean vacuum. Others are going out of use because they are dated or have lost cultural impact, such as Cuisinart for food processor. Still, its interesting to see how this works and I wonder why some catch on when most don't.

WORD AROUND THE NET

"Everybody's money is green, it's all the same, and I don't pick and choose who can come into my business,"

Gas Earnings
Those dirty gas companies are making billions off people and gas prices keep going up, clearly they are charging too much. That's what the Obama administration wants you to think, because if you realize his policies are directly and deliberately raising gas prices, that hurts him in polls. The problem is, oil companies make a fraction of what the government does at the gas pump. Exxon, for example, earns 2 cents a gallon when you fill your tank. Federal, state, and local Taxes and fees total more than 48 cents a gallon on average across America. Exxon just sells a lot of gallons, so it adds up. Imagine how much it adds up for the government.

This bit I'm going to all but swipe from Legal Insurrection. Its about Earth Day, and what President Obama did on that day, but it could apply to hundreds of other big time "green" pundits and politicians:
President Obama declared today's 41st annual Earth Day proof of America's ecological and conservation spirit—then completed a three-day campaign-style trip logging 10,666 miles on Air Force One, eating up some 53,300 gallons at a cost of about $180,000. And that doesn't include the fuel consumption of his helicopter, limo, or the 29 other vehicles that travel with that car.
That's like celebrating stop child abuse day by slapping your kid around.

More earth day news: CNN's T.J. Holmes actually confessed his eco-sins on live television. You can't make this stuff up. Matt Hadro has the transcript at Newsbusters:
Well, in today's "XYZ," I'd like confess my sins.

I drive a Chevy Tahoe. It gets 15 miles to the gallon in the city. While some people have SUVs to haul their large families around, it's just me driving by myself to work every day.

I have a number of TVs in my high house and leave them on just about all day, every day.

I often turn the water on in the shower, then I walk downstairs to maybe grab breakfast, leave the water running, then I go back upstairs to take a shower.
On and on it goes. There is no word on whether Al Gore gave him absolution and required penance. Seriously people, Earth Day is atheist eco not Easter. Its their holiday for their alarmist religion.

Washington State is considering a fine for buying electric cars. OK, sure, its called a fee, but what else do you call a price the government requires for taking some action? You buy an electric car, you pay a hundred bucks a year. The point is that they are trying to find some way to make up that sweet, sweet gas tax that they fear will be obliterated by a sudden flood of electric cars that won't come. Maybe they should just not give big rebates, subsidies, and tax breaks to electric car sales and recharging stations?

Britain is proud of its wind power plant although its had lots of troubles in the past. What isn't reported on as much is the fact that its producing a tiny fraction of what it was sold as putting out. Lewis Page writes at The Register:
In general it tends to be assumed that a wind farm will generate an average of 30 per cent of its maximum capacity over time. However the new study shows that this is actually untrue, with the turbines measured by the Grid turning in performances which were significantly worse:
Average output from wind was 27.18% of metered capacity in 2009, 21.14% in 2010, and 24.08% between November 2008 and December 2010 inclusive.
In general, then, one should assume that a wind farm will generate no more than 25 per cent of maximum capacity over time (and indeed this seems set to get worse as new super-large turbines come into service). Even over a year this will be up or down by a few per cent, making planning more difficult.
At each of the four highest peak demands of 2010 wind output was low being respectively 4.72%, 5.51%, 2.59% and 2.51% of capacity at peak demand.
But it only cost a few billion dollars to build.

You may have missed it like 99.9% of people in America, but Tuesday was declared "Equal Pay Day" by feminists. There's a problem with this day for feminists: women are tending to get paid better in America these days. Not only has the recent economic downturn hurt men far more than women but as Carrie Lukas explains at the Wall Street Journal, the wage gap is a myth. Why? Because what appears to be men being paid more is just businesses being reasonable. Men tend to work longer hours, and thus earn more pay. Men tend to work more dangerous jobs, and thus earn more pay. When all things are equal, in many cases women earn more in many jobs.

Wisconsin continues to suffer from thug tactics by the various unions. The latest news is a gas station that dared to fill up an assemblyman's car. They then got a phone call warning them to not do business with anyone who dares try to save the state from bankruptcy, and the call came from a school by a teacher who was at work. The teacher used a school phone to deliver the warning. The school district says it is taking "appropriate disciplinary action," hopefully more than a pat on the back and a warning to use a cell phone next time.

Oh, but there's more. People who signed petitions seeking recalls for assemblymen who fled the state on Union money to escape doing their jobs are getting phone calls. The calls questioned the people on signing petitions, and the caller ID is falsified to appear to be from a hospital - or perhaps the Democrats in Wisconsin are using a hospital to call from. I wonder if these petition signers are names from the ones that were stolen last week? This is likely a Democrat attempt to prove the petitions are fraudulent, but its actually harassment and fraud.

Pilot Online has a great article about something I've thought about but didn't have the time or resources to write up. You may have noticed that some products aren't going up in price like others at your grocery store. You also may have noticed that these products are getting... smaller. Carolyn Shapiro writes:
A carton of Tropicana orange juice squeezed down from 64 ounces, a full half-gallon, to 59 ounces. A “pint” of Haagen-Dazs ice cream isn’t a pint anymore, but 14 ounces – 12.5 percent less. A large box of Kleenex dropped from 280 tissues to 260. A pound of coffee, 16 ounces, dropped 25 percent to 12 ounces, and some brands have started to slim that further, down to 11-ounce bags.
You're still getting less for your money - often much less - it just doesn't feel like it until you get home.

President Obama likes creating commissions. He's averaged one a month since taking office, for subjects from gas prices, to deficit reduction, to childhood obesity and beyond. As Haley Peterson writes at the Washington Examiner, this is basically the executive version of "I'll get back to you on that" and never doing so. Its also a way to seem like you're doing something when you are not - and don't care to - such as a commission to study how to lower gas prices.

Reversals. Its been a great week for them. Here's a few that took place:
  • Paul Krugman at the New York Times wrote in 2011 about how cutting anything in entitlements or any reform is an evil plot to starve poor people, but in 1996 he was all for it.
  • Chris Matthews didn't waste time like that. He insisted no one would ever question a white president's admission to a university, but just ten minutes earlier questioned President Bush's attendance to Yale.
  • Oil prices are a rich source of varied and widespread reversals by the legacy media and politicians.
  • Then, of course, there's Obama's promise to never use signing statements while campaigning then using them to ignore cuts in his horde of Czars. But then he's done that a lot in 2 years.
Harvard has a reputation as being prestigious and elite university. Anyone who gets in, by association, is presumed to be someone very special (unless they're President Bush). And getting a Magna Cum Laude award at such a place is considered proof you must have been an amazing academic, someone truly brilliant. However, the truth of the matter is somewhat less impressive; courtesy Ace of Spades HQ. In 1999, there was an article at the LA Times explaining that Harvard was going to cut back on the number of these awards that were given out by 36%. The previous level? Anyone in the top 76% of the class could get one. You could pull a low C average and get on the honor student roll in Harvard.

