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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, April 28, 2014

SONGS I LIKE: Peace of Mind (Boston)

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Boston has a lot of songs that are easy to listen to, memorable, have a great sound, but don't burrow into your ear and stay there all day like tinnitus.  Too much modern music is built around a catchy hook or groove and a beat and offer little else, so they just sit in your mind and repeat over and over until you go insane or hear something more substantial to replace it.
Behind that music, however, are many songs with a deeper and more significant meaning in the lyrics than is initially observed by most.  People associate Boston with good time rock and roll, and songs like "Party" and "Smokin" definitely fit those themes, but there's more to the band.
Whether due to personal problems and ideas or just an appreciation of the theme, Boston's songwriter Tom Scholz returns to the idea of depression, motivation, and facing problems with songs like "Man I'll Never Be" which I wrote about in the past in this series.  Boston only rarely (on their worst disc Corporate America) deals with protest themes and social justice, mostly they just deal with personal issues and memories.
In the song "Peace of Mind" Boston deals with a perspective on life I think many can appreciate, especially these days.  Its about someone who just wants to be left alone and live a good life, not a life of stress and regulation, but a free life.  "People have advice they just keep on givin'" the song says, and these days that "advice" too often seems like or actually is a command.  We've gone beyond "people ought to get along" to "you must get along in the way I say or you will be punished" in too many cases.
Think of the future, realize there's more to life than your riches or your pet themes and ideas.  Understand that the world is not about political victory, your ideology, or riches.
"All I want to have is my peace of mind," the song goes.  I just want to be left alone, and find peace, not struggle with the world, not fight hard to get ahead.  The conflicts and confusion of life leave him cold, he just wants to live life, not fight and struggle every day, and I'm sure everyone has felt that way at least sometimes in their life.
And, since this is Boston, you get glorious overlayered soaring guitars and even more soaring singing by Brad Delp.  Its not just thoughtful, its delivered in an artistic, enjoyable manner.  This is the kind of thing rock is supposed to do, not just make you groove or dance, but give you beauty and art with something to think about.
Now if you're feelin' kinda low 'bout the dues you've been paying
Future's coming much too slow
And you wanna run but somehow you just keep on stayin'
Can't decide on which way to go
Yeah, yeah, yeah

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Now you're climbin' to the top of the company ladder
Hope it doesn't take too long
Can'tcha you see there'll come a day when it won't matter
Come a day when you'll be gone

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People li vin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Take a look ahead, take a look ahead, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah...

Now everybody's got advice they just keep on givin'
Doesn't mean too much to me
Lot's of people out to make-believe they're livin'
Can't decide who they should be.

I understand about indecision
But I don't care if I get behind
People livin' in competition
All I want is to have my peace of mind.

Take a look ahead, take a look ahead. Look ahead.

*This is part of the Songs I Like series.

Friday, April 25, 2014

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Ethanol and Biofuels

"Ethanol doesn't burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. Our current ethanol production represents only 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption -- yet it consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double in the last two years and raising the threat of hunger in the Third World."
-Jeff Goodell, Rolling Stone Magazine

Farm SubsidiesEthanol, produced by corn, "biomass," cane sugar or other plant matter, is considered by many to be a great alternative to fossil fuels.  They consider the origin to be more renewable (plants grow rapidly), the fuel to produce less pollution, the production to release fear "carbon emissions," and as a bonus, it costs more so people might drive less.
Ethanol is so beloved by some that legislation to subsidize farmers who grew crops for biofuels was pushed through in many countries including Germany and the United States.  It would save us from dependence on foreign oil, it would reduce pollution, and cars can run on plants, won't that be wonderful?  Some even argue that it would reduce gas prices because we could shake that oil addiction from the middle east and produce it here cheaply and efficiently!
The truth is, ethanol has its advantages.  When burned, it pollutes less than straight gasoline, and it actually has a higher octane rating, making it produce more horsepower per weight than gasoline.  It also burns somewhat cooler than straight gasoline. 
These days ethanol is less popular, and you don't hear so much about how great it is.  BP isn't running bright green ads with happy cars driving around on corn any more.  But the legislation is still in place, the farmers are still growing corn to turn into fuel, and any attempt to stop this or repeal the legislation is met with exactly the same environmental claims and protests.
So what about these fuels, are they really that great?  Are people who oppose ethanol just oil company stooges?
Greg Giraldo is dead now, but he was a very brilliant, very funny comedian.  He was one of those comedians that all other comedians loved and thought was so hilarious but for some reason never really caught on or broke big.
He had a bit on biofuels in which he pointed out that for every gallon of corn ethanol, it requires two gallons of gasoline to produce.  He noted the only reason corn ethanol is even pushed is because corn farmers want that sweet subsidy money.  Al Gore not long ago admitted it wasn't about the environment, but about kickbacks to farmers for political gain:
First generation ethanol I think was a mistake. The energy conversion ratios are at best very small.
...
One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee, and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for president.
Every so often a politician will be honest.
The truth is, ethanol is not just a failure in every single category it was supposed to succeed, but a disaster.  From food shortages to riots, to slavery and beyond, ethanol in all its forms is a horrific failure.  Let us count the ways.
First off, ethanol does not reduce pollution.  In fact, in some ways, it increases "carbon emissions."   Elizabeth Rosenthal wrote at the New York Times:
The destruction of natural ecosystems — whether rain forest in the tropics or grasslands in South America — not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, taken globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new lands being cleared, either for food or fuel.
Clearing lands to grow materials for biofuels means clearing plants that eat carbon dioxide to survive, which means less "sequestration" of carbon. 
While it is true that the carbon emissions from burning ethanol is no more than it absorbed while growing, the process of creating the fuel actually releases additional carbon, and when you factor in the added gasoline there's even more pollution.  Further, the growing of corn requires fertilizer, pesticides, and irrigation, and to make matters worse, you have to transport the corn to the processing plant, which means the "emissions" issues become more problematic.
And scientists recently discovered that biofuels release more than double the amount of other "greenhouse gasses" such as nitrous oxide than previously believed.  And a newly released government study noted that overall, greenhouse gas emissions rose by 7% because of ethanol fuels.
Making matters worse, ethanol is much less efficient in producing energy than gasoline, about half as effective.  Ethanol is not as "energy dense" as gasoline, which means per measurement of each fuel, gasoline gives you more power and a longer drive.  For a much more extensive examination of energy and energy density, this pdf has a ton of information.  That means you have to put more energy into producing that fuel for your car than just using gasoline, which means more emissions and less energy efficiency overall.
Think of it this way: its like walking down the street.  Gasoline is walking a slight downward slope with a light wind at your back.  Ethanol is walking uphill with a breeze against you.  You can still get there, but the process takes more energy.
And the price of ethanol is bad for two reasons.  First it takes more labor and work to produce a gallon of ethanol than gasoline (since you have the gasoline mixed in so you have the work to produce that plus the ethanol), so the price goes up.  Second, since the industry standard e-85 (15% gas, 85% ethanol) ethanol is about 26% less efficient than gasoline, to get the same distance you need 26% more fuel.  And that means the price per gallon of ethanol has to be 26% less than straight gasoline to get the same efficiency at the pump, and that ain't happening, nor is it remotely likely to.
Since it takes more fuel to go the same distance with ethanol, you don't reduce fuel consumption, you actually increase it.  And since much of the energy used by plants producing ethanol right now use fossil fuels to power them, that means they are using a lot of fuel to just make the E-85 in the first place (that's where Giraldo got his 2 gallons gas/1 ethanol number from).  So in the end, there's no reduction in fuel consumption from either gasoline or ethanol.
Then there's the bad news.  Ethanol is alcohol based (that's where the "-ol" bit comes from in the name) and that's bad for your engine.  It corrodes rubber and metal, and eventually will destroy your engine.  The only question is how long it will take: the richer the ethanol blend (and the EPA just approved 25% ethanol mixes; E-75, which is even less energy dense than E-85) the faster your engine will be destroyed.
Now, car manufacturers can make engines that are protected from this corrosive effect, which costs a lot more money, so your car costs more, so you can buy more gas at a higher price.  Perhaps that sounds great to someone who wants people driving less, but to the rest of us, that's a serious concern.  And its a serious problem for the "drive less" crowd too, even if they don't know it.
Because when you drive up the price of fuel, you drive up the price of... everything.  It takes fuel to create, transport, and display products.  It takes fuel for you to buy them and get them home.  It takes fuel to get to the store, it takes fuel to get to the hospital, it takes fuel to get to the anti-Republican protest with your giant paper-mache head.  It takes fuel to fly to the global warming conference in Aruba.
So every time the price of fuel goes up, so does the price of everything else, which is partly why inflation has been so significant lately.  Its also why manufacturers have been making smaller and smaller packaging, to hide the increased costs.  And to make matters worse, food prices are especially stressed by biofuel subsidies and manufacturing.
Because every acre of food material used to produce ethanol is one less acre to produce food.  And when there's less of a product available, the price tends to rise.  So food prices are being affected from two directions, and they've been rising for almost a decade now.  Food shortages are still happening around the world as a result of these subsidies and that's even caused riots in some areas.  Reports say that up to 75% of food shortages in recent years are the direct result of ethanol farming.  Since 2005 when the subsidies were passed, corn prices have more than tripled.  With ethanol industry consuming nearly half of the corn crop each year, that's a problem, especially since drought crippled last year's corn crop.
Oh but it gets worse.
In Brazil, where they grow a lot of sugar cane for ethanol production, they want that sweet subsidy and ethanol money bad.  So badly, they're enslaving people to work the fields.  This isn't the "oh my boss is a slave driver" kind of slavery, its not even the "owe my soul to the company store" kind.  Its the real work-for-no-pay-have-no-freedom-are-property kind of slavery.
The push for ethanol production and its subsidies is having a damaging effect on the environment as well, as a recent AP story notes:
As farmers rushed to find new places to plant corn, they wiped out millions of acres of conservation land, destroyed habitat and polluted water supplies, an Associated Press investigation found.

