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Friday, August 29, 2014

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"The Democrats have been in Washington D.C. only because of the Negro vote. They've been down there four years, and other legislation they wanted to bring up they brought it up and gotten it out of the way, and now they bring up you. And now, they bring up you. You put them first, and they put you last, 'cause you're a chump, a political chump."
-Malcolm X

AN OLD VIDEO WORTH SEEING

Evan Sayet is most known for his comedy writing and work, but he's also a pretty deep thinker.  If you've seen any of his videos on leftist thought, you've only seen the summary version of his ideas on the topic.  This video gives a much better foundation and overall view of the left, how they think, and why.  I recommend it extremely highly to everyone to view. 
If you're a leftist, then watch it to challenge what you presume and consider true.  If you're not... learn about what the intellectual and academic minds behind the movement are all about.  If you're a leftist you probably aren't even aware of this, but it might be enlightening for you.
Its all about worldview and the why and philosophy behind what the left does and says.

The fact that none of this is constructive or builds a better future, none of this leads or guides into a better place simply does not matter to these people.  Its a matter of being absolutely sure they are right, without a shred of doubt or self reflection, and acting on it with the certainty that this will lead to utopia, somehow, in the end.

As an addendum, here's what you get when you follow this kind of thinking through:
 ...yeah.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

THE FORGOTTEN VIRTUE

"England expects every man will do his duty"
-Admiral Nelson

It is still a tradition in the military to view certain actions and behavior as one's duty.  In the rest of the western world, however, this has fallen out of common use and into strong disfavor.  Mention someone has a duty and they immediately rebel, crying freedom like at the end of Braveheart.
For an American, the word duty carries with it an awful burden of requirement, force, tyranny, and misery.  Jury duty is something "smart" people try to get out of.  Marital duty is mocked and attacked as oppression.  Civic duty is something only fascists believe in.
Duty is viewed as evil, as compulsion.  If you only do something out of duty, then you should stop, we're told.  Its no longer worth doing.  If your job has become only duty: show up to get paid, then its miserable and you need to find new work.  If you stay together only out of duty in a marriage, then its time to get to a lawyer and break it up.  You shouldn't ever do anything out of duty, that's like slavery, we're told.
But duty is one of the finest things in human existence.
All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.
-Winston Churchill
It might seem like I'm overstating things, but I'm not.  Duty is something higher that we're called to, not some horrific drudgery.  Yes, when you're a child having to do something seems horrible because you spend most of your life doing what you want, when you want, and how you want.  The few times when you're required to do something, its a horrible imposition on your self-serving existence.
But as we grow, we learn that life is about more than ourselves, that we are meant to be outward-facing, and are at our best when we focus on others, not ourselves.  Even the most secular, atheistic psychologist recognizes the benefits of looking outside yourself toward others when you're feeling miserable.
Duty is what compels us to keep doing things we don't care for, are distracted from, and tire of.  Duty is what keeps life going when we would rather not.  Its what makes the coward appear brave, the weak appear strong, and its what delivers the future to our children. 
One of the best signs of maturity is when someone does their duty when they do not want to.  Its why you go to work when you feel no motivation at all, its why you walk the dog on a rainy day when you'd rather be snuggling with your girl watching TV, its why you talk to your grandma on the phone when she's boring and repeats herself a lot.
This concept of duty as maturity is the central theme of To Kill A Mockingbird, when Scout is taught about courage by her father.  She sees him kill a rabid dog in the street and thinks he's the bravest man alive, but he sends her to spend time with a dying old lady to read to her and care for her all summer so she can learn what real courage is.  She faces what she does not wish to do, learning discipline, courage, and duty: to keep at something you must do and know you should do, even when you do not wish to.
Creative, artistic types have a particularly difficult time with this principle.  Duty seems horrible because its easy to fool ourselves that what makes us tick and gives us our creativity is impossible to harness, an ethereal muse that we cannot control and must wait for.  Its nonsense, a fiction we invented to justify our tendency toward sloth, irresponsibility, and selfishness.
Duty is the essence of manhood.
-George S. Patton
The problem is that duty is its own goal.  You don't get a pat on the head or an award for doing your duty, that's what you were supposed to do.  Its what you get punished for not doing.  And in a culture so self focused as our own, we think something is only worth doing if we get rewarded for doing so.
The concept that there are things we should do merely because we have a duty to do so, rather than what we get goodies for like a dog being trained is increasingly inconceivable to modern folks.  And yet that's how the world works; all of us doing what we should do, when we should do it.  Its everyone doing their duty, carrying out their jobs and responsibilities that results in a functioning society and gives us a world we can live in.
The more we require an "attaboy" for doing even the most basic, ordinary tasks, the worse the world becomes.  Stopping at a stop sign, paying for your meal, looking both ways at a cross walk, etc all are basic duties that we regularly fulfill in life but require no reward for.  Indeed, many carry punishment for not doing them - either by law or consequence.  Just showing up to work and feeding your children is duty that we do not for reward but because we should and must.
Should we ever reach a point where people consistently and regularly stopped doing their duty everywhere, society would utterly collapse.  And there are signs we're increasingly headed in that direction as more and more people presume basic things as their birthright; something they need not work to achieve, but should be handed simply by being alive.
I slept and dreamt that life was beauty; I woke and found that life was duty.
-Lord Byron
And a world where no one does their duty, only what they desire, is a world that is so corrupt and destructive we all end up like the hover chair jockeys in Wall-E: unable to do anything for ourselves, unable to survive.  A worthless, continual drain on the world around us.
The child in us desires that life.  The adult knows better.