Oh, and being on the Law Review? Much harder - unless you're black, in which case you don't have to be in the top 5% of your class. They wanted more color in the law review, so they just waived the requirements for any minorities. Almost as if getting these awards doesn't mean you're the smartest man on earth.

NAACP officer Lessadolla Sanders was found guilty of ten counts of voter fraud in Mississippi. She manipulated absentee ballots to give the results she wanted, thus affecting an election. She was sentenced to fifty years without the possibility of parole for her crimes. Just in case you were wondering, she didn't help Republicans with this fraud.

The New York Times continues to lose money, subscriptions, and advertising. However, their pay plan requiring a subscription to read any stories older than a day did earn them 300,000 participants when it started up. The problem is the bulk of those people are on 99 cent trial plans, and some are on there for free. How long will they continue? Their previous subscription plan got just over 400,000 buyers and was eventually abandoned. On the internet, making your material more expensive and difficult to obtain is not a good business plan.

Another evil Republican state is attacking teachers in their war on workers. The legislature of this evil, neocon-controlled Tea Party state (you know how crazy those Tea Partiers are) voted to end collective bargaining rights for benefits on teachers. Of course, they voted to do so on all public employee unions, including police and fire. And the state was heavily leftist Democrat-controlled Massachusetts. But other than that, the story is just like I said.

One of the left's talking points right now is that Fox News pushed the "birther" bit on Obama's birth certificate constantly, and that the news was fixated on this story. However, the Media research organization Poynter Institute did a study and found very differently than the left is claiming. Only 4% of all news stories anywhere were on the topic, and CNN and MSNBC covered the topic far more than Fox News.

Related to this story was President Obama's bizarre explanation why he finally revealed the full Birth Certificate people had asked for over 3 years ago. He said that it was because the Republicans in congress were to blame:
...two weeks ago, when the Republican House had put forward a budget that will have huge consequences potentially to the country, and when I gave a speech about my budget and how I felt that we needed to invest in education and infrastructure and making sure that we had a strong safety net for our seniors even as we were closing the deficit, during that entire week the dominant news story wasn’t about these huge, monumental choices that we’re going to have to make as a nation. It was about my birth certificate. And that was true on most of the news outlets that were represented here.
So the GOP was trying to cut spending and stave off economic disaster because... they wanted to see a birth certificate? Even Jake Tapper at ABC news is baffled by this statement.

Taco Bell's meat was the subject of a well-publicized lawsuit, but the lawsuit was recently, quietly dropped. I still wonder what's actually in Taco Bell's meat, because it doesn't taste or look like beef - nor does Burger King's meat, for that matter. Taco Bell is asking for an apology in a big ad in newspapers, mostly out of an attempt to do damage control.

Sometimes a study comes along that's fun in its contrasts. For instance, wealthy people (those making $250,000 or more a year) were asked about taxes, and they said theirs were too high, by 67%. In the same study the same people were asked if they thought "upper income" people paid enough in taxes. Those same people responded:
30 percent said "upper-income people" paid too little, 30 percent said it was a "fair share," and 38 percent said it was too much.
Like I and others have pointed out several times, how most people define rich is based on how much money they have. For most people, "rich" means "more money than me" regardless of how objectively wealthy they are. Andrew Gellman has some other interesting conflicting datLinka, such as how minorities consistently overestimate the number of blacks in America, and so on.

Conservatives like shows that have a big audience, leftists like shows that are niche specialties. That's the conclusion of a study of popular shows by political affiliation. For example, conservatives love NCIS, the number one top drama in America. Leftists love Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami. Conservatives love V, Leftists love Dexter. Republicans love White Collar, Pawn Stars and American Chopper. Leftists love Entourage, Damages, and Breaking Bad.

Of course, shows like Breaking Bad and Dexter are pretty well-written, and there's a lot of crossover (some leftists love NCIS, some conservatives love Entourage, etc). Both sides have their cheese, such as Survivor, Desperate Housewives, and Dancing with the Stars for conservatives (seriously?). Overall though, it appears that conservatives like big shows with healthy, vigorous, and heroic people, while leftists like shows about screwed up losers and damaged people.

Jimmy Carter, apparently upset that people are talking about him maybe not being the worst president in history, has gone to North Korea. There he said this to Kim Jong Il:
That the United States and South Korea have chosen “to deliberately withhold food aid to the North Korean people because of political or military issues not related is really indeed a human rights violation.”
Well sure, we should feed the people of North Korea while its own government deliberately starves them to keep them weak and in subjection while feeding its military and buying lots of goodies for the dictator. That is plainly the ACME of human rights.

Carla Marinucci from the San Francisco Chronicle was banned from the "print pool" press briefing at the White House, an insiders special reporter event preferred by President Obama. Her sin? Filming protesters who showed up to show their criticism of Obama's policies. The excuse was that they want only "pen and paper" work no movies, but the real reason probably has more to do with "you showed something bad we don't like" in a continuing effort by the Obama administration to totally control the narrative and even intimidate and attack press that won't obey.

Because I missed it when it came out, some catch up. For the first time since the Depression, U.S. households are now getting more in cash handouts from the government than they are paying in taxes. As in, they are paying the federal government less than they're being given back. And we're nowhere near as bad off as people were then. Sounds like there might be some room to give in terms of cuts in that area, eh?

According to Wikileaks, Adil Hadi al Jazairi Bin Hamlili, terrorist accused of bombing Christian Churches and a Pakistani Hotel, was working for the British government. No, he wasn't blowing things up for the UK, he was in their intelligence service. Sky News reports:
The Algerian, who was captured in Pakistan in 2003, was described by interrogators as a "facilitator, courier, kidnapper, and assassin for al Qaeda".

They also believed he had withheld important information from Canadian and British intelligence and (was) a "threat to US and allied personnel in Afghanistan and Pakistan".
Also in the report, at least 35 terrorists in Guantanamo were recruited and trained in radical mosques in England.

And finally, apparently some rich royalty kid married some rich girl in England.

And that's the Word Around the Net for April 29, 2011.

SPECULATING ON WHO TO BLAME

"I think that I would have preferred a gradual adjustment."
-Senator Obama

Recently George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America portrayed American concerns about the price of gas as "gripes" and worried that this was causing President Obama's poll numbers to drop. President Obama has seized on a talking point that many in the media are echoing: the rising price of fuel is all due to oil speculators driving it up. Are evil speculators to blame? Did they drive up the price of fuel during the Bush administration as well?