Five million acres of land set aside for conservation — more than Yellowstone, Everglades and Yosemite National Parks combined — have vanished on Obama's watch.

Landowners filled in wetlands. They plowed into pristine prairies, releasing carbon dioxide that had been locked in the soil.

The consequences are so severe that environmentalists and many scientists have now rejected corn-based ethanol as bad environmental policy. But the Obama administration stands by it, highlighting its benefits to the farming industry rather than any negative impact.
Other attempts at solutions such as biomass face even more troubles than growing crops.  In theory there are millions of tons of "biomass" lying on the ground to be harvested.  In truth, this harvest is 1-2 inches deep over millions of square miles, so collecting it would cost more energy than it produced even with the wildest and most optimistic estimates.  And it would actually harm other businesses such as the furniture industry.
Pretty much everyone in the industry and who has examined the facts knows that ethanol is trash, that its a net loser that should be abandoned.  That hasn't stopped president Obama from repeatedly praising the stuff, as recently as his state of the union speech.  In the realm of fairy dust and unicorn skittles, its a wonderful replacement for gasoline.  In the real world, people like Alexandra Leo say this on CNBC:
It makes a ton of headlines but it's completely useless for everyone. I mean, frankly this thing is so inefficient it costs more energy to make it than it produces in the long run.
In fact, some estimates claim that because of the low energy and large acreage required to grow biofuel materials, even the most efficient sources would require more fertile land than exists on earth to replace just America's fuel demands each year.
This stuff is awful, just awful.  So why do we keep pushing for it, why does congress not shoot this stuff down?  Why did Harry Reid table the bill passed by the House of Representatives to end the corn subsidies?
Well there are two sides pushing for this.  First is the corn industry.  Big farming corporations and small farmers a like love the increased demand for corn and big time government money flowing into their pockets.  They rely on cheap labor and high subsidies to get very rich and they don't want that gravy train to end.
Second, there's the environmentalist groups.  They know all this, at least most of them do.  They know ethanol is no solution and actually makes matters worse.  But they think it will push gas prices up, reduce driving and fuel consumption, and reduce dependency of people on oil and cars.  Its not about their stated goals of helping the environment by "going green" with fuel.  Its about ending cars and fossil fuels, and this is just one more tool.
And of course there are always the team players, who choose sides based on the enemy.  If the Republicans or conservatives don't like something, I must because they're all so evil everything they oppose must be a good idea.
So on and on it goes. But ethanol (particularly corn ethanol) is a horrible mistake, an awful policy, and a trashcan our vastly debt-saddled country cannot afford even if it was a good idea to begin with.
Ethanol: bad every time.
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

AUTHORS AND READERS

"I would not want such a burden to carry."