Monday, August 25, 2014

HOW RUDE

Modesty, propriety can lead to notoriety
You could end up as the only one
Gentleness, sobriety are rare in this society
At night a candle's brighter than the sun
-Sting, "Englishman In New York"

A while back I wrote a piece examining the nature of masculinity in a culture that no longer needs men for their traditional roles of provider, protector, and constructor.  In it I noted:
As society becomes more civilized and technically advanced, those things men are relied on for become obsolete: we have police, firemen, contractors, supermarkets, and so on, all of which take care of the problems men were needed for in a family.
I suggested that the proper approach to this is to become a gentleman, to demonstrate strength through character, protection through moral example, provision through instruction and behavior, and so on.
We live in a culture that not only lacks this level of dignified character and proper behavior, but actively mocks and derides it.  Someone who behaves with polite character is thought of as at best an eccentric, possibly mentally deranged, and certainly an idiot.  In our culture, snark, sarcasm, and mockery are considered high forms of wit and humor.  That's how you demonstrate your sophistication and intelligence: by hitting someone with a great zinger - ooh burn!
Roland S. Martin recently wrote a column in The Daily Beast about rudeness in which he gave half a dozen all-too-familiar examples of rudeness in modern culture and wondered:
You may say, “Man, get over it,” but when I see rudeness everywhere I go, it tells me that we have a generation of parents who did not do and are not doing their jobs. When and why did this happen, that parents stopped teaching manners? Conservatives would blame the 60s, since they blame the 60s for everything. Liberals would blame the 80s, the rise of the selfish Gordon Gekko type, the creation of the uber-class that expects and demands perfect service at all time and in all places. Sandwiched in between of course is the 70s—“The Me Decade,” as Tom Wolfe called it, the time of retreat to individualism after the demanding social commitments of the 60s. I’m not sure which decade to blame or when it happened, but it did. American parents started raising rude children. We really need to emphasize again the notion of common courtesy to our kids and teenagers.
I don't notice this so often personally where I live.  People tend to be reasonably polite in stores and on the street, even driving in my town.  But I know that's not typical and certain online its rare. But get this: the picture accompanying the article?  A really rude gesture, in wide screen technicolor.
In fact, rudeness seems to be a badge of honor, something to strive after and achieve rather than avoid.  And I do believe that it is not common for parents to emphasize politeness any more.  Writing thank you cards, saying please, letting people go first, giving up your seat to a lady or an elderly person, etc have largely disappeared.  Even little stuff like taking your hat off when you go indoors or for a national anthem are unheard of.
Part of this certainly is teaching and cultural.  People have gotten away from wearing hats so much that nobody remembers the etiquette; when do you take your hat off?  Military still teaches this, and you can usually tell when someone has served by how they behave with a hat.
But it goes deeper.  A society that has rejected any foundations or structure of behavior and has abandoned tradition and the past as any guide for the present will find its self cut adrift.  Polite behavior and dignity have no measurable, tangible, or immediate benefit for the individual.  And without some sort of external pressure, people tend to ignore future benefits for the immediate.
So rudeness becomes the norm: I'm gonna get mine.
What's worse is that this has become so normal and assumed that if you point out that they are being rude or impolite you're cast as the bad guy for making them feel bad about themselves.  Their rudeness is only reasonable; your response has bruised their inner child, its time for sensitivity training.  So Politenessman is an old alternate newspaper bad guy, the brutal fascist who punishes people for breaking societal norms, a thug that is mocked and derided in satire.  For trying to get people to be polite.
And then there's the internet.  We all know about the bravery of being out of range: if there's nobody there to enforce politeness or intimidate you, there's no price to pay for rudeness.  In fact, people might praise and enjoy your cutting comment or comic dig.  You can become popular and well-liked by being the biggest jerk in the room.
And without the immediate, physical reaction of people to your behavior such as a hurt look, a pained tone of voice in response, a flinch, etc, you tend not to get the feedback that might otherwise restrain your speech.
But there's another aspect to this, which I wrote about a while back in The New Illiteracy:
There is some evidence that young people are even starting to lose the ability to accurately read facial expressions and tone of voice in their fellow man because they primarily relate through screens and texting than through interpersonal communication.  This shouldn't be too shocking; you've probably seen groups of young people all face down in their own device and shut off from speech by ear buds.  They might be communicating with each other, but smiley faces and so on only work in text.  It takes a different skill set to learn, display, and read facial expressions and tone of voice.
If you communicate primarily through text and not face to face, if your primary means of interaction is through a keyboard rather than physically with someone else, then you begin to lose - or perhaps don't even learn - cues that teach you how your words hurt people.
I've noticed that younger people are much crueler, more brutal and hurtful, and more mocking in their speech than older people are.  Not just the child hood digs at people we all grew up with, but a near-continuous use of mockery and attack that is shrugged at by their peers.  They all understand that being called a stupid fag means nothing, having grown up being hailed constantly by this kind of thing.
Its one thing to bust someone's chops to mildly poke fun at a friend or colleague for something they do or say.  Guys do that all the time.  Its another to do so, continually, to everyone, for the slightest action.  You break a pencil and get laughed at for being a gay loser who FAILED.  You drop something and people laugh at you for failing at life.  And they're so used to it, it means nothing to them.
They seem to have virtually no concept of being polite, friendly, or dignified.  In fact, they seem to be deliberately doing the opposite and I wonder if this isn't backlash at being continually taught to be multicultural, careful not to hurt feelings, and pushed to be constantly supportive and diverse.  Don't make fun of Billy in his wheelchair, don't say that about Sally's hair.  And kids usually get sick of that and rebel.
In the place of objective, time-tested standards of ethical behavior, kids are instead being showered with a dizzying, incomprehensible, and ever-changing array of social behavior based on the latest academic theories and leftist ideas.  The more you throw rules at kids, the more they're going to rebel in other areas.
So we get ruder and ruder, and as Sting's song suggests: the one who isn't that way stands out more and more.  So the man and woman who behave politely, with dignity, honor, and truth, becomes more and more starkly set apart from their background culture.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