Oil speculation is in essence a group of wealthy people and conglomerates betting on how much they think oil will be worth in the future. Speculators purchase a commodity such as comic books, commemorative plates, or oil with the expectation that they will be more valuable in the future, at which point they sell. The more valuable they believe this commodity will be, the more they're willing to spend on it.

In 2007 when gas prices last were this high, many blamed speculators for the high cost of driving, but according to the Economist, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) issued a report dismissing the role of speculators. Another study done a year later noted that speculators only drove up the price by about 6.4%, not much of a factor at all.

If speculators weren't to blame, what was? Well one pressure was the dropping value of the dollar. From 2006-2008, the dollar steadily plunged in value, making the amount it could buy less and less, so that prices such as oil necessarily went up. This had a broader effect worldwide than other currency price drops because the US Dollar is the currency used for all international transactions.

Another significant pressure on the price of oil at the time was increased demand from China and India. As more people wanted oil, the price was raised to take advantage of this interest, and the supplies were more stressed, driving the value of oil up.

This time around, speculators are accused again but are they to blame? Well, the dollar's value is dropping again as the debt load of the US continues to climb and the federal government shows no real interest in addressing the problem.

Compounding this problem was Federal Reserve chairman Berneke's bright idea of another round of Quantitative Easing, which was the federal government buying its own treasury bonds to flood the market with money that banks could loan and businesses could invest with. The problem is this money was simply printed, it had no inherent value, so inevitably that drives the value of all existing dollars down.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues its policy of making domestic oil production as limited, difficult, and expensive as possible. The most recent example was to withhold air permits at the EPA, preventing Shell Oil from drilling off the coast of Alaska. Every time something like this happens, the value of existing oil sources is raised because there's less expectation of competition.

That, combined with unrest in the biggest oil producing countries in the Middle East and North Africa, is pushing the price of oil up in America to the point many expect a gallon of gas to hit $6 a gallon by the end of summer. And while speculators are betting the price of a barrel of gas will be high, they are not the ones driving that fuel price, they're the ones reacting to market pressures and future expectation of the price.

Speculators aren't entirely blameless because when they buy a barrel of fuel for a given price, that becomes the price, but they are not the ones responsible for that higher price.

While President Obama tries to find someone to blame for the price of gas, the truth is, he wants the price to go up, as he's said in the past. His policies are directly pushing the price up, and the only reason he's blaming speculators is that, as George Stephanopolous noted above, this is hurting his poll numbers. That hurts the president's reelection chances in 2012, as Mark Smith writes for the Associated Press.

So the president has to find someone else to blame, even while working to push gas prices up. When President Obama took office, the average price of gas in America was under $2 a gallon, now its pushing up toward $5. And that's the way he likes it.

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Gas Prices
Weren't any of you Obama voters listening?

Quote of the Day

“I want to see the original long-form certificate of Donald Trump’s Republican registration.”
-Rand Paul

Thursday, April 28, 2011

INSTANT MILLIONAIRE

"I'm a hard-core liberal Democrat, and I say to Dem. legislators: FIX the damn thing NOW!"

Pension Debt Load
My friend Lance (who has his own blog) recently put a link on his Facebook page which points out a problem with how public employees are being handled in many states. In this case the state is Oregon which like most states is having serious financial troubles. Ted Ferrioli writes in Oregon Live:
Think about this: The Public Employee Retirement System is making more millionaires than the Oregon state lottery.

At the end of 2009, the last year in which numbers are available, 241 active members of the PERS system had more than $500,000 in their accounts. If, when they retire, they choose what is called the "money match" option, the state will take their account balance and double it. They would then leave public service with more than $1 million. Ironically, thanks to the 6 percent pickup, most of these employees did not contribute a penny of their salaries to these accounts.

As a comparison, while there are currently 241 potential PERS millionaires, the Oregon lottery's Megabucks game has created only 227 millionaires. That game is available to all Oregonians, while the PERS system is available only to those lucky enough to win a public-sector job.
As he points out, this is an especially troubling feature given that PERS is about to collapse into bankruptcy along with the state of Oregon. And that's a serious issue.

It is true, as some commenters noted at Lance's facebook link that this kind of thing is not unknown to big businesses, and it is true that people signed contracts to get these sort of benefits. The problem is that if a business is in the red several billion dollars like Oregon is, they stop giving these sort of benefits away and renegotiate the contracts, or go under. Unless they're GM, in which case they run to the government for a bailout.

If the state of Oregon has been saddled with unsustainable, impossible contractual obligations, its time to get to court and renegotiate those contracts - and follow in the footsteps of states like Wisconsin and Massachusetts where the legislature has dialed back public employee deals. These public employee pension loads are crushing states to the tune of almost 2 trillion dollars.

Its true that pensions aren't the only thing causing financial problems for Oregon. The biggest, ugliest elephant in the middle of the room people are ignoring is the Oregon Health Plan, which was slated to cost a billion dollars and has cost much more than that. Not only is it vastly expensive, but its driving health care providers and doctors out of Oregon, according to reports.

Newly elected (and former) Governor Kitzhaber of Oregon wants to increase coverage of this health plan, when it shouldn't have ever been passed to begin with and needs to end. Need to cut spending? There's where you start. Don't tell me people will die without it, they lived before Oregon started this plan up. Don't tell me its critical, the state got by over a hundred years without it before. This is the kind of spending that states shouldn't have ever gotten into and only did during fat years. When lean years come, you cut back or collapse under the weight of your own stupidity.

But the bulk of the Oregon budget does actually go into pension costs, and that's only going up every year as more and more people are added to the retirement rolls. So that has to be attacked as well. Public Employee Unions ought never to have existed and should be ended immediately, but until that can be done, they have to be cut back.

Those who are on this pension system rely on it, I understand. They signed a contract, and want their obligations met. I understand that as well. But if the state cannot pay for it, the state cannot pay for it regardless of how people feel about it. If there's no money, it doesn't matter what complaints you bring up.

At the very least the plan has to be scrapped and rebuilt with a more realistic perspective for people who have not yet retired. All states are facing this kind of problem, and the problem is union leadership seems to think there's an unlimited amount of money out there and nothing should ever be cut.

CERTIFIED POLITICS

*Since this was originally written and posted on Washington Examiner Opinion Zone, President Obama has finally publicly posted his birth certificate, answering all but the most radical conspiracy theorist. Still, the information in it is useful and helps answer the racist charge.
Pop quiz. What do Chester A Arther, Barry Goldwater, George W Bush, George Romney, Barack Obama, John McCain, and Franklin D Roosevelt Jr all have in common? Yes, they're all politicians, and yes, they are all American men.

The other thing they all have in common is that they've all had their birth places challenged during elections.