There's a sequence in my book Snowberry's Veil that I've thought about quite a bit over the years because of what it says about readers and authors.  The scene is in the forest where Erkenbrand judges then executes a bandit, leaving him dead for the animals.  When I wrote it, I had something in mind, and I expanded on that concept beyond what I had originally conceived of.
But what I had in mind and what at least one reader got from it was pretty different.  Here's an excerpt of the scene:
When he started to come around, I dragged the bandit to his feet and pinned him to a tree with his blade at his throat.
“Bandit, I am Erkenbrand, King’s ranger. I am the representative of the King’s justice and duly appointed guardian of the King’s lands and peoples. You, on the other hand, are a bandit,” I pushed the point of the sword against this throat, upward under his jaw, “who admitted murder to my face.”
He stared at me with hate and probably pain from the rock I’d bounced off his head. He swore at me with a defiant gaze and the blood from his head matted his hair on one side.
“How many men are in your camp?”
“Go climb your ___,” he snarled.
“Who is your leader?”
“My ___,” he snarled. I sensed a theme.
“You’re not going to answer any questions, are you?”
He stared at me silently, proving my point. I didn’t have time to break his will, even if I could. I took a deep breath and sighed, tasting bitterness on my tongue.
“Because we are too far from a standing court or authorities” I said quietly, “and I am unable to hold you prisoner for delivery to the hands of magistrates, I now am passing judgment on you: guilty for the crimes of murder and theft, of banditry, and preying on the subjects of the king. Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
The bandit’s eyes filled with contempt. “Ranger, you’re a ranger? Pretty sad stuff the King is sending out these days. You ran like a goblin.” He repeated his foul oath and spat at me.
“The sentence then is death,” I told him, and drove the blade through his throat, up through his mouth and into his brain with one brutal thrust. He made a sort of wheezing gasp and blood gushed out of his mouth and the wound, then he slid dead to the forest floor.
I cleaned off the blade and sheathed it, carrying the scabbard and sword in my hand. Kaskala stared at me without moving.
It was only then that I remembered that horse I’d seen in the camp. It was Lord Valance’s mount, and it was well cared for. He was either a prisoner as well - which seemed unlikely since I’d seen none of his goods strewn around or on the bandits - or with them in … some other capacity. Probably I should have asked the bandit I’d just executed about that, but I knew he’d never have answered me without some manner of torture and I just wasn’t going to do that.
I tore the patch that identified me as a ranger off the tattered remains of my shirt that I’d been carrying and left it on his body, then Kaskala and I turned to leave. I gave Kaskala the bandit’s sword, and as we walked, he looked at me regularly, as if to see something new in me.
“You killed him,” he finally said.
I nodded. The memory of the jarring crunch through the blade as it drove into his skull made my arm feel sick.
“Is this the way of your people?”
“It is sometimes. I am given the power to capture and determine justice over criminals in lesser cases such as theft, poaching, or assault. I can decide who is guilty and pass sentence on them, usually fines or restitution. The King gives rangers, such as myself, the power while in the wilds to act as watchmen do in cities, to act for justice for the people in places far from magistrates.” I wasn’t exactly sure if the words I was using were ones Kaskala would be familiar with but I didn’t feel like a long explanation either. I didn’t feel like talking at all.
“But you killed him,” he repeated.
“Yes. When there is an emergency or we are too far from cities, when I cannot appeal to any other authorities or must act quickly, I may adjudicate more serious crimes such as murder.”
“He took a life, so you take a life?” Kaskala asked.
We stopped and I took a deep breath.
“That’s not exactly how it works. That’s kind of what happened, but there is more to it than that. He was a bandit, a man who preys on others. He used his strength to take from those weaker than him, he killed and raped and harmed others and stole from them. And in the wilderness, there is no one to appeal to out here, there is no court, and there are no guards. So men like him act without fear of reprisal.
“Because he was so destructive to the safety of others, because the helpless were prey to him, people with power must stop him. It wasn’t so much that he took a life, it was that he took an innocent life to steal from that person, he killed because he wanted what they had. I killed to protect others from this fate, and because justice requires that he pay for his deeds. I killed not because I wanted to kill or because I am so powerful that he’s prey to me. I killed as a representative of the King’s justice, of his authority, and the authority of the people he serves as their ruler.
“If I had not killed him, he would have continued to prey on the weak, continued to kill, and continued to do evil. His past crimes and the threat to others required that his life be taken, justice required that he pay a price for what he had done, and I was acting as an instrument of justice. I wish it were not me, I wish I could have walked away, but I cannot. It is part of the burden of being a ranger.”
“You do not seem happy with what you did.”
“I’m not.” I was quiet a while as we walked, then thought I should explain more. “I don’t like killing. I’ve done it before and unless providence smiles on me, I will do so again in the future. Killing the wyvern was a hunt of sorts but killing that man while staring him in the eye, executing a helpless prisoner is different. It was awful, but it had to be done.”
We turned and walked toward our camp. Kaskala thought about it a while and then put his paw on my back and we walked that way for a while.
“I would not want such a burden to carry.”
When Huck, sometime commenter here, read the book, he reviewed it quite positively, but had this concern:
The one section of the book that I thought was very out of place was the scene where Erkenbrand and one of the Raccoon beastmen have a kind of philosophical discussion about the necessity and morality of capital punishment. If I were Taylor, I would have simply let the story itself be the defense of the necessity of capital punishment, instead of having the characters engage in a dialogue that was inconsistent with any of the other interactions the characters had.
Huck might have a point about the inconsistency of dialogue, which is worth pondering, but he didn't catch what I was trying to toss out there. The scene is kind of a shock based on the previous actions by Erkenbrand who I tried to portray as a pretty gentle, sensitive guy, if a bit rough around the edges.  Here he just offs a guy in cold blood.
And I thought about how that would look to his beastman companion who, after all, was part of a tribe that was essentially holding Erkenbrand on probation.  Further, I wanted to expand a bit on what a Ranger is in my world, since I'd established Erkenbrand and his abilities enough that I could get into another aspect of his life and work.  And Rangers are not just forest warriors, they are actually a branch of the royal military, acting as scouts and explorers, charting the wilderness, cataloging species and plants, clearing areas of threats, and when necessary, agents of justice.
In our world we are comfortable with the idea of the go-to guy for law and justice, and its always a comfortable system.  Life hasn't always been like that, and it wasn't that long ago in parts of the USA even where the law was what you made of it where you were.
Part of the Ranger's job is to execute justice, and if he must, do so with lethal force.  In a monarchy in a lower tech fantasy setting, the death penalty is significantly more common than in ours.  Further, in these circumstances, Erkenbrand can't tie the bandit up and call the cops, or drive him to a jail.  He's several days travel from civilization on horseback (which he doesn't have). 
So I was trying to show how Rangers worked, and what their duties were beyond just being some guy in the forest with a bow.  Politics and arguing capital punishment was the last thing on my mind.  I wasn't trying to argue for or against it.  My only concern was this was going to be jarring and shocking to many readers, who are comfortable with their world and not used to this kind of thing.  In this setting, this isn't particularly noteworthy to the people of Morien, but it could be to modern readers.
So I had Erkenbrand and Kaskala talk it over a bit, trying to show that Erkenbrand felt he had no choice but was awful about it, and Kaskala not really understanding but knowing that he could trust Erkenbrand's judgment.  Up to this point the beastmen have been, if not adversaries, not exactly allies either, and this was a bonding moment.
So to me it was a matter of character development and explaining the setting.  To Huck it was a treatise on capital punishment, an argument trying to justify or support it.  Which brings up a concern for writing.
What you're trying to do as an author doesn't always carry across well to readers, or at least not to all readers.  Some might have strong feelings on a given topic and respond poorly to it, perhaps missing what you're trying to do.  Sometimes what you try to do as an author fails, and you don't get across the concepts very effectively.
And that's just something you have to deal with.  Nobody ever has written a book that everyone loved and understood completely.  In fact, very few will really "get" your book the way you meant it.  Sometimes someone will understand completely, but its going to be rare.  The hardest part is when a reviewer misses your work entirely which can feel unfair.  So far nobody's review has particularly upset me, although sometimes they puzzle me (like the one that gave me 4 stars then spent the whole review complaining about first person).
Its just interesting to me the dynamic between readers and authors.  What you're trying to accomplish often will simply go unnoticed or be misunderstood.  But hey, as long as they're reading, that's good enough for me.

Monday, April 21, 2014

THE PLANK

"I really feel there should be a word that means 'smart person who is actually quite stupid.'  Preferably it would be in German."

Over at Ace of Spades HQ, Drew M links a great bit about economics which has 12 economic truths from a Nobel prize winning economist.  These are a mix of common sense and basic economic fact that are useful for everyone to remember such as:
  1. Many things that are desirable are not feasible.
  2. Individuals and communities face trade-offs.
  3. Other people have more information about their abilities, their efforts,
    and their preferences than you do.
  4. Everyone responds to incentives, including people you want to help. That is why social safety nets don't always end up working as intended.
Now, the strange thing, as Drew points out, is that the person who he got this list from is Ezra Klein, hardcore leftist and Keynesian economist who strongly supports and cheerleads for the ACA, which violates many of these economic truths.  As Drew notes:
Imagine thinking, as Klein does, that these are four essential parts (there's 12 in total) of understanding economics while simultaneously thinking that ObamaCare doesn't go far enough and we should have "a more nationalized health-care system".
...
How can you read those words and think, "Yes! This guy nails it and oh by the way, society should be organized in such a way as to ignore everything he just said"?
Just about everything this economist says is in opposition to and destroys the ideas of the left on economics and government policy.  That's not to say this is some kind of absolute proof Ezra Klein is wrong on these areas (although it should be cause for serious doubt), because economics is very complex, and the larger the economy, the more exponentially complex it becomes.
But it is an example of how so often I've seen people who lean left will know one set of facts and understand one set of truths... then profess and hold to another, contradictory set.  Ezra Klein praises this economist's thoughts on the matter, then spends his time fighting for ideas that are in opposition to them.  Fellow Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman does the same thing: he knows the things he argues for in his NYT column are wrong and even idiotic, but he argues for them anyway, and appears to truly believe them.
Even when, at times, I've seen a leftist admit that they are wrong on a topic, often they will in short order be back to arguing what they admitted recently was wrong once more.  Its as if they hold these positions not based on reason, truth, and careful consideration, but upon what they feel or wish to be true.  As if emotion and desire drives their policies and approach to life rather than reality.
And while its easy to point a finger and give the Nelson Laugh to such behavior, I can't help but stop and think.
What am I doing that's like this?  In what area am I blind, where am I imposing what I wish to be true upon what is actually true?  Looking back I can see areas I defended the Bush administration when I should have been more skeptical - the encroachment of government on privacy in the name of fighting terrorism, for instance.  I admire those on the right who did sound a voice of alarm in these areas.
I did so not out of any love or allegiance to President Bush, but out of a concern for the war we were fighting and the enemy we are still up against.  But they went too far and I should have been more objectively thoughtful about it.
I don't doubt there are at least some other areas where I do the same thing.  In Christianity, this is expressed by Christ Jesus in Matthew's gospel:
And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
-Matthew 7:3-5
This comes up in the Christian life often, whether its listening to a sermon and thinking "wow [insert person] should be here to hear this" or reading the Bible and thinking "[insert person] needs to meditate on this passage!"  No, we should think first about how it applies to us, not others.
Jesus was especially annoyed with hypocrites of a certain type.  He had no patience or tolerance for people who thought that they were morally superior to anyone else.  He was at his most caustic and condemning with those who presented themselves as holy and yet inside were rotten.
And when I think of Ezra Klein's blindness on this issue, I should first consider how this is a cautionary note for my blindness, too.  Because if I can't get the plank out of my own eye, how am I going to help see well enough to get that speck out of my brother's?
And if all I can offer to the world is condemnation, mockery, and finger pointing, why would anyone want to listen to what I have to say?

