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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Monday, September 29, 2014

WHY DO THEY PROTEST OVERMUCH?

"“If it was supported by employees SEIU wouldn’t need to invest $38 million in the campaign"

I think that one of the best signs that something is unbelievably wrong with American culture is that, during one of the worst periods of unemployment in the nation, a time when a bulk of the people who can actually find work are doing part time labor, there are protests that McDonalds doesn't pay its employees enough.
Its difficult to even imagine someone being that completely out of touch with economic reality and the problems on the street, but here we are.  Now, I understand that their thinking is a bit... different than most people.  They see people in need and not getting good jobs and think "the evil corporations are to blame, they should pay more!" 
I mean, it worked in Chicago; the already well-paid teachers there ($76,000 a year plus benefits on average) went on strike during an economic crisis for the state of Illinois when they were plunging rapidly into deeper and deeper debt.  And they got a raise!  But then, they did it during a presidential campaign which involved a Democrat from Illinois, so the machine wanted that problem to be quieted down and put away.
This time, its just amazing to behold.  These people are ignorant enough of how business and economics works to not realize that nearly doubling personnel costs for a business will not cost jobs.  Or, they have a different motivation.
Looking deeper into these protests you find some very familiar faces.  The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is there every time.  They are organizing the protests, printing signs, handing out shirts, and paying people to stand in picket lines.  Originally formed to be for public sector employees (i.e. those which work in government jobs), the SEIU is branching out.
They see a huge opportunity for labor to expand its power, wealth, and influence by unionizing fast food employees.  McDonald's is a big, easy target with lots of places to picket and a high profile.  Its easy to get on the news by protesting McDonald's, especially when the news directors and editors are generally sympathetic with the cause.
SEIU hires PR firms, manpower organizations, and other companies to get their message out and so we get these irrational protests.  SEIU employees are paying dues... so that their union can pay PR firms... so that they can try to get fast food employees onto the union.  How exactly this helps the public employee that pays these dues is a question that none of them seem to be asking.  See, that's what dues are paid for: to offset the costs of helping employees, not create new markets for the union, hire publicity and protesters, and donate to politicians.  At least in theory.
So how do they hope to gain?  What is their game plan here?
Well I don't know the inside thinking but the SEIU isn't stupid.  They may be leftist ideologues, but they know that if they push labor costs to 15 bucks an hour, McDonald's is going to start automating more and eliminating employees.  They cannot stay open paying that kind of wages, even if they push the Big Mac over 8 bucks (like it would have to be raised just to stay open).  And customers of McDonald's would not pay that much for fast food.
Now, if you're a leftist, you consider this a good thing - those poor people would be forced to eat better! - but that's not how it would work.  Even assuming poor people could afford to get better food, they'll just go to a different fast food company, one that isn't unionized and can sell 99 cent burgers.
And if you're a leftist you're probably yelling about the greed and riches of franchise owners.  They make so much, they can get paid less, and pay their employees better!  Stop swimming in your vat of money, Scrooge McDuck!
Well, that's misguided as well.  The National Employment Law Project, a left-leaning think tank did a study of franchise owners across the nation and what they came up with was not what they expected or wanted to hear.
“Fast food franchisees themselves are in many cases unprofitable,” NELP said in a May report on franchising.