MARKED ABSENT

"...if you don't like your job you don't strike, you just go in every day and do it really half-assed: that's the American way."
-Homer Simpson

I went two whole years in a row without missing any school.  That was unusual for me because usually in the second semester would struggle a bit and I'd miss a few days then pick up again in Spring.  But it was rare to miss even one day a month; I liked school until my senior year and I looked forward to going back so if I could possibly go, I would.
I don't suppose that's particularly typical of kids, but I'd guess that it is unusual for students to miss too many days a month unless illness or disaster strikes.  Apparently the story is different for teachers these days.
In the San Francisco Chronicle, we find this story from Jill Tucker about the SF school districts:
While absenteeism is usually considered a student matter, in San Francisco - and many other districts - the average teacher misses more school than the average child.

If last year's numbers hold steady, the 4,100 teachers in San Francisco, on average, will each be absent about 11 times this school year, about once every three weeks. That's four to five days more than a typical student, out of 180 days total.
Ms Tucker notes that four of those days are in service and other required days.  The rest, teachers are skipping class.  And the days they miss are often pretty obvious:
In San Francisco, where classes start Monday, teacher absences gained attention last year when the district struggled to find enough substitutes to fill classrooms the day before Thanksgiving break, when more than 1 in 10 teachers called in sick, took the day off or were in training. Similar spikes in absenteeism happened several other times on a Friday or before three-day weekends.
This isn't unique to teachers; taking a day off before an extended weekend or holiday is pretty common.  But teachers are the ones who constantly claim they're in it for the children, that education is the most important thing ever, and so on.  So in theory, they hold a higher moral standard and dedication to their work than Joe Blow at the tire factory.
And that's the thing: whatever standards teachers once held, it seems the majority of them have let slide, or drop entirely.  Because this article points out that while slightly high, this is close to average in every major city in America.  San Francisco isn't unusually plagued with lazy teachers, this is pretty typical for big city schoolmarms.  
In fact, across 40 school districts studied, 16% of teachers are "chronically absent;" missing 3 or more days in a row repeatedly, excluding maternity leave.
You're not going to get an apple that way.
Now, this approach to work isn't unusual as I've said before.  Its kind of become the standard for workers of all sorts of age groups and demographics in America.  The attitude is that you do the least amount of work possible to retain your job, whine until you get raises, and then go spend your money on what really matters in life: yourself and having fun.
I wouldn't at all be surprised if this hasn't infected every layer and type of job: pastors to brain surgeons, cops to judges.  Our president at the moment is a perfect example of a guy who seems like he'd rather be out partying and having fun than doing his work, no matter what is happening around the world.  Its become sort of a cliche now: if something has gone horribly wrong in the world, if some crisis erupts that requires the president's attention, he's either at or about to go to a fund raiser.  And fund raisers are not hard work, they are a party you might say a short speech at then go hang out with rich people and eat expensive food.
But he's not the cause of this or particularly unique, he's just a symptom.  Presidents are elected that represent their culture, not lead it.  He's very prominent and visible at it, not unique.  A concept of work having innate worth and being something valuable in its own self has been lost.  Work is drudgery, slavery you must endure so that you can get the money you deserve before even setting foot in the job - indeed, you deserve more but the boss is a stingy money gouging jerk.
The thing is, teachers were supposed to be different.  They endlessly, continually complain about never being paid enough for their hard work which they are so dedicated to and so honorably engaged in for the future.  Selfless, tireless, setting an example to the children.  Its not their fault that kids turn out badly, its the parents, the curriculum, the society, the gangs, the Republicans cutting their funds that are all to blame.  Teachers try so hard and work so hard, surely we can pay them more?
There are a lot of much harder jobs out there.  Firemen, oil field workers, soldiers, prison guards, etc.  You can list several dozen harder jobs just as critical to our lives and future, and none of them whine as much as teachers about their pay and work.  Not even half as much.  Soldiers grumble that they get lousy pay for risking their lives, but they don't go on strike and tell everyone, everywhere, all the time that they're paid so awful like teachers do.
Its such a constant drumbeat it is ridiculous.  According to US News and World Report, teachers are actually paid pretty well:
The BLS reports the median annual salary for high school teachers was $55,050 in 2012. The best-paid 10 percent in the field made approximately $85,690, while the bottom 10 percent made $36,930.
You're not going to get rich at the job, but that's not the point, is it?  And those numbers are two years old, showing a five year trend of going up on average, across America, every year.  Fifty-five grand a year for working nine months ain't bad, particularly when you claim your job is really about children and the future, not getting wealthy.
But what do we hear every time?  Teachers should get paid more, why do athletes make so much?  More, more, more.  And yet teachers seem to want to work less, less, less, taking extra time off.  This does not present a unified front of selfless sacrifice and honorable dedication to the children.  If you cared so much about the kids you wouldn't skive off an extra vacation day at their expense, would you?
Part of the problem is that school districts like San Francisco don't even require asking permission to take time off; you just call an automated system which gets a substitute.  They don't have to tell anyone at the school or ask the principal if they can get a day off, they just do it and call in to get a sub.  This kind of "innovation" simply makes people more likely to use it.
And teachers' unions have succeeded in making it so hard to even discipline a teacher, let alone fire them no matter how heinous their behavior, that there's no pressure or encouragement to stay at the job and work hard.  
Think about your job right now.  If you didn't have to call in sick, just set up a replacement, if you were very difficult to fire no matter what you did, if you didn't even have to talk to a supervisor to let them know you won't be in... how many extra days off might you take?
Culture, system, and human nature are conspiring to make matters worse than ever in education.  More funding won't make a difference to this, not even a small difference.  If you paid teachers ten times as much they still have no motivation to not take extra days off.  If you quadrupled funding per class room it wouldn't make the slightest difference to this.  Money wouldn't change this.
The system is practically designed to encourage taking time off, and culture encourages people to do so because after all, what matters is how you feel, how happy you are, how comfortable, healthy, and good you feel about yourself, and oh yes, how much sex you have. We're told that children are our future, that educating young people is the most important thing someone can do, and that it is a travesty that Biff Linebacker gets paid ten times as much as a teacher every year.
But the system and culture doesn't act like that's true at all, does it?