Friday, April 18, 2014

WHAT A WEEK

"Ow, my Society!"

Its been a strange week in the news.  From Bundy vs the BLM to Ukranian Jews, all sorts of oddities have taken place.  The US House of Representatives is voting on whether to withhold salary pay from those found in contempt of congress, which would affect current US Attorney General Eric Holder.
The Bundy Nevada ranch stand off was odd.  Living in the western US, I'm well aware of how much land (over half of it) the federal government owns and in some states like Nevada, barely any of it is private land.  The origin of this was basically extortion; if a territory like Nevada wanted to become a state, they had to let the feds declare big sections of it theirs (because of all the mineral resources, apparently).
And as time has gone on, the federal government has grabbed more and more land.  Some is for national parks, some is for wildlife preservation, some is for military use, and so on.  Now, much of Nevada is virtually uninhabitable, but some of it is pretty valuable land, such as the grazing property that Bundy was using.
And being desert, water rights are very important as well.  And apparently the area was being considered for a solar energy farm by some investors, including big donors to Senate Majority Leader Reid (D-NV).  The whole thing was an ugly mess, and its not over yet.  The BLM has sort of backed down, but in all this you have to ask a few questions:
Why does the BLM have guys with rifles and mechanized infantry?  The whole militarization of the federal government is disturbing.  These guys don't swear allegiance to the US Constitution, they don't come from a culture of patriotism like most military volunteers do.  They aren't barred by US law from being active on American soil.  Its like an end run around the military by the executive department, who apparently wants its own private army it can use against Americans.
And how is it that this Nevada desert turtle is so suddenly endangered after nearly 200 years of coexisting with cattle?  According to biologists I've read, they interact quite well.
Meanwhile, fliers were distributed in Ukraine to Jews, requiring them to pay a 50 dollar fee and register with the government.  This struck me as both unlikely and plausible at the same time.  Remember the play and film Fiddler on the Roof?  One of my favorite musicals, its set during a pogrom against Jews in Ukraine.  That happened more than a few times, even as recently as under Stalin.
Yet at the same time, it struck me as very unlikely that any government would be that bold and obvious, and I questioned how the US State Department got a copy of one of these so fast.  Now the government of the area in Ukraine is claiming the logo is theirs but they didn't print or distribute these.
And honestly, this does strike me as a pretty typical KGB psyops campaign to discredit a government and make the population fear and dislike them.  So the Russians might have done it to destabilize the area and weaken the government.  Who knows, I guess we'll wait and see.
A strange bit of news was this one: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman makes six figures a year at his job.  He owns a mansion as well as several other properties, and is worth $2.5 million dollars.  He just got a job as a lecturer at CUNY for $25,000 a month to give lectures on - I'm not making this up - income inequality.  Now, if you've read any of his columns you know that Krugman is a leftist Keynesian economist and he'll say rich people are bad and stealing from the poor... while collecting his $250,000 a year paycheck to say so.
And students wonder why college costs so much.
And then there's the Census.  President Obama directed the Census department to change their reporting.  Why does this matter?  I'll let Megan McArdle explain:
For several months now, whenever the topic of enrollment in the Affordable Care Act came up, I’ve been saying that it was too soon to tell its ultimate effects. We don’t know how many people have paid for their new insurance policies, or how many of those who bought policies were previously uninsured. For that, I said, we will have to wait for Census Bureau data, which offer the best assessment of the insurance status of the whole population. Other surveys are available, but the samples are smaller, so they’re not as good; the census is the gold standard. Unfortunately, as I invariably noted, these data won’t be available until 2015.

I stand corrected: These data won’t be available at all. Ever.

No, I’m not kidding. I wish I was. The New York Times reports that the Barack Obama administration has changed the survey so that we cannot directly compare the numbers on the uninsured over time.
There's only one reason the federal government wants to keep this data from the eyes of economists and pundits: its awful and makes them look stupid.  Its also why the Obama administration has not yet and has no plans to ever release the number of people who actually have signed up to the ACA.
And of course, there's that jet that disappeared.  Remember the plane?  The one that everyone was talking about and was CNN's broadcast day for about 30 days in a row?  Flight 370?  The coverage has disappeared, too.  Its sort of funny in a way how suddenly and totally everyone just dropped it.  It was the main topic on news, blogs, and social media, now nothing.  The problem is the black box flight recorded stops sending out a distress signal after a month, so they have nothing to home in on.
But something curious I liked that someone brought up (I cannot recall who): remember Ted Danson and the rest going on about how polluted and trashed the ocean is?  How totally full of debris it is, how there's a Hawaii-sized island of trash from cruise ships floating around?
Yeah, they didn't really see that out there, did they?  They had a hard time finding any significant debris, let alone some big enough to be plane-like.  Just something to consider.
And in my work, I finished and published a Fantasy Hero module called The Lost Castle.  Its an adventure for fantasy gaming, particularly Hero Games stuff.  I got official licensing from Hero Games and its the "featured product" on their official website store.  It will be on Amazon etc as a download and purchase soon as well.
The next project for me is a reboot of The Fantasy Codex.  This was a 2 volume set for the previous edition of Hero, and its taken a while to rebuild the thing for the new edition.  I've streamlined it, cut out repetition, and its bundled into one, slightly fatter, volume now.  I've run into a bit of a snag, though.  I lost a computer and all its data, and the bad part is the backups I had off it aren't complete.  To make matters worse, the cover to The Fantasy Codex, vol 2 looks like this:
The problem is, I don't have that original art anywhere.  I thought I did, but it was just a copy of the first volume's cover.  And that's quite frustrating.  All I have is this little postage stamp sized copy.
So now I have to rebuild it, from this basic drawing my architectural designer and clock maker brother Jonathan did for me:

So this will take a bit of work with the free image manipulation program GIMP to get it looking like I want, again.  Its just a piece of internal art, but its a big full page piece, so I can't use manipulate the little image and use it.
*UPDATE: Here's what the final image looks like:
I have a lot of stuff in the pipes for Fantasy Hero, and I've been getting a lot done while I wait for Life Unworthy to get back to me from my editor.  He's been very busy and as he does it on spec (I want to pay him, but can't yet) so I can wait.  But until I get it back I'm leaving it on a shelf because I want to see it with fresher eyes when I get it to edit.  As I wrote earlier, this one really has me nervous.
So I hope you have a blessed Easter and enjoy the extra time off.  Spend it with family and maybe consider how two thousand years ago, someone lived a perfect life and died the death our sins deserve for us, so we can have salvation from our sins.  You know, if you can find time between eating chocolate and hunting for eggs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

FREE INFORMATION

"private correspondence is also a powerful tool for slandering climate data"