A 2012 Franchise Business Review survey of 4,000 franchise owners found that the average franchisee earns a little more than $82,000 per year. However, that figure may be misleading. The report found that more than 50 percent of small business owners earned less than $50,000 in 2011—less than the median U.S. income on the year—while one in three owners earned $25,000 or less.
Some are getting rich, but many are not and some aren't making money at all.  In fact, you don't have to be fabulously wealthy to start up a franchise.  With loans and working with the company you can do it for less than you'd think.  According to HowStuffWorks, McDonalds has this kind of structure:
Your total costs to open the restaurant, however, will be anywhere from $685,750 to $1,504,000, which goes to paying for the building, equipment, etc. Forty percent of this cost has to be from your own (non-borrowed) funds. You'll pay an initial franchise fee of $45,000 directly to McDonald's.
You can borrow 60% of what it takes to start up your franchise, and it can cost less than a million dollars.  That's certainly a lot of money, but these days, its not exactly super rich.  And making an average of around 80 grand a year might sound a lot to someone living in Scio, Oregon, but its barely enough to get by in Manhattan.  Certainly someone who owns and runs the company, putting their own cash on the line and facing the entire business success by their own efforts deserves at least that much.
So its not like these guys have huge sacks of cash they light cigars with, money they can easily spare to help pay employees more.  Fifteen bucks an hour is around a 50% increase in pay, and that doesn't include the matching taxes that employees must pay, plus other related expenses (insurance, etc).  Taxes and fees such as Social Security alone cost an employer about an additional 10% extra.  The average personnel cost for a McDonald's is about 35% of its annual income.  Employees are the number one cost for a restaurant - and almost every business.
Multiply that times the number of hours the average employee works, times the number of average employees working at McDonald's and that more than eliminates the entire franchise earnings the average McDonald's owner makes in a year.  In other words: the owner literally cannot give that much up.
This is why analyses such as one at Huffington Post which claimed a Big Mac would only go up about 68 cents are such trash.  They are written by people who have virtually no clue how the business world works and miss all the personnel costs a company has to carry.  The real cost is unknown but it could be as much as $5, and that's even if some employees are replaced by machines and expenses are slashed.
So what on earth is the SEIU thinking, I ask again?  Well I suspect they are using high pressure tactics.  They are shooting high, knowing that will never happen.  What they intend to do is make it so unbearable for McDonald's that the company has to sit down at the table and start negotiating with employees.  But the employees can't all sit at the table, so they will need representatives - the SEIU - who will make deals.
Their goal is to get a small raise, unionize the entire McDonald's staff, and get a huge influx of dues from the million or so employees in the US alone.  Will that raise be more than the dues?  Doubtful, but hey, who cares, the SEIU isn't about the employees any more than another union.  Imagine what they could do with all that money from all those fast food employees!  Why, its another vacation house for the union bosses and more money to pour into Democrat political election funds and groups such as Planned Parenthood's coffers.
Because that's not all they have in mind.  The left is faced with two choices: admit their economic policies suck, or distract people from how bad they are and try harder to make them work.  Instead of changing to policies to encourage creation of better-paying jobs, their scheme is to force jobs that exist under their policies to pay more!
And as has been abundantly demonstrated, private sector unions are dying.  Steven Greenhouse writes at the New York Times:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the total number of union members fell by 400,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the nation’s overall employment rose by 2.4 million. The percentage of workers in unions fell to 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011, the bureau found in its annual report on union membership. That brought unionization to its lowest level since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent, according to a study by two Rutgers economists, Leo Troy and Neil Sheflin.
People are coming to the conclusion that paying dues to corrupt fat cats to misuse while gaining no benefits is a stupid waste.  Why unionize?  All they do is take your money and give you no benefits.  The SEIU is in the only booming union sector in America: government employees.  And they want to expand, baby.
So this is what you get: pressure that will result in loss of jobs for an expansion of power, to try to get failed and idiotic policies to somehow work, while giving unions more money.  Those people standing in the picket lines, at least the ones not paid under minimum wage by the SEIU to stand around with signs and chant, are suckers.  They are only thinking "I want more money" and they're just very useful idiots for the ones behind the scenes.
But by all means, blame the corporations.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

ALL THAT STUFF

"Does he still stand for truth, justice, all that stuff?"
-Perry White, Superman Returns