Friday, August 15, 2014

A CHRISTIAN RESPONSE: Israel and Gaza

"Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right."
-Abraham Lincoln

Every so often, violence explodes in the Middle East, particularly around Israel.  The very existence of the nation seems a magnet for anger and violence, and while every single president of the US since Nixon has tried to find a solution, they've all failed miserably.
The most recent spate of violence has dragged up all the same tired old arguments, with people picking sides and accusing the other of lying and staging news events.  Ancient animosities against certain ethnic groups are growing again, and people are dying.
It wouldn't be that hard to go through the actual events and weed out the core of what's going on and why, nor to find where the problems lie, but there's another aspect to this I want to consider.  How should Christians respond to these events?
Some instantly and without thought leap to the side of Israel.  For many in America, this is an easy call because of their theology: Israel is God's chosen people and the final battleground when Christ returns.  For others it is a matter of being sympathetic toward Jews as a sort of kinship: we share a Testament and thousands of years of religious history.  And for still others, the memories of the horrors in WW2 make them tend to side with Jews against anyone.
Meanwhile, others instantly and without thought leap to the side of the palestinians*.  For many this is a political issue, siding with the oppressed other and what they perceive as the underdog.  For others, it is a question of what they get from news and friends, and who seems to be the bad guy as they get information from popular media.  For still others, they see the Israeli response to palestinian actions excessive or extreme; lacking in 'proportionality.'
As Christians, our first and central concern in anything should be what glorifies God.  We cannot let anything, no matter how compelling or emotionally powerful, eclipse that central truth.  This is often to work out in the modern world, but at the very least it means that we should respond in love, humility, and truth.
Simply put, that means when presented with some event or story, we should first be humble toward whoever brings this to us, not dismissive and arrogant.  We should be loving, so that we are first concerned about the people involved and the cost in lives and family, whatever group they happen to belong to.  And we should be concerned with the truth both in our statements and in what we learn.
All war brings with it lies, distortions, rumors, misinformation, and propaganda.
Its easy to find examples of how these lies and propaganda are spread, and the more media-savvy and less scrupulous a side, the more willing they are to use it.  Christians should be more interested in finding the truth and ignoring lies than having their personal preferences confirmed or politics supported.  If Israel lies about the purpose of a tunnel, then we as Christians should recognize that and consider it.  If palestinians lie about where they are launching rockets from, then Christians should recognize that and consider it.
The key here as in all things is to be not motivated by what we wish to be or are inclined to believe to be true, but what is actually true.  And further to not choose sides out of some sense of team playing or what is gained politically, but to be on God's side, always.  Sometimes that will mean sympathy for one side of a conflict, sometimes it will mean the other.
And always our prayer should be for peace and an end to war and hostility.  Christians should always favor peace whenever possible and it is within our power. As the Bible says, there is a time for war, but we should be known as peacemakers and lovers of peace first and foremost - reluctant to fight, not eager.
Our prayers should be for the families on both sides, for the survivors of those killed in the conflict, for the leadership of both sides to seek peace and do right rather than what best serves them.  We should do what we can to aid people in need, and show Christ's love wherever there is suffering and want.
And we should always be first to recognize that all humanity, whatever group they are in, however they behave, are made in the image of God, so that their lives are sacred, and their souls may yet be saved to eternal glory.
Sometimes it seems like the whole world is burning, and that we live in the worst possible times.  Many times in the past people have felt this way - imagine what went through the heads of people in WW2, during the Napoleonic wars, during invasions by Genghis Khan, the black plague, and the fall of the Roman Empire.  All of these were times of horrendous catastrophe and calamity.
Is the world coming to an end?  Some day, in God's time, and for His glory.  Until then we have a duty to do what is right and obey Him to his glory where we are and when we are.  Christ's return should catch us doing His will and showing love, not squabbling and cheering for death.
*You may note I never capitalize "palestinians" even though spellcheck angrily scribbles red under it.  That's because the title presumes an ethnic, national identity, which they do not share.  There isn't and never was a nation of "palestine" only a region.  There is no ethnic group of "palestinians" because they were nomadic over a very large area, and many are simply there because they were dumped there from countries such as Syria to get rid of them.  My lack of capitalization is a protest against trying to craft a fictional, mythical history for these people, not out of disrespect for them individually.

This is part of the Christian Response series.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

NOT MOMENTOUS

"Are you hungry for more liberty?"