The Freedom of Information Act passed in 1966, the year after I was born.  Signed into law by a reluctant Lyndon Baines Johnson, it was a response to the increasing secrecy and untrustworthy nature of the federal government.
The principle behind the FOIA is that the federal government is subservient to the people of the United States and should, upon demand by the people, provide reasonable materials not critical to national security.  So you can demand the tax returns of a politician, but not the password to the CIA's secret files.  There are ten different categories to exempt information from the FOIA, which the government can reject a request under:
  1. (A) specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy and (B) are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive order
  2. related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency
  3. specifically exempted from disclosure by statute (other than section 552b of this title), provided that such statute (A) requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue, or (B) establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld (this was later given more specific detail in the Privacy Act of 1974).
  4. trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential 
  5. inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency
  6. personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
  7. records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information (A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, (B) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, (C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, including a State, local, or foreign agency or authority or any private institution which furnished information on a confidential basis, and, in the case of a record or information compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, information furnished by a confidential source, (E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law, or (F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual
  8. contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions
  9. geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.
  10. information of a commercial nature, including trade secrets, whether or not obtained from a person outside the Postal Service, which under good business practice would not be publicly disclosed
Other than this, the federal government is required, under the law, to reveal information requested by individual citizens, within a reasonable time period.  There are fees involved, which can be somewhat expensive, which make the process more difficult and are of questionable nature, but they are partly there to keep frivolous requests from bogging down agencies.
This system has been copied by many countries around the world and there are FOIA laws in place in states as well as at the federal government level.  Such a bill would almost certainly never be passed today, as it limits government power and makes it more accountable to the people.  Since the time when this bill was passed, the philosophy of government has shifted to more rulership over than subservience to the people.
One of the things that stood out in the Climaquiddick Emails were several mentions of how to get around FOIA requests, what to block from being released, and what should be destroyed so it cannot be released due to these sort of requests.  Because these scientists were working for federal government dollars, their research fell under FOIA requests.
Michael "Piltdown" Mann and others fought very, very hard to keep from having to show their work, which any other scientist in any other setting would be glad to show.  They considered efforts to force them to show how they came to their conclusions and what data their reports were based on to be offensive and wrong, and whined that their opponents would use it against them.
To this day, much of the material Mann, for example, used for his "hockey stick" graph is gone, and the Eastanglia research center claims it was destroyed; the old "eaten by my dog" ploy.
Recently, Michael Mann sued Mark Steyn when Steyn pointed out quite factually that Michael Mann at no point received a Nobel prize for anything.  Michael Mann claims he did, and the university he works at claims he did.  Mann sued Steyn for his statements, and several people noted when the news came out that this was a very stupid thing to do.
See, when a lawsuit or court case takes place, there's this process called "discovery" in which the court requires the people involved in the case to totally and freely release information related to the case.  Michael Mann really, really doesn't want some of his work to be released to the public, and especially not to Mark Steyn.  So either he didn't really think this through very carefully, or he figured Steyn would cave based on the costs of a lawsuit.  Which if so, he hasn't been paying much attention to recent events - Steyn among others fought and beat the tyrannical Canadian Human Rights Commission not that long ago.
The lawsuit follies continue, with Mann starting to show signs this was all a terrible, stupid mistake and things aren't going well for him.  As predicted, Steyn's legal team is using the discovery process to dig out all kinds of stuff Mann has been keeping from the public (again, very odd behavior for a scientist not working for a company).
And others are trying to dig out Mann's work using FOIA requests.  They have tried again and again, and Mann's lawyers have been very successful at blocking these requests.  So much so that people are starting to take note, because these efforts have very wide-reaching significance.As Greg Greico writes in the Times-Dispatch:
Skeptics of climate change have filed requests for Mann’s emails under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. (Mann is an influential climatologist whose work has bolstered the case for man-made global warming.) So far, they have lost. And they have lost so badly that media organizations have sat up, taken notice — and filed a brief in the case.

The Virginia Supreme Court is weighing whether a professor’s emails are, as a Prince William County circuit court ruled, “proprietary” and therefore exempt from the state’s FOIA. The lower court ruled that proprietary records are those “owned or in possession of one who manages and controls them.” This has alarmed the media organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the AP, the Newspaper Association of America, Reuters, Atlantic Media and several others.
What's going on here is that the judges are trying to decide the difference between personal materials and those pertinent to federally funded work, which is a tricky business.  Personal stuff that happens to be done while on the job paid for by the federal government is not federal business, and hence is not subject to FOIA requests.
But the judges here have defined this so broadly and unwisely that news organizations are alarmed.  Why?  Because this definition can apply to anything a university or college has.
The media groups note that the lower court’s ruling “literally writes into the exemption the very definition of a public record in Virginia. ... Under the lower court’s definition, no public university record would qualify for release under VFOIA because all university documents are presumably ‘things’ and would be ‘owned or in the possession of’ the university.”
If you're in the news or information business, this is not good at any level.  Further, it prevents people from digging into how public funds are being used by individuals who can just claim its "proprietary" and thumb their nose at the public.
Global warming alarmists saw how incredibly destructive the emails that were leaked under the Climaquiddick releases were to them.  Comments about destroying information, destroying enemies, using the peer review system to protect themselves and silence critics, and "hiding the decline" in temperature were devastating to their cause.  The mask was lifted, and people could see what an enormous scam this all was.
They don't want to have this happen, ever again.  So they're fighting hard to keep their work away from the prying eyes of people who are paying for it, demanding everyone just trust them despite past evidence that they're completely untrustworthy.
And because destroying emails relating to work government money pays for is a federal crime, they are hesitant to just wipe out their correspondence (although they admit having done so in the Climaquiddick emails).
So they're using lawyers and either sympathetic or not very bright judges to block any efforts to see their stuff, and in the process are creating precedent and legal basis for anyone to block FOIA requests.  This is much more broad and significant than just abuse of funds by global warming fanatics.
And the whole thing betrays a certain arrogance and condescension when it comes to power and the people of the United States.  You don't need this, you don't deserve this, shut up and do what you're told.  How dare you question us or require us to show our work!
These scientists are acting in this manner largely because their money is at stake.  I can't find how much Mann makes a year, but judging by his flying around the world and the cash he throws around for lawsuits and publicity, I suspect he does pretty well.  And, of course, the university loses money and esteem if their pet researchers are shown to be scammers and con men.  So they have a lot of reason to hide the research as well.
The government has always been very resistant to FOIA requests, because they just don't want to be bothered by the public and do not care to be accountable.  They've gotten more resistant as time has gone on and the imperial government philosophy has become more entrenched.  But universities and scientists following in the same path is a very bad thing.
These people want to be unaccountable, they want to do whatever they choose with the public's funds and then not be held to task for how they use it or what they use it on.  And that simply should not be allowed.

Monday, April 14, 2014

WHAT IS LOVE, ANYWAY?

What is love anyway
Does anybody love anybody anyway?
-Howard Jones, "What Is Love"