The Communists in Russia must be gnashing their teeth in frustration and dismay.  If only they'd held out a little bit longer, they must be thinking.  Their ideological efforts and continuous work to undermine the west finally took fruit, mere decades after the humiliating collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern European bloc.
It has to be amazing for them to see how quickly and completely their efforts have taken root in the United States.  Things that were completely rejected and even mocked have become common knowledge and are stated by the highest politicians in the land.  Things once understood to be absolute truth are not showered with contempt and taught as lies by the education system.
But there's also a chance that the collapse of the Soviet Union as an enemy allowed their ideas to flourish where they would have before been blocked because of their origins.  It has long been a source of annoyance to me that while Nazism is rightly condemned as a horrific ideology of monsters, Communism is treated as historically flawed but noble and positive. 
At their roots, both worked out extremely similar in economic and social effect, as I've written before.  Nazism was heavily socialist and Communism never was implemented, only tyrannical socialism as a "precursor" to the inevitable change over that never took place.
Its bizarre to see in my lifetime how swiftly the transformation of culture took place.  In just under a decade, the reversal is almost complete.  You can see it take place by watching long run TV series back to back on services like Netflix.  The first seasons of shows like Law and Order were strongly American and had a basic Judeo-Christian foundation, unashamedly showing portrayals of faith not only without criticism but usually as positive.  Today, they openly mock and attack both concepts.  You can see in shows such as Criminal Minds the shift in ideology that took place between 2004 and 2006, where suddenly America was bad and everything that ever went wrong originated in Republicans and the religious right.  Its almost like there was a deliberate, agreed upon switch in worldview.
There are some basic leftist concepts that people often agree to now without even being aware of their origins.  All of these came from hard core Communist/Marxist/Maoist thinkers.  All of them were openly and undebatedly Communist in origin and used to be immediately identified as such.  All of them are becoming cultural norms today (many taken from this site, courtesy American Digest):
  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But ‘oppressed’ people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.
  • Religion should be only internal and have no impact on culture or others 
  • The purpose of education is to shape politically useful citizens
These aren't even debated any more in many places.  Merely questioning them is treated with a shower of contempt and rage by some people, particularly in academia.  They form such a foundational worldview for many people that they aren't even questioned, where as just a few decades ago they were the doctrine of the enemy.
All of these can easily be traced back to revolutionary Marxist thinkers such as Gramsci and the Communist Party in USSR, which - according to KGB documents and testimony - were being pushed in the US by paid agents of the Soviet Union. Their theory was that if you were able to undermine basic American ideology, the strength of the nation - its "can do" attitude, its rugged individualism, its praise of ambition and achievement, and its rejection of authority undermining liberty could all be rotted from inside and eliminated, leaving only an open door for Communism to flourish.
Communists figured out early that they were going to get no foothold in America until that basic American Way was demolished so badly even Superman comics would be ashamed to mention it.  Until that core of Americanism was gone, they came to understand that Communism would never, ever get a foothold and that inevitable "revolution of the working class" would never happen.
Now, an objective observer might have said "well guys, it looks like they found another way and it certainly seems to be working" but for these Communist thinkers, it was religious zeal, not logic that ran their thought processes.  If another way was found, then it was a bad way by definition for being different than Communism.
So this was the effort, and the bits listed above (among others) were the tools to bring this about.  They didn't even have to be true or believed, they just had to be effective at undermining Americanism as a worldview.  All those trappings of Judeo Christian heritage, all that objective, absolute thinking, all that individualism and can-do attitude had to be cleared away for subjectivism, subservience to the state, and dependence.
There aren't many people who are even aware of that history or the purpose.  There never were.  There were many "useful idiots" who went along because it felt right, or was more comfortable for them personally - daunted by independence and ambition.  And for many, it was simply a way to get along with their colleagues, who were glassy eyed in their zealotry.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

MEALS AT HOME

"Good food, good meat, good God, lets eat"