Chester A Arthur was on the ticket with James Garfield as Vice President when he was accused of not being a natural born US Citizen. Opponents charged that Arthur had been born in Canada, not the US. The rumor still persists to this day, with charges that Arthur had all records of his past burnt and destroyed when he became president after Garfield was assassinated.

Like Arthur, Roosevelt had the same charge arise, but in this case it was true - he was born in Canada. However, his parents were both US Citizens and had not renounced their citizenship.

Similar to Roosevelt's situation was George Romney who ran for president in 1968. His parents, still US Citizens, had George while living in Mexico.

John McCain's eligibility for presidency came up in 2008, the same time as Barack Obama's because McCain was born in Panama, but it was on US soil because he was born in a US Military base.

Barry Goldwater's case was a bit more curious. He was born in Arizona Territory before it was a state, and when he ran for president in 1964 some said that meant he had not been born in the United States, since Arizona wasn't a state then.

Even George W Bush faced charges that he'd falsified campaign information in 1978 when it listed his birth then said he was raised in Texas without mentioning he'd been born in New Haven Connecticut.

And, of course, Barack Obama's birthplace was contested by the Clinton team during the 2008 election and is in the news again because of Donald Trump.

Why bring this up? If you're like me you probably didn't care much about this situation to begin with, and are kind of tired of it by now. I am certain President Obama was born in the USA, as I'm certain most if not all of you are.

However, when this subject comes up, usually someone cries racist. When Donald Trump was on The View, Whoopi Goldberg quipped, "I think that’s the biggest pile of dog mess I’ve heard in ages, it’s not because he’s black, is it?" The reason this comes up is that they figure the only reason anyone is even questioning the citizenship of President Obama is that his name is unusual and his skin is darker in hue.

None of those other politicians above could be accused of being anything but white or of having "funny names." In other words, this isn't a race issue, it is an issue that comes up every so often when it comes to seeking the most powerful job on earth. Politics are like that, people are looking for every advantage they can and any way they can to make their opponent look bad. This isn't a race issue, its just politics as usual.

PICTURES


So, we finally meet, Ronald-San.

Quote of the Day

“A democracy cannot get at the truth without experience, and many nations perish for lack of the time to discover their mistakes.”
-Alexis DeTocqueville

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

OBAMA BIRTH CERTIFICATE

"Now, maybe we can focus on all the ways Obama is failing as President."
-Ed Morrissey

President Obama has released his full birth certificate. This ought to, but won't, stop the "birther" nonsense of people claiming the president isn't constitutionally qualified for the job.

The real question that comes up is why he delayed so long on releasing the full data. Some had speculated that the document listed him as "Muslim," others that it said his name was "Barry" and some even wondered if it didn't list his race as "White." Astrologers were even upset because they couldn't be sure of his exact birth date and time.

It appears now that President Obama was just being obstinate. I understand that response to a challenge. A few years ago I used to write on the World Magazine site where they had comments. Because it was poorly moderated, a small group of very vile and hateful leftists would show up and cause trouble there, doing things that would usually cause a ban.

One in particular took to hating me and instead of refuting the points I made, would attack me personally. After some time, this leftist picked a tactic: he started asking why I wouldn't say I was not gay. I ignored him. He did this for a few weeks, then finally started saying I obviously was gay or I'd have answered him and finished the matter.

Someone finally responded saying I wasn't gay and even if I was I clearly was fighting it as God intended. I responded to that person along these lines: I am not gay, nor am I a two headed pyromaniac from planet Z, or a werewolf. I shouldn't have to refute idiotic, pointless questions of that sort because they are prejudicial and obnoxious.

The more that leftist pushed me on the topic, the less I was inclined to respond. I'm stubborn like that sometimes. I suspect President Obama did the same thing: the hell with you, I'm never going to release it now.

Of course, both Trump and Obama spun this. Trump claimed this was great because now reporters would ask him about something other than the birth certificate (although he was the one that brought it up) and Obama said this was silly and it was wasting time (although he could have cleared it up ages ago with a brief phone call).

This is all just politics as usual, with two sides trying to find an advantage. And as it turns out, its not particularly new, but that will wait until tomorrow.

IF ONLY I WAS POWERFUL ENOUGH...

"In China, if the leadership can get around to an enlightened decision it can order it from the top down."

Decree Power
Sometimes I sit and think about what it would be like if the US had an absolute ruler with unlimited power to accomplish the basic things that have to be done. No arguing in congress, no fights in the press, no misleading advertising or rhetoric, no concerns about the voters and how they'll react.

In a way, a virtuous, wise absolute monarch is the ideal system of government, because such a person could be trusted to do what was right and not take advantage of their power for personal benefit. But where would we find such a person, and what happens when they die? Eventually someone else will take over and could they be trusted?

That's why the founding fathers embraced democracy. The system is messy and stupid and conflicted, but as Churchill said, democracy is the worst form of government... except all the others that have been tried. All forms of government have their drawbacks but at least with a democratic republic you have the maximum liberty and input on the government and overall things tend to work out eventually.

Its like a free market; the free market has serious flaws, but over time, they tend to be evened out and eliminated, if the market is truly free. That's the drawback with democracy as we now enjoy it. Its not truly a representative democracy because you have to be fabulously rich to get into real power and the cronyism of big business and special interests makes the system more like an oligarchy than a democracy. Its not truly democratic or republican, so its not working like it is supposed to.

So I understand where dreams like Thomas Friedman's "if only we were more like China, then Obama could do whatever he wants" come from. Friedman doesn't really want a brutal dictatorship, he just wishes things were more streamlined and effective at implementing his political agenda.

Yet that's not the only place these dreams come from. Leftists tend toward autocracy by their very nature. The left is the origin of the two great horrors of the 20th century: Communism and Fascism, each trying to implement the latest scientific and philosophical ideas in a practical and methodological system which ended up dehumanizing and murdering billions of people.

Leftist ideology presumes that the enlightened few are better able to deal with life than the stupid, uneducated, and selfish many. That's the concept behind the reeducation camps, the ruling councils, the commissars, and the dictatorships. All leftist systems presume the need of absolute power to fix things before the real freedom can take place. Karl Marx' revolution started with this concept, with an absolute ruling council bringing stability and order, which eventually evolved into pure communism without any rulers.

That's why we get articles such as a recent one in the Sydney Morning Herald by columnist Elizabeth Farrelly. The entire article drips with "we know best and you're a knuckle dragging cretin" rhetoric. It is concerned with Australia, but applies globally, and is not unusual thinking for many on the left, particularly academics. Here are a few samples:
It may be, as one correspondent wrote last week, that advertising works on the "80/80 principle", the assumption that 80 per cent of Australians have an IQ average of 80. Now I'm fine with stupidity in advertising. Indeed, I expect nothing less - isn't that why God gave us the mute button? But what makes the 80/80 thought especially gripping - as in, by the throat - is how much it explains that branch of advertising we call politics.
...
Democracy is very close to our hearts. So close that we go to war in order to impose it on those too weak or benighted to grab it for themselves. But democracy, the tyranny of the majority, may yet prove an own goal for humanity, mainly because of the weird trick it does with scale; allowing us all to pursue our own happiness as if we were the only ones on the planet. Allowing us to act like a vast family of solipsistic only children, steadfastly voting for lower taxes and higher services.
...
Whether non-democracies such as China will negotiate the rapids of the coming century more adroitly remains to be seen. Certainly, freed from any need to pander to the 80/80 rule, they have at least one freedom Western-style democracies do not have - the freedom to act decisively.