Valentine's Day is long passed this year, and we're a ways from June, the month in which most marriages statistically take place, but love is a pretty eternal topic.  Even the most curmudgeonly sort of person wants love, at their own pace and in their own way.  And while the legend of the Russian experiment raising babies without any affection is probably myth, it seems plausible that humans would wither away without any kind of kindness or affection.
Love in modern culture is portrayed in one of two ways: sex or infatuation.  The focus is either on emotional intoxication or love is just a euphamism for sexual activity.  "I just want to make love to you" means "lets make the beast with two backs."  This use is shocking and confusing today when older material is read and heard in songs when "making love" meant "pitching woo" or an attempt to get someone to fall in love with you.  It literally meant making love, not making babies.
The infatuation side gets the most attention outside of popular music.  Love stories are about the beginning of a romance, and while that culminates in marriage in many cases, the parts after marriage where you lose that explosive feeling of infatuation are left out of the tale.
Infatuation is essentially that massive buzz you get from having someone care so much for you and about you, that feeling of wonder that they really, really like you and want to pay so much positive attention to you, and that feeling of personal pleasure from liking someone else.  Its almost entirely self-focused: how I feel, how she/he makes me feel, that floating feeling that makes you forget to eat and what day it is.  How awful I feel when they aren't around, how great I feel when they are, etc.
It is drug-like in its power and intensity, and it only lasts a while.  Once you get really used to them and the little fun things they do start turning into the little annoying things you wish they'd quit doing.
And that's not love.
C.S. Lewis wrote a great book entitled The Four Loves in which he examined four different sorts of love, in increasing strength and significance, and what it all really meant.  Love is, Lewis thought, a positive thing, always good.  But it must be real love, not self-love.  He said the four loves are these:
Affection - The kind of love that comes from familiarity and fondness, such as love of a country, of people in your club, or family.
Friendship - The love that develops between people based on shared interest and common goals
Romance - The love between a man and a woman that is romantic in nature rather than friendship or affection.
Unconditional love - Love that is entirely outwardly focused and not based upon the person's character or action; love for its own sake.
Lewis was good about pointing out the difference between merely sexual attraction and real romantic love.  He said the distinction is between loving women and loving a woman.  Instead of being about sexual pleasure and conquest, it becomes about that one special person that can express its self through sex, but is not defined by and limited to it.
The tendency of modern society to reduce love to sex is seen in the general inability to comprehend how two men can be such close friends (Frodo and Sam, for example) without there being homosexual undertones.
Because people do not understand love, reducing it either to sex or infatuation, this leads to a great deal of confusion in society and how we should show love. It also leads to a great deal of confusion when someone says we should "be loving" and tries to explain Christian love.
For example, modern society's misunderstanding of love leads them to think that punishing or disciplining a child is not loving and should not be done.  If you do something the child dislikes, is angered or hurt by, then you're necessarily doing evil and not love.  Why?  Because love is being defined as "doing nice things" or "being nice to people."  Its the infatuation concept of love - the part that makes everyone feel wonderful.
The assumption is that doing anything that someone doesn't like, that offends or disturbs them, or is unwelcome cannot be love, since it is not something that leads to people feeling good and doesn't feel "nice."  Love defined as infatuation cannot accept the concept of doing something people might need and that benefits them that they view as unwelcome or unpleasant.
Again, in a culture that focuses almost exclusively on what makes you feel good, makes you healthy and comfortable, and on what makes you feel "sexy" the concept of discipline leading to a better person is abhorrent and alien.  Because society is perpetually stuck in a state of dating where you fear doing or saying something that will drive the target of your affections away, they misunderstand love completely.
Yet if you truly love someone, you must do things that at times they will not care for.  If you truly love your child, you will punish them for doing wrong, so that they understand that it should not be done, and will avoid that in the future.  And this loving response need not be punishment.
Here's a silly example.  Our cat Dexter wants to go outside so bad he cries about it.  He longs to be outdoors and exploring everything, he stares and stares out the window.  He thinks it would be the most wonderful thing ever.
We know, however, that if he goes outside he will be beaten up by other cats, get ear mites and fleas, and possibly be mauled by dogs and hit by cars, because he's a silly, friendly cat with no fighting skills and experience whatsoever with the wild world.
We know that its better for him to be inside, no matter how much he thinks it would be heaven.  We understand he's better off safer and indoors than outdoors.  And having battled fleas in the house, we're not going through that again.
To the cat, we're being unreasonable - as far as he understands reason - but this is for his good, no matter how awful it seems to kitty.  He's just a cat, so he'll never understand this, but humans usually do eventually, even if they dislike it at the time.
The truth is, its unloving to not punish the criminal.  Its unloving to not stop someone from doing something awful, and to not call someone to account for doing wrong.  Letting them continue in their deeds is damaging to them and to the world around them, which is unloving.  This violates the basic comprehension of love in modern culture, because they do not understand love at all.
Love is, as simply as I can put it, the greater concern for the other person than yourself.  It is when you put someone or something else above self interest and what you gain.  It is self sacrificing in this sense; an outward focus on the other person's good and well being even if they dislike how that plays out.  Not because you desire dominance and control, not because it feeds some personal need or fits a philosophical comprehension of the world, but because you desire to do them good.
As C.S. Lewis points out in his book, the closer you get to this totally outward focus, the closer you get to real, true, and pure love.  The less your love is tainted by self interest and self focus, the more loving it becomes.
And this brings us to a bit I wrote last week.  In my Christian Response series, I wrote about how Christians should react to the current push to crush any dissent to homosexual "marriage."  In it I said
Our response should be measured by love and humility, not frustration or anger, or even fear
...
So without being angrily defiant or bowing to the pressures of culture, we should be confidently, humbly, and lovingly true to God and His truth
A commenter responded:
Respectfully disagree with your moral equivalence on sins...to paraphrase, "all sins are equal, y'know, like, whatever".

NO.

Nor can one ONLY respond with "humility and love"...as you suggest.

THROWING OVER TABLES and CHASING WITH WHIPS goes along with that too, buddy.

AND: if the gaystapo insists upon thrusting themselves upon us ever more often with their ever more aggressiveness, there is EVERY REASON AND JUSTIFICATION to respond accordingly.

Humility and love? NICE WHEN YOU CAN FIND IT, BABY.

BUT IT AIN'T THE *ONLY* Biblically JUSTIFIABLE RESPONSE.
Now as far as this person's intent and meaning, I agree.  They are rejecting what society portrays as love: passive kindness and avoiding doing anything that offends or displeases the other person.  I agree completely with that attitude.  But that's not what I meant.
Christian love is not about being passive and nice, it is about focusing on the good of the other.  And while this is a subject for another bit entirely, real humility isn't about self deprecation or scuffing a foot and denying compliments, it is about being un-self-focused.  Real humility is when you genuinely and honestly recognize the greatness of others and delight in it, when you aren't thinking about you at all.  Its the kind of response a child gives when you compliment them - not gloating or self pride, but wonder and happiness at the compliment from someone else.
When I call for Love and Humility in these Christian Response bits, its short hand for this kind of response.  Not anger and fear, no defensiveness and bitterness, but genuine heart-felt concern for the other person and what is true.
Sometimes that love means compassionate support, sometimes that means strict holding people to account for what they are doing wrong.  Sometimes it means opposing them, but always with love.  How do you do this?  By being more concerned with them and the truth than you are yourself, by being more worried about doing right than being right.  By being more concerned about them than your cause or what you fear might happen or being angry about how they act, you're showing humble love.
The loving part comes from why you act and what you intend to accomplish, not what you do.  Because how you act comes from why, and is shaped by what you mean to do.  The actions you take in response to something are done in response to what is inside you and what you believe.  A call for Christian love and humility is a call to shape your response with that in mind and foremost in your desires, not success or punishment.
Ultimately love, real love, is actually what the world needs.  The problem is that people think love means never doing something people might call "mean" or "offensive."  Sometimes real love can bring offense.  There's never yet been someone thrown in prison who was not offended and upset by that action.   There's never yet been a child who wasn't upset they got punished for doing wrong.
But love requires us to take action even when that can be the response.  The problem is, if you utterly reject the very idea that there can be any overarching, absolute standard of right and wrong, all that's left is how you feel about it.  And when feelings trump truth and right, then you end up tailoring all your actions around how people react and feel about events.
And that's not loving at all.  Its pandering and traps everyone in a childish state of tantrum-throwing infancy.

Friday, April 11, 2014

PASSIVE RESISTANCE

"I honestly thought from my own standpoint that the vast majority would register"
-State Senator Tony Guglielmo

The United States has over 314 million people living in it, officially.  Unofficially its about 317 million, approximately; no one is exactly sure how many undocumented and illegal immigrants are in the US at the moment.
Of those hundreds of millions of people, the Obama administration is celebrating 7 million folks signing up to the ACA, or "Obamacare."  That's like having a room of 100 people and 2 sign on to your club.  Whee?
The fact that the 7 million number is deeply questionable is really beside the point.  Its been over half a year since the signups were started.  The deadline of March 31 to avoid a "surcharge" came and went (and was extended), which is partly why the big publicity push for the alleged 7 million; they looked like idiots because almost nobody's signing up.
That's how citizens of a country deal with laws they don't like.  By passive resistance.  Its long been known that if the bulk of a population ignore a law, there's nothing the government can do about it.  Sure, they can jail and attack some high profile people, hoping to intimidate the rest into obedience, but that's pretty much it.
And people are just resisting this law.  They don't see any need for it, they don't like what they know about it, and when they look into it, most find they have to pay not just more but a lot more for the same coverage they had before the "Affordable" Care Act went into law.
So people just are not signing up, and the president continually violating the constitution by extending the law over and over are only encouraging this behavior.  Clearly there's no urgency about signing up, and it looks like this thing will be delayed forever, as long as there's another election coming; and there's always another election coming.
Another case of passive resistance is Connecticut.  The state legislature passed draconian gun control laws and the governor signed them into law.  According to the Associated Press:
...beginning April 1, long guns cannot be sold or transferred without one of the following documents: a permit to carry pistols or revolvers, an eligibility certificate for pistols or revolvers or a long gun eligibility certificate.