A few days ago I wrote about an article in Slate that bemoaned having to make your own means, and reflected on an attitude that seems to be growing in popularity in America, at least.  That idea is that being required to do basic work to have the things you need is some kind of cruel imposition, or even an immoral cruelty.  I have to work to eat?  How dare you!
And in the Slate article, Amanda Marcotte rejected the value and importance of the home-cooked meal eaten together as a family.  She noted a study that suggested its so stressful to cook at home that you lose any potential heath benefits over eating out.  She claimed that the idea of the home meal is "romanticized."
This is nonsense.  I agree that cooking a meal can be stressful and frustrating - the hardest part for me is coming up with the menu, since I tend to put it off until the last possible moment, focusing on other things.  If I plan ahead, its just smooth sailing.
But the stress is more than offset by sitting down at a table and eating good food.  There is something special and healing about sitting down with loved ones to share time and a meal together, especially with a loving family that shares their concerns and days.  The regularity, stability, and predictability of this time together can be incredibly soothing.  Just being surrounded by people who care and love you for a few minutes is relaxing, even if things get troubled.
The TV show Blue Bloods has a regular feature each episode of the Sunday family dinner.  There are conflicts and confusion and problems, but that coming together is a binding aspect for the family and is a rich tradition that is very good for all the people involved.  You can sense the togetherness even when its a rough dinner.
I don't have any lab studies or sociology degrees, I don't have any psychological test cases or books.  I only have my personal experience growing up and eating dinners with family, I only have the wisdom of the ages, and the other families I know that had this blessing, and I know that the food nutrition is only a small portion of the benefits cooking a home meal and eating it together brings.
But that original article was more than simply a complaint about effort to gain reward or the misery of cooking a meal.  Amanda Marcotte, well worth a giggle much of the time, actually brought up some legitimate concerns.
WEARY MOM
First off she pointed out that working moms don't have a lot of time or energy when they get home to deal with kids and cooking a meal.  So bringing home something or ordering out, or throwing a can of goop in the microwave is all they have left to offer.
And this is a genuine, legitimate problem.  Ideally, one parent (usually mom is best) staying home to care for home, children, and deal with things like meals is the way it should be.  That means that parent is able to give proper attention and focus to everything that needs doing and won't be too exhausted to get a meal ready.  But that isn't always the way it can be.
These days many parents are alone, whether divorced or never married.  Many parents work, because the expenses of life are so high they feel that they should.  Now as I've argued (and shown data) in the past, this isn't necessarily the case - often it is not necessary for both parents to work - it can be, and I would not be so arrogant to declare that any specific family shouldn't have both parents working.  You know your situation, I don't.
There are some solutions to this, though.  If at all possible, the other parent should be home around the same time to help be with the kids and help out otherwise.  The kids can help out, by doing some prep work in the kitchen such as setting the table, organizing ingredients, and if old enough chopping and measuring.  Children should be considered resources for the house, not simply customers.  If you teach them how to cook from youth, they'll be better able to survive on their own later.
Kids can start getting things ready while mom or dad changes and deals with the little ones, takes a shower, etc.  There are usually steps that can be taken before the actual tough part (or dangerous part such as using the stove) needs to be done, and youngsters can pitch in for that.  Yes, at first they'll be bugging you constantly with questions and need supervision, but they'll learn and grow in that, too.
Having everything ready and organized helps a lot too.  A clean kitchen workspace and everything put away in the right spot each time makes a very significant difference.  As I noted above, a menu prepared in advance means you don't have to figure it out as you cook; that's a major stress reducer right there.

COST
This is where things get a bit... weird in the article.  Ms Marcotte claims, based on a report, that low income houses can't afford to cook at home.  Now I can understand that seeming so if you shop at Whole Foods or the local boutique market in upper east side Manhattan.  Those microgreens and specialty cheeses don't come cheap.
But the truth is, its always cheaper to buy raw ingredients and cook them yourself than to buy prepared and especially restaurant food.  You're providing the labor, rather than paying for it.  And there are shops that are significantly cheaper with quality food which are readily available.  I know, Ms Marcotte would sooner vote Republican than shop at Wal*Mart, but their groceries are actually quite good and quite cheap.  Other shops can be even cheaper without sacrificing quality.
Buying raw materials such as beans, rice, flour, eggs, and so on to make your own food, from "scratch" is always significantly cheaper than buying a can of the same food.  Rendering your own stock from bones and scraps left over from meals is much cheaper (and better) than buying stock in bottles or boxes.
Yes, the trade off is time and effort, but if you're poor, then that's the trade you have to make.  That is part of why being poor sucks: you can't pay for shortcuts.  You have to do it yourself.  And in the end, it is better for you anyway.  Even fatty foods cooked at home are healthier than processed, prepared foods packed with chemicals and colorings and stripped of nutrients, sugared, and thrown in a microwave.  Yes, that little microwavable cup of soup is easy and fast, but costs like ten times as much as making the same soup yourself - with the kicker of being worse for your health.
And while she has a minor point about cooking supplies such as cups, bowls, etc... that's not a very valid concern.  Relatives and friends will likely have extras, and you can go to a thrift store or shop like Dollar Tree and pick up what you need dirt cheap.  It won't be the finest stuff available, and you'll long for the wonderful supplies Alton Brown suggests on Good Eats, but again: poor.  You make do.
COMPLAINTS
Now here it just gets ridiculous.  The moan is "someone always complains."  Well guess what bucko, those someones complain when you get the meal at Applebee's too.  That's just a fact of life, if you raised kids that complain.  Its one thing to say "wow you oversalted this" but kids that whine about food need to be taught to be respectful of the effort involved, thankful for the food prepared for them, and keep their whining to themselves.
Yes, that's a process, and it takes time.  Yes, its frustrating as a cook to put all that work into things then get a complaint.  That's life, people have a right to voice their concerns, and maybe if you listen closely you'll learn something and do it better next time.  They need to learn to complain less, and you need to swallow your pride more, but while you can't change them you can change you.
There is a class of complaint that is a bit tougher to deal with, and I wrote about that a while back in my Depression Era Survival Kit series.
However, you'll find out that what you make tastes... different than what you're used to paying for. That Campbell's Condensed Soup tastes different than your version. And that's a good thing, it tastes better, but for some people that difference is odd. For a child raised on prepared foods and fast food, cooking from scratch won't be quite right.