Overall she has some good points, but she misses the mark by a wide margin because of her leftist bent. She's really bad at math (there are 36,794,240,000 acres on the surface of the planet and almost 7 billion people, for example, meaning that's just under 6 acres per person, even if some of them aren't quite hospitable) and holds to basic leftist mistakes such as the idea that lower taxes results in less government revenue, or that a tax on pollution would save the planet.

She's right that people cannot be basically selfish and survive as a culture, but she thinks that's due to liberty rather than due to human nature informed by a leftist, relativist worldview. Her very concept of life is what leads to selfish behavior, but she thinks that this is due to too much freedom and power in democracy.

So she wonders if maybe the best thing to do would be, again, to be more like China, where people are ordered around by commissars and an all powerful one-party government. That way hings are so much more orderly, and nobody can fight back when the government insists upon the latest leftist theory. Like the apologists for the Soviet Union back in the cold war and earlier, these new China apologists recognize there are problems with the system, but yen for it all the same, because if only people like them were in power, well things would turn out so much better.

The flaw in this theory is that people like them are in power and always have been in Communist nations like China and the Soviet Union, Andorra, Cuba, and so on. That's why things turn out the way they do, because the slide from "benevolent dictator" to "brutal thug" is defined by where you get tired of people not doing exactly what you tell them to, when you tell them to.

The gulags were meant to be reeducation camps, but it was a lot cheaper and easier just to throw people in there until they died. The start of almost all revolutions is noble and idealistic, but when the challenges of reality hit, revolutionaries are almost never up to the task. Consider President Obama, whose head full of wonderful butterflies and unicorns was unready for the actual job of president. Dozens of times he criticized President Bush for different policies and ended up doing exactly the same thing. Over and over he's tried his theories out and watched them make things substantially worse rather than better ("stimulus," Quantitative Easing, etc).

Yet for someone like that, the problem isn't with their ideas, oh my no. The problem is those other people who disagree. Best if they have their power taken away, after all, anyone who dares disagree with someone as enlightened and noble as myself must be some sort of horrible monster anyway. And so the slide begins, checked only by a system which prevents one person from having too much power.

The dream of absolute power to do the right thing is tempting, but flawed and sinful as we humans are, it always ends in horror, because none of us do the right thing all the time, and even when we do the right thing, we still get it wrong in some ways. We're not perfect, so we aren't worthy of the power only a perfect person could wield properly.

The problem isn't insufficient power, its innate corruption within. No system will help us escape what's a natural part deep inside us all. The best we can do is find a system that takes advantage of that and turns it to the best for the most people.

But when you're a leftist, you think perfection isn't just possible, but inevitable, if only people would do exactly what you tell them to. So you want the power to make that happen, and when you can't get it, you try to find a way to do it anyway - such as by using the EPA to implement policies congress refuses to and the courts deny you.

CANDIDATE OBAMA'S FINANCE FOLLIES

“They can buy millions of dollars worth of TV ads — and worst of all, they don’t even have to reveal who is actually paying for them.”
-President Obama, 2010

Obama Campaign Finance
During the 2008 presidential election, something that never got much attention in the press but always bothered me was how then-Senator Obama financed his campaign. President Obama stared out claiming that he'd only take public funds, as Fredrecka Schouten wrote about in USA Today that year:
Obama and McCain both pledged last year that they would accept taxpayer money for the general election if his opponent would do the same. Obama began stepping away from that as the primaries got underway and he shattered fundraising records. In a Feb. 20 column in USA TODAY, Obama said he would keep his pledge only if McCain also agreed to limit spending by political parties and refuse fundraising help from outside groups.
Soon after, he abandoned public financing, claiming the system didn't work and he was facing "opponents who have become masters at gaming this broken system." And so his first campaign promise was broken even before the election.

As the campaign went on, people began to notice discrepencies and problems in Obama's finance system. The most notable and infamous was how his web site, unlike every website on the internet that accepted credit cards, had the security limited.

First of all, the system didn't check the name against the number on the card; you could enter any name, as long as you had a valid card number. Second, the system didn't ask for the 3 digit security code from the back of the card, a critical requirement because it won't let you use trash from behind stores to learn credit card numbers and buy things on the internet.

The result was that folks were having their cards used to donate to President Obama when they personally had done no such thing, and that foreign donors were able to contribute to the Obama campaign without any record of their name and location on the website. This wasn't an error or oversight, the software defaults to full security and has to be deliberately manipulated to avoid those steps.

The troubling finance news went on. Multiple oddities showed up including people who donated money to obama over a hundred separate times, donors who don't exist, donors whose name and location are just random keystrokes, donors from other countries (a violation of campaign law), and most infamously, donations to Obama from Gaza refugee camps.

The Obama team claims they refunded these Gaza donations, but the Palestinians in question say not, and campaign finance records show no such refund. Overall, President Obama pulled in more than two million dollars in overseas donations - an amount claimed to be from US citizens living overseas by the Obama team. Michelle Malkin has much more information on the questionable and fraudulent donations in her recent Examiner editorial.

The press at the time, fascinated by and protective of Obama either ignored these stories or heavily downplayed them in very limited, buried stories.

Now, finally, years after President Obama won the election with record-shattering $750 million campaign funding, some action is being taken to look into these problems. The Federal Elections Commision (FEC) began auditing the Obama campaign finance two years ago, digging through mountains of paperwork and data. What they find and how they respond is something every American should watch closely.

Because if someone is able to ignore campaign finance laws and violate them so blatantly to win, then the entire electoral process suffers and so does democracy its self. In order to have any semblance of democracy the citizens of a country have to have confidence in the election and their vote in particular. If they believe the election can be bought by an ethically-challenged candidate using money from other countries, that erodes confidence in the vote.

And if you can buy an election by just ignoring the law, your promises, and bury your opponent in hundreds of millions of dollars, what's the point in voting at all? Mind you, with all those advantages, President Obama didn't win by that big a margin but he still won, and once a presidential candidate wins, the chances of any sort of investigation are greatly reduced, as is the confidence of anyone that they'll face the slightest legal action no matter what the investigation reveals.

*This originally ran on the Washington Examiner Opinion Zone.