For a long time now I've been confident that libertarianism, or at least its basic concepts, were the future of American politics.  That the blend of fiscal restraint and personal liberty was popular and appreciated by most Americans, and the party that embraced that would be the one that had the most success.
Others seem to be coming to this conclusion as well.  Recently in the New York Times, Robert Draper wondered if the "Libertarian Moment" has arrived:
Libertarians, who long have relished their role as acerbic sideline critics of American political theater, now find themselves and their movement thrust into the middle of it. For decades their ideas have had serious backing financially (most prominently by the Koch brothers, one of whom, David H., ran as vice president on the 1980 Libertarian Party ticket), intellectually (by way of policy shops like the Cato Institute and C.E.I.) and in the media (through platforms like Reason and, as of last year, “The Independents”). But today, for perhaps the first time, the libertarian movement appears to have genuine political momentum on its side.
And despite an avalanche of bad publicity, figures such as Koch Brothers, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz are fairly well regarded except by the hard left in America.  People admired Ted Cruz for his filibuster because that's how most Americans envision a Senator should behave.  Agree or not with what he was trying to do, Americans like a legislator who personally puts it all on the line and actually fights for what they believe in, even at personal cost.
But I have changed my mind.  There is and will be no libertarian moment.  Americans aren't embracing the movement and its ideals.  Sure it kind of looks like maybe the country is in some ways, but looks are deceiving.
I figured this out recently in a discussion on Facebook with a leftist.  I posted something by Megan McArdle and noted she leans left (she voted for Obama, is a big homosexual marriage supporter, etc).
 The guy immediately rejected my statement and what she said because she was, as he put it, a Libertarian and hence "hard right."  He went on to use words like "extremist" to describe her super right wing leanings.
I noted that libertarians are typically conservative on spending and economics, but leftist on social issues.  He rejected this as well, stating that while they claimed to be on the left on social issues, they want to cut the government and therefore cannot be leftist.  For him, and I suspect most on the left, the litmus test is not what you believe or the issues you hold, but the size of government you believe in.
And that's when the little bell went off in my head.  Its true that most Americans want less spending and lower taxes.  That's almost universally supported to one degree or another by Americans.  Every single American you ask will list areas they think the government should spend less (or nothing) on, and most believe taxes should not be raised and perhaps should be trimmed in some areas at least.
Its also true that many if not most Americans tend to lean somewhat left on many social issues such as drug legalization, abortion, homosexual marriage, etc.  If you ask the average American how much the government should be involved in their private life, almost all will say "as little as possible" or "not at all."
But what they mean by that and want is not the same as what Libertarians want and mean.  Ultimately, the basic philosophy of libertarianism is "I can do it better than government" and for far too many Americans, their basic philosophy is "government can do it better than me."  Libertarians are throwbacks to a previous century, a hundred years or more ago when Americans were best known for being "can-do" and seeing problems as opportunities.  When the well ran dry, Americans started looking for ways to get water somewhere else, not begging the federal government for aid and airlifts of water.
This comes up over and over; ask any given American if politicians are any good, and every single one says "they're awful, you can't trust them, they lie all the time, they're corrupt" and so on.  But if you ask them about their politician, well suddenly they find reasons why they aren't so bad.  Its why congress can have an approval rating of less than 10% but incumbents keep winning reelection.
Cuts to spending tend to be along the same lines.  People want spending cut, but they always list spending other than what they benefit from.  Everybody wants the spending in other districts and states cut, but not their own.  People call for stupid junk like shrimp on treadmill studies to be cut, but Libertarians want things like the department of education and the federal reserve to be cut.
The two sort of sound like they are meeting up, but in reality, they're parallel trains.  They both head roughly in the same direction but never match tracks.  What Libertarians want and what Americans want sound similar, but when it comes down to actual policy, they diverge significantly.
Which means that libertarian candidates can get great sound bites and initial support from voters, but when it comes down to the long campaign and voting, Americans become disenchanted with the candidates.  Talking about cutting the massive size of government down to size appeals to most Americans, but when you get to specifics suddenly they become less appealing.
So we get a situation like now, where Libertarianism seems hip and attractive to young people because they sound like they're singing the same song.  But those same young people are the most likely to appeal to government rather than themselves for any solution, and cutting any of that will drive them away.
So yes, Libertarian and American political interests do intersect in some areas: legalizing some drugs, getting the government out of the size of soda cups, etc. But they are like lines drawn on two sheets of stacked glass: from a certain perspective they seem to meet up, but they're still quite a ways apart.
There is no Libertarian moment on the horizon, not until the culture shifts dramatically.
*PS for extra laughs and an astonishing display of political ignorance, check out this story at Talking Points Memo about how Libertarianism's popularity is all an evil scheme by - get this - the Christian Right.

Monday, August 11, 2014

SITTING ON THE SHORE

I'd say I told you so, but at this point, what difference does it make?

There is an old saying attributed to Sun Tzu “If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”  The principle of this is that a patient man will eventually see justice and their foes dealt with, even if they cannot do so personally.
And I've noticed often, and commented often, that the internet is the same way: if you wait long enough you see the truth drift by on the net.  Things you suspected or knew to be true but did not have official confirmation or proof of eventually will show up.
This being the internet, naturally, you can always go find someone who supports any idea you have no matter how demented it is.  But that's not what I mean.  If you wait, you will eventually see your foes agree with what you've said, like when years ago, the New York Times ran a piece confirming that trickle down economics works.  It wasn't what they meant to do but Motoko Rich wrote:
The economic recovery has been helped in large part by the spending of the most affluent. Now, even the rich appear to be tightening their belts.