For one thing, its not as sweet: fast food joints especially adds sugar to their food. For another, the food lacks preservatives, flavor enhancers, coloring, and other things that palates have become comfortable and familiar with. That burger you cooked on the grill looks different than a McPatty. That chicken Kiev you made isn't a perfect, neat little bun. And that can throw people, particularly young people.

It will take a while for you to get used to the stronger seasoning, more complex and subtle flavors, and distinct texture of food prepared right. That's worth learning. Some people - most perhaps - take to it instantly. Some long for their Totino's Pizza. But once you get used to the good stuff... its really hard to go back.
So its a bit of an uphill climb if you've been bringing home Subway for years and then start building food on your own.  Young people who have been raised on Chef Boyardee will think real pasta is awful; they aren't used to the complex flavors, more delicate layers of seasoning, and lack of corn syrup.
They will, though.  It just takes time.  And its important to remember that the younger (or very older) someone is, the less their palate can take strong flavors.  They have to be given something a bit less bold and flavorful.
Also, your family will find it likes or doesn't like some kinds of food.  My mom used to get brussels sprouts for a vegetable until she learned that not a one of us liked the things, even herself.  If nobody likes liver and onions, well then why make it?  And we have to make sacrifices; make food you don't like sometimes, and do without stuff you love, if your family genuinely doesn't care for it, after trying it out a while.
Ultimately, home cooked meals are ideal; they are the best way to eat and its cheaper than buying your food prepared or cooked for you.  And you have to make decisions for your life of priorities and what matters most. That bag of salad costs you as much as the raw materials to make ten salads, is a few minutes of chopping that much of a horrific burden?
Almost always, people who complain that things take too long don't actually mean that the duration is excessive.  They aren't making an objective statement of effort vs reward.  What they mean is "this takes time away from what I would rather be doing."  And you have to again consider your priorities; does playing Gears of War or getting on Facebook really trump a good home cooked meal?
Because I kind of doubt it.

Friday, September 19, 2014

EFFORT AS SIN

"We rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn’t complain about the food they were served"