PICTURE OF THE DAY


Yep. Yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep yep... nope. Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope...

Quote of the Day

“I want to make it a priority of my Administration to work closely with you.”
-President Obama in a letter to Rod Blagojevich, 2009

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

PICTURE OF THE DAY

Remember President Obama's trip to South America when he should have been home dealing with the erupting conflicts in the middle east and norther Africa? The trip he was on when he declared war on Libya for no apparent reason?

Brazilian Obama Hate
That whole smart diplomacy thing doesn't seem to be working out, people still hate America and the president.

PASSPORT INQUISITION

I was born in the backseat of a greyhound bus, rolling down highway 41
-Allman Brothers, "Ramblin Man"

Europeans love to laugh at Americans for how so few of us have a passport. The State Department reports that only 37% of Americans have a passport, as compared to the British who own passports at a rate of around 70%. How provincial, how quaint, they say.

In response, Americans chuckle and point out how their entire country would fit comfortably in a few of our states, and how all of Europe fits in the US without touching the borders. If you want to go somewhere different in Europe, you have to cross borders. In the US, you can stay in the same state and go from deserts to rain forests to mountains to the ocean in a few hours.

Still, after 9/11 the US government went nuts and insisted that people had to have a passport to get back across the border from Mexico or Canada, no matter who you are. How this is supposed to stop terrorists is anybody's guess but in those days, being seen doing something was a political imperative to the politicians. Its more useful these days than it used to be.

The problem is, its a bit of a pain. You can't just get a passport in your home town, you have to go to a big city. It takes a long time, costs quite a bit, and is only useful once in a while, plus it has to be updated regularly.

And lately, the State Department has decided they ought to make it harder. Edward Hasbrouk at Consumer Traveler reports:
The U.S. Department of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for some passport applicants: The proposed new Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history including employers’ and supervisors names, addresses, and telephone numbers; personal details of all siblings; mother’s address one year prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around the time of birth; and a variety of other information. According to the proposed form, “failure to provide the information requested may result in … the denial of your U.S. passport application.”
One of the questions on the proposed questionnaire:
“Please describe the circumstances of your birth including the names (as well as address and phone number, if available) of persons present or in attendance at your birth.”
Well, I don't recall, having been a baby at the time. To get a passport, they want you to provide phone numbers of your employers, information about siblings, and so on. Look I understand a desire for security, but with the groping perverts in the TSA and this, its clearly gone too far.

I don't even rightly recall all the places I've worked, or when, or who the boss was, and have no method of contacting most of them. Some of the places I work for shut down and are no longer in existence. I don't remember all the dozen or so addresses I've lived at, or when. I can't even recall where my mom lived before I was born, just somewhere in Denver.

This is just absurd, and they have to know that at the State Department, don't they? I can kind of understand the use of this to specifically and definitely pinpoint the exact person with a passport, but it also seems like a useful way to build a good government profile tracking peoples' history and movements over the years as well. Do we really want them to have that information so easily?

Its not like they can't get it, but they'd have to dig at it, and this would just hand the information over on a silver platter. And for what, a passport? I don't even want one, I just thought it would be nice to have some time. If this is what I have to go through, I expect I'll hardly be alone in just not getting one.

WHOSE BUDGET GETS CUT?

If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
-Rush, "Free Will"

While we're having a national debate on how to deal with the vast debt and deficit levels the federal government has run up through irresponsible spending, sometimes the message gets a bit muddled. What is needed is a simple, clear statement of our alternatives that reaches out to everyone.

One of the more common talking points on the left is that we should go back to Clinton-era taxation and we'd be able to solve our problems. It is held as a matter of faith on the left that tax cuts resulted in these budgetary problems rather than massively increased spending.

Megan McArdle at The Altantic tackles this and points out a problem with this argument:
In order to raise taxes to the 25% of GDP that Kevin [Drum] wants, all taxes need to rise by at least a third, not just income taxes: excise taxes, corporate income taxes, payroll taxes. And we’re talking about rising from the Clinton level, not from the current effective tax rate level. That’s going to be a lot more than 5%.
. . .
In other words, for the poorest 20% of Americans (who make less than $20,000 a year, with an average income of $11,500), taxes go from about $660 to about $1320. For the middle quintile (making an average of $50,000 a year), taxes go from around $7,000 to over $12,000. For those in the top quintile, with an average income of $167,000, taxes jump from a $41,000 to $62,000.
Ms McArdle points out that this has a tangible, direct effect on incomes. For someone making 10,840 a year would make 10,180 a year after this tax increase. Those making $43,000 see it drop to $38,500, and the higher tax bracket is hit even harder; dropping from $125,000 to $105,000. These examples give a good vision of the left's tax future.

Which brings us to the simple statement of the choices we face:

Which would you rather have, cuts to your budget or cuts to the federal budget?

Because that's what it comes down to. Either you or the federal budget is going to have to pay, and if the federal budget doesn't come down, eventually you will pay the price.

You can either cut the federal budget, which has grown by more than all budgets combined before it in the last two years and was already too gargantuan, or you can cut your own budget by paying more in taxes.

For those of you who think only the rich are going to pay more taxes, take a closer look at that graph at the top. That image shows where the taxable income is, and that mountain in the middle is the middle class. That's most of you who are reading. There's not enough money in the rich to fill for the crater our economy is spiraling around; we could tax everyone making $100,000 a year or more - hardly rich, especially in bigger cities - and still not make enough money to pay for this year's deficit alone.

When the left says "go back to Clinton era taxes" they mean "raise everyone's taxes" because that's what the Bush tax cuts affected: everyone's taxes. And as Ms McArdle notes, even that isn't enough, they'd have to tax more.

Even if you only did tax the rich, that would affect everyone's wallet anyway. If they raise taxes on the rich, that hurts the economy, slows growth, slows employment, raises prices, and results in cuts to your budget, even if your taxes don't get raised.

Let's be reasonable here. Does anyone, anywhere, think that a congress that for decades has spent incrementally more and more each year will somehow find Jesus and stop spending so much when they raise taxes? Giving congress more taxes with a promise to reduce the deficit instead of just blow it all is like giving a junkie a bag of drugs with the promise he'll flush it all. Raising taxes just gives congress more money to play with.

So that's what we're all faced with. What will it be, America? Will it be your budget that gets cuts, or the federal government?

*This originally ran at the Washington Examiner Opinion Zone.

Quote of the Day

"As Christians around the world celebrate Easter, we ask some of America's most influential pastors. In these turbulent times, has America lost its way? Taxes and budget cuts. What would Jesus do?"
-Christinane Amanpour on CNN

Monday, April 25, 2011

STRANGE VENDING

Most folks on the internet have heard of the odd vending machines in Japan (undies?) but that's not the extent of strange vending machines around the world. Here's a sampling:

Chicken Eggs



Bread



National Batteries



Live Bait



Kosher Snacks


Just Pringles



Pizza in 90 seconds! Mmm microwave pizza




Live Beetle Pets



Live Lobsters - how on earth does this work?