Late last year, the highest-income households started spending more confidently, while other consumers held back. But their confidence has since ebbed, according to retail sales reports and some economic analysis.
Like most on the left, they don't even have a clue what trickle down really means other than "its bad" so it probably never occurred that they just confirmed the economic fact of this concept.  As I noted in a Washington Examiner piece, the AP did the same thing.
So sitting by the river, watching the internet flow by, along comes a few stories.
First was Donna Brazile, reliably leftist and Democratic Party cheerleader, admitting years after the fact quietly that, um, Bush was good when it came to Hurricane Katrina.
George W. Bush was good as his word. He visited the Gulf states 17 times; went 13 times to New Orleans. Laura Bush made 24 trips. Bush saw that $126 billion in aid was sent to the Gulf's residents, as some members of his own party in Congress balked.

Bush put a special emphasis on rebuilding schools and universities. He didn't forget African-Americans: Bush provided $400 million to the historically black colleges, now integrated, that remain a pride, and magnet for African-American students. Laura Bush, a librarian, saw to it that thousands of books ruined by the floods were replaced. To this day, there are many local libraries with tributes devoted to her efforts.
She also points out how hard President Bush tried for civility and decency despite the unrestrained, filthy, screaming hatred spewed at him constantly.  Bush did a good job, the federal government acted swiftly as they were able with a massive outpouring of assistance that was handled with nearly overwhelming incompetence and seemingly deliberate obstinance by the Louisiana and New Orleans government, and the press went out of their way to make it seem like Bush was a horrific racist monster.  And people bought it hook, line, and sinker.
Another story is a bit smaller in scope is yet another admission by a former New York Times person that yes, the paper is a mouthpiece for the left, a deliberately slanted leftist organ.  This kind of thing slips out when the paper is defending its self for something (like firing the first female publisher, who was apparently a bit of a crazy).  The last time it was an ombudsman writing "well yes, we're biased to the left" flat out.  But ask a leftist and they'll laugh at you for bringing it up, declaring you a crazy right winger who sees bias everywhere.
A bit older is this bit of history that sort of got swept under the rug.  Jarrett Stepman and Inez Feltscher write at Breitbart:
George Fitzhugh, a Virginia planter and pro-slavery intellectual, went even farther than Hughes in his attack on free society and capitalism. Although Fitzhugh denounced the radicalism of communists and socialists, he agreed that capitalist society was “diseased.” Fitzhugh defended Southern slavery as the economic model of the future and declared that “slavery is a form, and the very best form, of socialism.” In fact, he believed nineteen out of twenty people, both white and black, should be slaves.

“A Southern farm is the beau ideal of communism,” Fitzhugh said. “There is no rivalry, no competition to get employment among slaves, as among free laborers… Wealth is more equally distributed than at the North, where a few millionaires own most of the property of the country.”

Fitzhugh said in Sociology for the South: Or the Failure of a Free Society:

The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessaries of life provided for them.
Yes, he just argued that slavery is the ideal of socialism.  Why?  Because 'you didn't build that.'  Because he believed that everything belongs to the collective, through the state.  So that everything should be done for people and taken care of for people, not given them to do with what they wish.  Slavery is just jobs for room and board, working but not owning anything.  What is freedom compared to having everything given to you by a benevolent owner, according to the socialist idea?  Its a pretty consistent, cogent argument from that perspective, but one the left wants to forget.

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Friday, August 08, 2014

THE DEATH OF BEAUTY

"Why is modern art so very, very, very bad?  One would almost think these things are being made bad on purpose."

As an illustrator, the state of modern art does not affect me particularly.  When someone wants an illustration done, they don't turn to Kadinsky or Picasso, they turn to someone who can actually portray something accurately and effectively.  The fact that my stuff would never be hung in an art gallery is of no particular concern to me.
But the concept of beauty and art is dear to me not only as an illustrator but as a human being.  The three absolutes of ancient thought were truth, goodness, and beauty.  There was no subjective thought for the Greeks and the other ancient philosophers when it came to these concepts.  They were written in stone.
For these thinkers, the idea of "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" was accurate as far as it went, but it was not absolutely true.  People do perceive beauty differently, and what is pleasing to one person might not be to another.  But that doesn't make actual beauty subjective.
I've written about Truth several times and Goodness several times in extended essays, and I've long toyed with the idea of finishing the triad with at least one major essay on Beauty, but have not gotten there.  The problem isn't the concepts, its just the hook: trying to find something current and compelling for readers to hang it on and make the point more current and significant.
I think most everyone knows about the trash (sometimes, literally trash) that is put in art galleries and sold for gigantic sums.  From elephant dung to jars of urine to urinals and more, what is presented as art is a travesty and has been for some time now.  Why is that?  Why must art be so awful?
A few articles have come out lately examining this question because we're past wondering if its really art to wondering why anyone would even consider it to be.  John C Wright at EveryJoe examined this recently and examined it more closely at his own site. His conclusion is that art is, like much fiction, a casualty of leftist philosophy and politics.  In How We've Been Robbed of Beauty by the Left, he argues without stating it outright that art is a casualty of relativism.
Relativism argues that nothing is absolute, it is all subjective - that is, it is all a matter of one's perspective.  You cannot say something is true absolutely, you can only say its true... to you.  You cannot say something is absolutely wrong, you can only say you consider it wrong.  You cannot say something is truly beautiful, only that you think it is beautiful. For the relativist, its all a matter of what each individual believes, not based on anything certain and absolute.
Thus, beauty as an absolute is unacceptable in relativist philosophy.  Wright says:
If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then anything, anything at all, can be declared to be beautiful merely by the artist. Like God creating light from nothing by the power of His word, the artist creates beauty not by any genius nor craftsmanship, but by his naked fiat. It is beautiful not because he actually created anything, but only because he says so.