State police say those documents also will allow people to buy ammunition. Anyone who wants to buy ammunition and not additional firearms will only be required to obtain an ammunition certificate.

Also beginning Tuesday, hunting licenses will no longer be accepted for the purchase of long guns.
These laws were loudly and extensively protested and opposed by the people of Connecticut, who voted these guys in to begin with.  That's how it works, people: you put them in power, why didn't you think about that before you voted?  But they aren't happy with these laws.
Connecticut isn't exactly a crime-ridden, violent state.  Only about 16% of the state actually owns any guns, and in 2010, the state had only 2.7 gun murders per 100,000 people.  Their murder rate is one of the lowest in the country overall.
Over 100,000 people own guns covered by the new law in Connecticut.  Of them, just under 50,000 have bothered to register.  One deadline has already passed, December 31.  The second was April 1.  The bulk of the gun owners have made it very clear they are not going to be registering anything, and think the law is idiotic.  The law refers to weapons with high-capacity magazines as "assault weapons," which is a good sample of the mindset.
Assault weapons is a nonexistent gun category except in the minds of leftist lawmakers.  It sounds scary but means nothing except "guns that make me scared."  But the press jumps on that kind of thing because they know little about guns and it sounds impressive and scary.  Who would oppose registering scary guns unless you're one of those bitter clinger types?
Here again we have passive resistance.  You have your law, and I have my decision whether or not to comply.  I choose not to comply.  Come for me if you want.  Its happening more and more these days.  And the people passing these new laws are the same ones that tore up their draft cards in the late 60s and early 70s; they should be familiar with the concept.
Cliven Bundy in Nevada was doing the same thing.  An area he and his family have been using for grazing cattle in for generations was declared protected lands because some turtle was found there and declared threatened.  The 600,000 acres of public land were declared "federal property" to protect the turtle in a massive land grab.  Of course, failing to pay his tribute to Senator Reid probably contributed to the response as well.  Bundy refused to stop grazing his cattle there, so the Bureau of Land Management send 300 men with guns to force his cattle off and keep him away.  
What the BLM was doing with snipers and gunmen to begin with is a matter of some concern.  In the past, they used to rely on local cops and the sheriff to handle this kind of situation but increasingly, the federal government is finding that local sheriffs are reluctant to help them.
So they started arming up their agencies to handle it on their own.  See, Sheriffs are actually very powerful.  They can tell anyone what to do in their jurisdiction; they are basically the highest authority outside the president in a given location and on their job.
Bundy has called on the local sheriff to arrest the BLM guys on trespassing and theft charges, because they are rounding up and "holding" his cattle, even on his land.  Recently, a clash between people supporting Bundy and the BLM officers ended up with folks being tasered and assaulted, including a pregnant woman and a cancer victim.
Bundy, along with many others, have decided "you pass your laws, and if you want to, come enforce them on me, but I've had enough."  How far this goes we'll see, but the truth is, people are, I suspect, getting a bit tired of the continual encroach of the federal government on their lives.  Its gotten worse and worse for decades, and lately has gotten out of control.  In the west, we've put up with the federal government taking more and more land for 100 years or more. 
Some speculate that a civil war is on the horizon; that eventually one event will shake the people out of apathy and all hell will break loose.  Others say we're already in a civil war - a cold civil war that began with the Eich firing at Mozilla.
Look back at recent history.  In 2004, the left pushed the idea of homosexual "marriage" by using county commissions to declare the concept legal, and gleeful activists rushed in to get "married."  The US reacted by over a dozen states passing constitutional amendments defining marriage as one man, one woman.  President Bush and Republicans all across the country won comfortable elections, dominating the state legislatures, governors, and US congress.  People saw what the left was trying to do and responded negatively.
In 2006, California, one of the most left-leaning states in the Union, voted for just such a constitutional amendment, and it won by a comfortable margin - so strongly that a recount and lawsuits were not even attempted.  The left went berserk, screaming hate and attacking people that supported it - well, politically comfortable ones, like Mormons, not blacks and hispanics that supported the bill by huge margins.
When the left has lost culture war battles, their response is not "well maybe we should calm down and try something else, or at least move more slowly" it is "double down and scream harder!!!!"  And so we've gotten to the point now that someone lost his job for donating to the campaign to pass that law eight years ago and having the audacity to not recant apologize.
That's where we are as a country: one side has decided full speed ahead on their agenda, no matter how radical, extremist, and outside the country's desires it is.  They have decided they're going to get all they want and damn anyone who gets in the way.
And so far, its worked.  If a vote was held in California now, the proposition would probably lose.  Homosexual "marriage" has gone from heteronormative oppressive concept to "well if you want, I guess" to "if you even question this concept, you're a hateful bigot" in five years.  In 2008, President Obama declared total opposition to the idea to get elected, but in 2012 he announced he was all for it to get reelected.
How far will things go, what happens next?  Just about every pundit is claiming the Democrats are going to be demolished in the next election.  I'm skeptical, but maybe so.  Its possible, if unlikely to me, that the nation has had enough and is going to start pushing back.  It is possible that the left pushed too hard, too fast, and were too arrogant about it and now there will be a backlash.
But honestly, I don't believe it.  Just because Democrats are increasingly unpopular doesn't mean Republicans by default are more popular.  As long as the Democrats can convince people that the GOP is worse, they stay in power no matter what they do.
And relying on the level of information and understanding in the public to fight this argument is not a winning strategy.  However it turns out, I don't see a big shift coming, though.  Internet Apathy and an overall level of ignorance and leftist cultural triumph are too well-seated.  People (somewhat gleefully, I fear) waiting for the war to start are going to be very disappointed.
Because the left has figured out how much people will submit to, and they haven't reached the limits of it yet.  Sure, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Patrick Henry and the rest would have picked up their rifles decades ago.  Sure, they would not even recognize their country any more.  But when the choice is between putting yourself and your livelihood at risk or staying comfortable, entertained, and provided for, almost nobody is going to pick that first choice.
And ultimately, even if the Republicans win a huge sweeping victory, does anyone, anywhere think it would be different?  That the Obama administration will in response back off their agenda?  That he would in any way be slowed or concerned with these events?  Or that the GOP would fight or slow any of this?  Because I don't.
Because the Republican Party always works with the next election in mind, and there's always another election.  They're afraid to do or say something they think might hurt their chances of being reelected, but its always either an election year or leading up to one.  The Democrats have decided no to concern themselves with that.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

YOU'RE A LOON

"My brain hurts!!!!"
-R. Gumby

A couple of stories lately have caught my attention for a few reasons and I thought I'd pass them along.  The first is from once-prestigious Dartmouth College, where a group of students took over the president's office and made their demands known.  The Wall Street Journal reports:
The demonstrators had a 72-point manifesto instructing the college to establish pre-set racial admission quotas and a mandatory ethnic studies curriculum for all students. Their other inspirations are for more "womyn or people of color" faculty; covering sex change operations on the college health plan ("we demand body and gender self-determination"); censoring the library catalog for offensive terms; and installing "gender-neutral bathrooms" in every campus facility, specifically including sports locker rooms.