Sneakers. Hopefully they fit.



Neckties



Umbrellas

Just about anything can be put in a vending machine I guess. One of the best I ever saw was soup. They had cans of soup that they'd heat up and dispense with a spoon, and it was good stuff. I don't know if they had problems with lawsuits or exploding cans but I never see that any more. Then there were the coffee cups with poker cards on them, as shown in Terminator 2. Vending Machines are usually a pretty bad deal in terms of cost, but they are convenient and sometimes they're all you have time for.

And, of course, there's Automats, which I've written about in the past and I believe are going to be making a comeback. A full meal, in seconds, out of dozens of choices, for a good price. That kind of thing is going to be more popular, I suspect.

Still, I don't think I'd wear any of those ties or trust the shoes.

PICTURE OF THE DAY


To be fair, there are some Americans who seem to think this way, too.

INCOMPLETE DISCLOSURE

"There are a few, uh, provisos. Ah, a couple of quid pro quo."
-Alladin

The Lying Game
President Obama is a big fan of the DISCLOSE act, which is an attempt to force donors to political campaigns and campaign commercials to reveal their identities. However, the bill as written specifically excludes certain groups - particularly unions - from disclosure, and the legislation failed to pass in even a Democrat-controlled congress. Now, President Obama is trying to implement portions of the bill anyway.

When congress failed to pass DISCLOSE, President Obama went to the Federal Elections Commission and tried to get them to implement it anyway by executive order. The FEC opposed this plan and that effort failed. Hans Spakovsky at Pajamas Media explains what the president is doing now:
An impeccable source has provided me with a copy of a draft Executive Order that the White House is apparently circulating for comments from several government agencies. Titled “Disclosure of Political Spending By Government Contractors,” it appears to be an attempt by the Obama administration to implement — by executive fiat — portions of the DISCLOSE Act.
Although federal law prohibits federal contractors from contributing to politicians, the attempted regulations require any such contributions to be itemized and reported. Why? Because the regulations are interested in private, personal donations rather than company funds.

The wording is a bit vague as well, requiring reporting of any funds donated which are "reasonably expected" to be used in political advertisement or campaigning. Something that vague is just waiting to be abused by zealous regulators against political enemies.

Notably exempted from this regulation?
Federal employee unions that negotiate contracts for their members worth many times the value of some government contracts are not affected by this order. Neither are the recipients of hundreds of millions of dollars of federal grants.
In other words: unions and grant recipients can donate all they want without any reporting or examination of their private actions. And that's the problem I have with this whole effort.

I am not opposed to private donors to politicians having to cough up their names, although it isn't a reasonable requirement by the federal government. A man's private convictions about a political campaign are just that - private. However, the idea of a company being banned from contributing to a politician that is benefiting them but allowing the members of that company to do so privately seems like a pretty big loophole.

My guess is that the reason congress and the FEC refused to pass the DISCLOSE act is that very loophole; its lucrative and useful to politicians to allow companies to effectively contribute to them - in the name of private donations - in exchange for contracts and consideration.

My problem is that every instance of this legislation has been designed to exempt major Democrat contributors in a deliberate effort to intimidate and slow all contributions except to that party. If the original bill or these regulations were for all such contributions, I wouldn't have so much problem with it. Its the exemptions that make this kind of regulation improper. Unless everyone is equally required to show full disclosure, then this is just a weapon against the president's enemies, and should be opposed.

And since the president is prohibited by the constitution from making laws, he cannot legally direct the executive department to take actions that only may be taken by force of law. Its one thing to write rules and policies within the laws congress has passed to run an agency, it is another entirely to take a bill congress won't pass and just implement it by executive order.

Quote of the Day

"As long as it is admitted that the law may be diverted from its true purpose -- that it may violate property instead of protecting it -- then everyone will want to participate in making the law, either to protect himself against plunder or to use it for plunder. Political questions will always be prejudicial, dominant, and all-absorbing. There will be fighting at the door of the Legislative Palace, and the struggle within will be no less furious."
-Bastiat

Friday, April 22, 2011

POSTMODERN HEROISM

"Unleash the relativism!"

Clash Poster
Recently I watched the new remake of Clash of the Titans. It was released as a 3-D movie, but it was refitted for 3-D rather than built to be one from the start, so apparently the effects weren't very impressive in the theater. I don't much care for 3-D movies, because they inevitably have scenes of things thrusting at the camera like Dr Tongue on SCTV. Its rarely part of the drama or storytelling, just something thrown into make you jump and say "that looks 3-D!!"

Overall it wasn't a terrible movie, but as a fan of mythology I found the story a bit curious. The original story of Perseus was honestly handled more accurately in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief than this flick, despite the big changes in the setting.

The original story of Perseus was of a demigod (son of Zeus and beautiful girl Danaë) who arrives to save Andromeda from the wrath of the gods in the form of the Cetus (or Ketos), a horrendous monster. Andromeda's mom Cassiopeia was a famous beauty and she boasted that she was as beautiful than the daughters of Poseidon (Nereids). Perseus goes and has several adventures (the original Clash was closer than the new one to the original mythology) and ends up stoning Cetus with the head of medusa, marrying Andromeda and eventually ruling the land of Argos (which is in Ethiopia), although like most myths there were alternate endings. The gods were so impressed by this act of bravery and heroism that they put Perseus, Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Pegasus, and Cetus in the stars after they died.

In the movie, Perseus is a demigod, but there's some war between men and gods, who require human emotion to survive. Zeus wants men to love him and claims he created humans (the myths tell us that Prometheus did), and their worship gives him power. Humans have rebelled, and are rejecting the gods and in a scene where they knock down a huge, amazing statue of Zeus, Perseus' adoptive family is killed by Hades and a bunch of harpies along with the soldiers who knocked it over. Hades is trying to be set free to terrorize the world because he grows more powerful with fear, so he manipulates Zeus into letting him do what he wants.

Here's where the story gets a bit odd, because "doing whatever he wants" is apparently getting mad at Cassiopeia for saying her daughter Andromeda is more beautiful than Aphrodite, and telling Argos that they have to sacrifice Andromeda to the Kraken in ten days or they'll all die. Perseus refuses to "be a demigod" so he rejects gifts given him by Zeus on his quest to save Andromeda and kill the Kraken, thus somehow weakening Hades. How this is going to make all humans fear the gods more is unclear, since Argos is a small town on the edge of the ocean and Perseus came from an entirely different place, as did several other characters.