By this logic, a urinal is beautiful, a light going off and on, a decapitated cow’s head covered in blood, flies and maggots, a glass of water on a shelf, a crucifix dunked in urine, a can of excrement, or an unmade bed. The argument given by the Left is that your inability to see the beauty in these things is due to your limitations, your untrained soul, your dullness. The argument merely ignores the fact that training the tastes to be dull, philistine and coarse is the opposite of training the tastes to be sensitive to beauty.
Thus, he argues, that beauty is either absolute, or it becomes meaningless.  If there is no certainty or standard to strive for in beauty, then it leave us only to ourselves and our basest desires.
The Left hates this argument, because if beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder, then beauty tells us what is a truth, a real truth, a truth from a world beyond the world of petty propaganda, a beauty beyond the world of pornography. The Left hates this argument, because if beauty is not merely in the eye of the beholder, then beauty is meant to be served, not used for your selfish pleasures. Beauty humbles the proud, for it shows them something beyond themselves and their appetites. And the left hates that.
Wright goes on in The Logic of Illogic to extend this to writing and other areas.  He complains that as John Scalzi has written about, the science fiction community is being kidnapped by the PC left and awards are being handed out not for well crafted sci fi but for emotionally compelling stories that promote a leftist worldview:
Here is this year’s Nebula award winning short story If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love which, at the time of this writing, is also on the short ballot for the Hugo.

It a less that a thousand words long, and I suppose there must be some merit to it aside from the quaint technique of opening each paragraph with a subjective form of the ending of the prior paragraph, which I call the IF YOU GIVE A MOUSE A COOKIE technique.

The situation passively described (in present tense first person stream-of-consciousness) is that of bigoted white southerners at a poolhall, on the eve of a wedding, beat the heroine’s fiancee, a palaeontologist, into a coma from which he may never wake; and as she stands in grief at his hospital bedside, she fantasizes that if he had been a dinosaur, he could have killed them instead. And she would turn into a flower.

I have no enmity against this story. Unlike what some of its critics claim, it is not terrible. Unlike what its fans claim, it is not great, or even very good. It is sweetly sentimental, melancholy, and shows some craftsmanship. It does not, alas, have any characters, merely lazy stereotypes: a bride, generic white bigots, a victim.
But his main point is that the left has a sort of uniformity in how it approaches everything and that system destroys real creativity and beauty, leaving only acceptable, correct political statements of the sort totalitarian governments require.

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Wednesday, August 06, 2014

THE COMICS CONUNDRUM

"The truth is people are leaving anyway, they’re just doing it quietly, and we have been papering it over with increased prices...We didn’t want to wake up one day and find we had a bunch of $20 books that 10,000 people are buying."
-Dan Didio, co-publisher of DC Comics

When I was young, I had two dreams for movies.  The first was that my AD&D campaign could be made into a film, which probably would have been not very good material, but at least some fantasy stuff is being made these days and its doing well.  In fact, if you look at the earnings (adjusted for inflation) of films over history, fantasy and sci fi rank very high.
The other dream was that good comic movies would be made.  Unfortunately, other than Superman with Christopher Reeves, that wasn't happening.  Even the cartoons were pretty awful.  Superhero movies were attempted, such as The Punisher with Dolph Lundgren and a Captain America film but they were just terrible.
The theory went that if there were good comic book movies, that would drive people to read comics and they'd sell better.  Win/win for the comic creator, which I planned on being, and it would mainstream a hobby of mine.
So now we have some of the most astounding things ever put on the silver screen, including some very well made films such as Batman Begins that are good moviemaking period.  Comic book movies are huge business these days and very popular.  Finally, technology and film making has caught up with the imaginations of men and women from the 30s.
But something funny happened on the way to the comic book rack.  After the peak years in the past, comic book sales have been declining.  When a given character's film comes out, there's a spike in sales, but that rapidly falls off.  So for example when Batman Begins came out, there was a lot of interest in Batman comics... but then people stopped buying them after a few months.
Where you could see sales of a hundred thousand Spider-Man comics sell in the late 80s, you're lucky to see half that these days.  People just aren't buying comic books as much any more.  There are a lot of reasons but it appears that instead of driving people to read more comics, these films are actually contributing to people buying fewer comics.
Its as if people are willing to watch the movies when they come out (and on home theater systems) but not read comic books.  Now I'll admit that seeing the Hulk punch Thor through a building on screen is more satisfying than seeing him do it on a page.  And its true that a comic book is a few minutes of entertainment and Guardians of the Galaxy runs for two hours.  And it appears that people consider that a better entertainment value than a 4 dollar comic once a month.
Computer Games are taking their bite out of comics too.  Its fun to read Batman's latest adventure, but its even more fun to be Batman in an adventure, like in the Batman: Arkham games.  And that interactivity and storytelling (which again is hours of gameplay) is much more compelling to many people today than a comic book.
So in the end, instead of increasing sales, these new media are actually hurting sales.  And comic books are struggling enough as it is.  I could write for hours on this subject, such as how the industry appears to have decided it doesn't need new fans and is going to ride the same group of readers as they age right into the grave, or how they've lost all sense of wonder and heroism for brutality and anger.
But this more than anything sums up the basic problem with comic books today:
See that red line slanting upward?  That's the overall trend of the cost of comic books compared to the US federal minimum wage.  In other words, comic books are costing more and more when compared to their audience's income levels.
Its one thing to buy a 10 cent comic when that's less than half your hourly minimum wage, but its another entirely to buy a $5 comic when you make $7.25 an hour.  Is it really worth almost an hour's wages?  Particularly when the comics have ads in them to begin with?  And the price goes up regularly.
Now, digital comics seem to be slowly taking off, although they are a bit overpriced (3 bucks a comic for something I don't even really own?) and so new that people aren't used to the concept.  That's an area that could do well, because its yet another thing you can do on your cell phone and get it delivered to you without leaving your couch.
I don't think print comics will necessarily vanish, but the days of Marvel and DC being giants making huge money off magazines are pretty much at an end.  I suspect that if comics would focus on what people are interested in reading in that format instead of what has always worked in the past, they would do better.
Superhero comics have been the mainstay of the industry for most of its existence, although there was a time after WW2 and to around 1965 when romance, westerns, horror comics, and so on were bigger sellers.  With the advent of the good comic book movie and computer games, I think superhero comics are going to wane again.
That means finding other outlets for the medium, and things like Westerns and Fantasy could pick up the slack.  Even in Japan though, where Manga was king, the sales are dropping and they have always focused primarily on other stories than superheroes.  So I don't really know.
All I know is, we were dead wrong when we all figured a great X-Men movie would sell more comics.