Mr. Hanlon left after an hour and told the little tyrants that he welcomed a "conversation" about their ultimatums. They responded in a statement that conversations—to be clear, talking—will lead to "further physical and emotional violence enacted against us by the racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, transphobic, xenophobic, and ableist structures at Dartmouth." They added: "Our bodies are already on the line, in danger, and under attack."
Upon being told that they were being threatening for claiming they would take "physical action" if their demands were denied, they burst into tears and insisted no threat was meant by this statement.
Crazy stuff, huh?  The other story is this one about animals. You know those petting zoos and donkey rides?  I remember we got one of those retired donkeys, so old he couldn't do the riding circuit any longer.  He was the most gentle, pleasant, and kind creatures I've ever known.  It was just such a pleasant creature and he didn't act abused or traumatized at all.  David Mark Simpson writes in the Santa Monica Daily Press:
Last week, resident and former congressional candidate Marcy Winograd announced her plans to squash the pony rides, calling them cruel and inhumane.

Winograd said that forcing the ponies to walk in circles for hours is made worse by the fact that children are encouraged to participate.

Her MoveOn.org petition has since garnered 239 signatures.
She's trying to get these shows and riding businesses banned for their cruelty to animals.  Crazy stuff, huh?
Here's what I'm trying to get at, in a circular sort of way: yes, it is crazy.  As in, not "wow that's silly!" but actually certifiable insanity.  See, we use "crazy" a lot of ways, usually to mean just something difficult to explain, irrational, or bizarre.  But sometimes it means actual get-the-straight-jacket mental damage.
There was a time when someone who would come up and demand you stop eating cheese because it hurts cows would be shuffled off politely and helped to get the assistance they so clearly need.  There was a time when someone would make demented demands and threaten violence, they would be treated like the unhinged loony they so clearly are.
There's more and more of these crazies out there, and they're give the full benefit of the doubt, treated seriously, and even heeded.  Their demented theories and incomprehensible chain of argument is treated with validity and sometimes even given in to.
As David Thompson points out, the number of examples piles up until you give up trying to list them all.
To list every recent and vivid example of this phenomenon would take forever, but a couple should illustrate the mindset. In March 2009, the writer Don Feder tried to engage students at the University of Massachusetts in a discussion of free speech versus so-called “hate speech.” Within 20 seconds, Feder had been shouted down, called a racist and assailed with epithets about his daughter. Despite his repeated calls for civility, Feder wasn’t allowed to speak for longer than three minutes without deafening interruption or further personal abuse - from people who want to show the world just how much they care.

The following month at UNC Chapel Hill, retired congressman Tom Tancredo tried to begin a discussion on the subject of illegal immigration. Students refused to let him speak for more than a few seconds. Collective hissing gave way to banging on the walls and windows, and chants of “No hate speech!” The university’s geography professor Altha Cravey - whose interests include “critical thinking,” “gender, race and class,” and “progressive social change” - saw fit to add her own voice to the chanting, thus signalling her approval of the students’ escalating vehemence.

uitably encouraged and determined to express their disapproval of what might at some point be said, protesting students began to physically harass Tancredo, holding a banner up against his face, preventing him from speaking at all, while others chanted, “Yes, racists, we will fight, we know where you sleep at night!” (The grounds for calling Tancredo racist were not made clear, though the term was chanted continually, as if repeating the accusation were morally sufficient. One student filmed the growing disruption with a phone camera, only to be obstructed by an indignant young woman who warned him, “You don’t take pictures of racists.”).
This isn't something that builds up once in a while, it happens just about daily, somewhere in America.  And it isn't brushed aside as "boy I hope those people get psychiatric help" but instead is treated seriously, and concern is stated about those young people's demands.
Dartmouth college sent power strips to the occupied President's Office so that the students could finish their homework.  They ordered pizza and the college allowed it to be delivered.  The proper response is to say "you're insane" and call security to escort the students out of the office, and then nail them with suspension for disrupting the college and threatening the faculty.
Why doesn't this happen?  Well among the many reasons is that the faculty is largely made up of people who did this kind of thing in the past, so they are sympathetic to the cause and feel like they can't condemn the actions they once took.  Another reason is that a college professor (named Russell Rickford, who calls Dartmouth "White Supremacy U" - yet still takes his paycheck and works there) is behind the sit in and is the rabble rouser who gets these wretches all stirred up.
But one of the biggest reasons is explained in the Wall Street Journal article linked above:
These downtrodden souls also have powerful allies—namely, the U.S. government. Since 2011, the Education Department has used enforcement discretion to expand the legal scope of Title IX (on sex discrimination) and the Clery Act (on campus crime). The civil-rights shop encourages activists to file legal complaints and threatens to withhold federal funding unless schools acquiesce. Dartmouth has been a target of this method for two years, but there are cases against Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, Occidental and others.
For years now, the Obama administration, through the EPA, Justice Department, and so on, has been actively not just encouraging, but assisting radical extremists in their agenda, even encouraging lawsuits against themselves to create court cases, precedent, and an excuse to take action they otherwise might not be able to.  We had to pay them hundreds of thousands of dollars, they sued us!
The pony riding case is a classic urbanite clueless about animals freaking out because she can't imagine a pony being different than herself.  They have to walk in circles for hours!  The horror!  I would go crazy!  Its slavery, the ponies must be set free where they would.... walk for hours, over rough ground, avoiding snakes and mountain lions, searching for food!
It doesn't occur to this crank that the animals don't mind this at all, and if they did, they would express their displeasure and make it clear they are unhappy.  I know that's difficult to imagine, but animals do actually let you know when they are not pleased with something and its impossible to miss.
And she thinks petting zoos are horrible abuse as well.  Those poor animals getting safety, affection, and food!  Why the medical care alone is cruel enslavement!  They should be in the wild fending for themselves with parasites and freezing weather to contend with as Gaia intended!  If that rabbit isn't in danger of being eaten by a coyote, you make that Indian from the pollution ad weep.
Its possible this woman is just incredibly ignorant or stupid instead of insane, but she's certainly acting insane.  Its one thing to be so clueless about animals you think these events are brutality, but its another to print up signs and go sit at them protesting them as "animal abuse" every day.
The insanity goes on.  Recently at the Huffington Post, someone wrote a long article all about how white people using arts and music from minorities is cruel theft, a rape of their ethnic identity.  Cultural Appropriation he calls it, the evil act of when you learn from a culture and embrace their arts.  This isn't some fascinating concept or alternate system of ideas, its freaking insane.  You're not a deep thinker, you're a lunatic.
At some point, I'd like to believe our culture would stop a moment then say "you know what, you're crazy and I'm not giving you any  more attention, time, or money."  You can beleive and say whatever you want, but nobody is going to give you the time of day any longer.  Go mumble into your starbucks cup in a corner, loon.
But I know better.  The world is crazed, and this kind of thing is only going to get worse.  You can see what they're thinking.  In 2004, the left got utterly demolished after pushing homosexual "marriage" down the throats of a country that wanted no part of it.  It was a crazy idea, two men marrying.  Why not have a cat and a kitchen table have a ceremony and declare them married?
The response of the left wasn't "wow, we better back off" it was "FULL STEAM AHEAD!!!"  Now people think you hate everyone if you disagree wit this concept.  They're destroying careers over this topic.
It works, in a culture trained to be sensitive first, to be passive and not offend first.  In a world of super polite wimps, the one who is brutal and unapologetic wins.  The meanest, toughest guy always wins, and in modern civilization its not brute strength but force of will and refusal to back down no matter how idiotic or crazy you sound that makes you the tough guy.
Where does it end?  9/11 gave us a glimpse.  Every major disaster does.  When things go so horribly wrong we're forced to stop and see the world clearly again, putting on our They Live sunglasses so we see what's really going on once more, that's when the crazy recedes.  Sure, it comes back - even stronger than before - if the disaster goes away, or fades in our memories, but when that kind of thing takes place, it pushes away the frivolous, the stupid, the weak, and the crazy and brings the rock solid truth and reality.  It takes an act of God, really, to get through to modern man.