To a certain degree, as I always say, some changes have to happen in stories when they go from one media to another. For modern viewers, a castaway boy adopted by a family falling in love with his adoptive sister (the original myth) is uncomfortable, to say the least, so the whole story was changed. That is a understandable. In the movie, he marries Io, who is a wise and athletic teacher and guardian of Perseus, although she had absolutely nothing to do with the story. Her inclusion was primarily to get a hot girl into the story and have her do cool stuff to attract female viewers and give Perseus a love interest. But more was changed in Clash of the Titans than certain cultural references.

Why these changes? Well it has to do with the worldview of the writers and of Hollywood in general. Think back to Braveheart, what was that movie about? The scream of the dying William Wallace tells it all: freedom. Historically, Scots weren't fighting to be free, they were fighting to be self governed. They didn't want liberty, human rights, and democracy, they just wanted the English to go away so they could run things themselves. Come to think of it, they still do. The problem is, a bunch of lords fighting to run things themselves instead of English lords isn't as compelling to modern writers as some grand struggle for liberty.

And the liberty they seek isn't real clear either. They don't speak of rights much, they don't have much discussion of what they'd be free to do, the liberty seems to mostly consist of making the bad guys go away. They want autonomy and license, to be able to do what they want without someone oppressing them, which is a pretty strong leftist theme of the powerful vs the disempowered, but the Greeks knew nothing about that kind of idea.

And here's where the key to the worldview comes in. These battles aren't a struggle of right versus wrong, or heroism against evil. They are a battle of the oppressed versus the oppressor. The original Perseus legend presumed that the gods were worthy of praise and worship, and Perseus was simply protecting someone he thought was hot and wanted to marry. Perseus didn't defy the gods, he just attacked a titan (Cetus) and killed it. He thought a girl being eaten up for her mom's boast was wrong, so he fought the evil creature and won.

There's been a pretty big shift in popular culture away from good and evil, from right and wrong, and especially away from heroism being a man standing up for what is good and right versus any evil regardless of the cost to himself. Perseus has to practically be forced to take action, and when he does he's selfish, petulant, and refuses to use his abilities to protect others, resulting in dozens of deaths. In the end he kills the beast but he does so not to help someone else, but because of his rage against the gods for what they did to his family and to fulfill his father's dream of a world where men stood up to the gods and were free.

ConstellationsThe problem with the entire movie is that for most of it, there's no clear reason to side with the anti-god crowd. In fact, they come across as not just dumb but pointless. There is absolutely no depiction of oppression or cruelty by the gods, only sudden, violent retribution for rebellion against them. Perseus' adopted dad complains that a bad fishing day is because the Gods are angry and taking away the fish, but there's no reason to believe this other than his insistence. His wife tells him that the Gods are good and help them, but there's no reason to believe that, either.

In short, the writing was poor, but more than that it displayed a common theme in modern media: there's no heroism, only people doing stuff out of angry vengeance. There's no right and wrong, just oppression and oppressed.

Consider Unforgiven, one of my favorite movies. Like Lonesome Dove before it, this is a postmodern western. There are no good guys in Unforgiven. The conflict arises because a man is angry at a hooker. The hooker is described as being horribly disfigured, but honestly she looks pretty good despite the few fading scars. The protagonists are desperadoes out to murder people for money, the sheriff is a sadistic brute, and the girls are hateful harpies who reject an attempt by the cowboys to make up for their misdeeds because they hunger for blood.

Eastwood's character doesn't act out of any desire for right and wrong or justice, he's just mad that his friend was killed and put out as a prop, and goes on a drunken rampage. Nobody comes across as anything but selfish, petty, mean, and brutal in the entire film.

Lonesome Dove does the same thing. Nobody does anything for a good reason, they just do it. The Texas Rangers are sort of presented as heroes, but neither of them does good. One doesn't care for how his son is being mistreated and delivers a savage beating with a coil of rope, then pulls a gun on a bartender for not being respectful enough. They go on a long cattle drive in which several people die pointless, meaningless deaths, and on the way meet up with a horribly evil villain, who they don't even catch. They hang one of their friends, a former ranger, for being with a gang of bad guys and not single-handedly shooting them all down, apparently. Their black buddy dies an idiotic death while they all stand around and watch. A young Irish boy dies in a river from a freak attack by dozens of snakes.

In the end, one of the rangers never reconciles with his son who is an ungrateful jerk who whines that his daddy doesn't love him in exactly the way he commands. That ranger drags his buddy's body across a thousand miles or more of tough terrain for no particular reason except he wants to bury him in a certain spot.

The ranger, Call, goes through the motions of heroism by facing great difficulty and trial on a long painful quest but the purpose is utterly empty and devoid of meaning. His buddy didn't seem to care particularly where he was buried, the hooker that fell in love with him loses her one love who is basically charming but selfish and lazy.

Larry McMurtry was amazed that anyone would like his book, because he deliberately wrote it to "deconstruct" and demolish the western myth. His book savagely attacks the cowboy, the Texas Ranger, the strong silent type, and nobility in general. Sure, the story is entertaining and performances by the main characters was so good the show is worth watching but ultimately, like so many modern movies, it was soulless. The list goes on and on, with shows like Pulp Fiction being entertaining and interesting but without any redeeming feature or uplifting point. No heroes, no good guys, no right or wrong, just events.

It isn't that I think every movie has to deliberately have some uplifting message and moral character, its that they deliberately avoid any such hint. Good storytelling contains these elements, rightly done, stories will uplift and teach without meaning to or trying to. I don't want some propaganda or tract when I watch something like Clash of the Titans and that's the very problem: that's what we get when you intentionally rewrite a story to leave out right and wrong, justice, heroism, and good versus evil.

These efforts may be well done, entertaining, exciting, and fun, but they're devoid of purpose and point. Nobody learns to be a better person, no one is engaged to consider right and wrong, and most importantly, there are no heroes. Even Braveheart, which is presented as a vast fight of good versus evil with a hero ends up a bloody revenge movie without a clear purpose other than making the English look bad and die. Granted, that appears to be Mel Gibson's lifetime goal - people say he's anti-Semitic, but he seems more clearly anti-English to me.

In the end, our culture suffers from lacking any clear and repeated examples of good versus evil and right versus wrong in our entertainment. One of the best ways to raise kids to do good is to show them good and people doing good in a positive light. Lacking that, all they do learn is violence, selfishness, and the nobility of having nobody tell you what to do, which is anarchy, not democracy.

Thankfully there are exceptions. 300 glorified fighting for liberty and truth, the Batman series and first two Spider-Man movies were about doing right at any personal cost, because its the right thing to do. Its out there in shows like NCIS, usually, so we're not totally without these elements. Its just that since Hollywood is so removed from the basic concepts of virtue, absolute ethics, and justice, they can't even understand how to write such a story, let alone even consider it. As a result the whole culture pays a price.

*A related post: The Terminator's Unexamined Worldview, in which John Connor tells the Terminator "you just can't."