Monday, August 04, 2014

THE HACHETTE WAR OF 2014

"I like to joke that I probably hold the world record for rejection letters. Yes, the truth is that I was fed up of being rejected repeatedly, and self-publication was an act of defiance at traditional publishing.
-Ashwin Sanghi"

There's a battle going on in publishing right now that unless you're an author or an Amazon.com stock junkie you might not know anything about.  Amazon.com and a publishing house with the name of Hachette are struggling for dominance and in the court room.
Basically it breaks down to this: Hatchette wants to control pricing on e-books and keep them high.  Amazon wants to control pricing on e-books and keep them low.  Hachette represents big publishing, its one of the big 5 publishers in the world and has the backing of the other four in this fight.  Amazon represents... its self, really.
Now, at first blush this seems like an easy fight to choose between.  As a consumer, cheaper e-books is good for you, so Amazon is the horse to back.  But there's more to this than just the prices.  Essentially, this is a battle between old publishing and new, trying to determine who controls the industry.  If Amazon wins, they will control publishing for the foreseeable future.  If Hachette wins, the publishing houses keep their hold for the time being
It comes down to this: Amazon wants big publishers to charge less for their e-books; they have a cap on how expensive a new ebook should cost.  Big publishers want to charge more for their e-books.  The general price they want is around $15.00 US, which is where most of their new e-books come out.  Amazon insists it be lower, at $9.99 at most.
Now, there's a lot of stuff being written on either side of this debate, arguing one way or another.   Laura Miller, for example, argues on Salon.com that if Amazon wins, then small independent publishers will suffer:
There are already more thrillers being cranked out by traditional presses than most people have time to read, and if those titles were all the same price as their self-published brethren, there would be much less incentive to try out the offerings from self-publishers. Self-published authors would feel pressure to reduce their prices even further.

As irksome as it may be for self-published authors to acknowledge, it’s in their best interests that traditional publishers like Hachette be allowed keep the prices of their e-books high.
Except her argument is poor.  She's assuming that big publishers would sell their books for anything under the maximum allowable price, while few if any independent publishers sell their stuff for more than $5.00.  That's a five dollar difference between the Amazon cap and the independent book price, so there's no pressure to lower prices whatsoever for independents.
To understand how this plays out, its useful to consider how the system has worked up to this point.  Publishing houses take someone's work and do minor editing, create a cover, do minimal publicity, and bind it to publish.  For this effort, as long as the contract lasts, they get a significant chunk of the cover price, the retailers get another big chunk, and the writer whose efforts make the entire product exist gets about 20%.  From that, they have to pay their agent, so in the end, they get closer to 10% of any book they sell.  In other words, for each dollar a book sells for, the author gets 10 cents and the publisher about 30.
This is how its worked for about 300 years now, and publishers are understandably keen on keeping that system going.  Further, as they've been suffering serious losses of sales and declining revenues, publishing houses are very eager to get more money coming in.  They see a great opportunity in e-books since they're virtually free to publish.
E-book authors get royalties for each sale, just like real book sales.  Through a publisher, an author gets about 35% of the cover price (with the publisher getting about 35% as well).  That means for each 15 dollar e-book, the author earns about $5.25 - minus the $2.25 or so the agent gets.  When you publish an actual book, there are significant costs such as printing, distribution, and the cost of unsold books which are returned to publishers by retailers (although more are going to a print-on-demand model).
So those e-books mean a lot more profit for the publishing company. If they can get over 5 bucks per book with virtually zero expenses, then that's sweet fat profit.  They want that profit to be as big as possible, to make the most money they can.  How else can they afford the Manhattan penthouses and six to seven figure incomes for the top bosses in the companies?
The thing is, Amazon's data shows that a book that sells for that 10 dollar max sells almost 180% better than the book at 15 bucks.  So charging less for a book means it makes more overall.  Its a pretty basic economic fact, the less you charge for a product - assuming any demand at all - the more money you make, to a certain point.  That point is difficult to predict, but its at least as much as the item cost to produce (if it costs 3 bucks to make your widget, and you sell it for 3 it doesn't matter how many sell, you make no money.
At a certain point, reducing the price further won't make you any money because the demand won't increase.  You will eventually reach a point at which the optimal number of customers decide its worth buying and lowering the price beyond that just means less profit.
For e-books nobody knows that that optimal price is, but the cost is virtually nil.  There are some expenses for publicity, cover design, layouts, and editing, and you have to pay those pesky authors, but other than that, its free.  And since the author's money comes from sales, and the costs are all up front - each new e-book costs no more than the first - you can get the price pretty low and still make a lot of money.

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