The latest demand by some groups is that women get not just birth control but feminine products like tampons for free.  Essentially, their argument is that women are unfairly burdened with needing these things since men don't need them, so men should pay to give them what they require.
This is one more in a long line of demands for free things that we've been flooded with, each only "free" in the sense that individuals feel no cost upon receiving them, but pay in advance in taxes.  Each new demand stretches the definition of "necessary" and "rights" until its become almost self-parodying.  You can barely come up with a satirical version of events fast enough to be ahead of the actual demands.
There was an article written recently by a somewhat obscure feminist writer at Slate named Amanda Marcotte.  She's managed to get attention occasionally by writing ridiculous, self-important diatribes such as how no man is worthy of her and are all scared off by her wonderfulness.  This recent piece was rebelling against the idea of cooking:
The home-cooked meal has long been romanticized, from ’50s-era sitcoms to the work of star food writer Michael Pollan, who once wrote, “far from oppressing them, the work of cooking approached in the proper spirit offered a kind of fulfillment and deserved an intelligent woman’s attention.” In recent years, the home-cooked meal has increasingly been offered up as the solution to our country's burgeoning nutrition-related health problems of heart disease and diabetes. But while home-cooked meals are typically healthier than restaurant food, sociologists Sarah Bowen, Sinikka Elliott, and Joslyn Brenton from North Carolina State University argue that the stress that cooking puts on people, particularly women, may not be worth the trade-off.
Now, its one thing to say "man I just don't like to cook" or "I feel that I don't have time or energy to cook a meal" but no, her position is that home cooking is a terrible burden.  She is not opposed to cooking a meal, she's opposed to home cooked meals as a concept.  Its not just a burden but wrong to home cook.
She's not completely wrong in the article; it is true that often modern kids are whiny and complaining, and that its tough to cook a meal if you work all day.  And it is true that its tough to get your cooking done if you can't get adequate raw materials together.
However, her example "cook everything with one device and wash the dishes in the sink" is hilariously first-world problemy.  Oh the horror of having to hand-wash your dishes!  Inconceivable, where is Guadalupe to load the dishwasher for me!  How can I face the day knowing that I must cook my food in a single unit instead of having eighteen different devices on the counter to choose from??
Not having pots and pans is a matter of being ill prepared for the role you've taken on.  Its like complaining that now you are a baseball player, you don't have a bat or glove.  Maybe you should have gotten that stuff together before you took on that role.  But even if somehow a home and child came upon you by surprise, cheap stuff is available at thrift and Salvation Army type stores, and usually older family members will have extra supplies to offer.  You can get basic supplies at the Dollar Tree for a buck each.  Get them slowly over time.
But the idea that its cheaper to buy takeout or delivery every meal than supplies and raw materials is utterly and shockingly ignorant to the point of rank stupidity.  I get that Ms Marcotte probably shops at Manhattan boutiques for her microgreens and Kobe beef, and her idea of a grocery trip is being driven to Whole Foods but surely she must be aware that other, less expensive options exist
And ultimately it seems to come down to this philosophy: that effort, that personal difficulty is not simply something we may resent, but actually wrong.  That it is bad to strive or work, that having to do something to get what you want is morally incorrect.
More and more this seems to be the attitude.  For many of the people involved in the idiotic, repulsive "Occupy" movement, paying your school loans was thought of as an evil thing.  How dare you expect me to pay for my schooling!  Mommy gave me everything for free!
The attitude that if something is difficult and stressful it should not be is becoming more and more a cultural presumption.  Not something people wistfully think of, but something that people presuppose - its a basic assumption of life, something unquestioned and certain before each situation even arises.  You expect me to work for my home, my car, my clothes, my vacation?  How dare you, sir!
This goes beyond childish, where kids just assume things show up for free, and have no concept of the interplay between personal effort and reward.  It is the attitude of generational aristocracy, its the kind of thinking of Marie Antoinette.  People are acting like they are all lords in a feudal system, and that their mere birth demands they be attended to and given what they desire.
Yes, much of life sucks.  Yes, many times you work hard for little reward.  Yes, most of what you get in life requires a lot of trouble and sorrow.  If this was a game, people would rightly complain that the risk and difficulty of the quests does not gain an adequate reward.
That is how life is.  Wishing that away or demanding government fix it will not make that go away.  It is not possible to demand away reality, no matter how much you close your eyes and stamp your feet.  Every once in an extremely rare while, someone gets a lot for little.  But this presumption that not only we should get rich quick and easy, but that it is morally wrong to not do so... what on earth kind of life are you living?
It is, I fear, an inevitable consequence of how more than one generation of young people has been raised, however.  Each time you try to raise children away from difficulty, failure, disappointment, or realizing their limitations, you raise a generation unable to comprehend the basic truths of life and reality. 
And when faced with those truths, they throw a tantrum, camping in the streets, tearing up parks, demanding more and more and more.  And those who want to seem like they care, those driven by emotion and concern more than reason and fact will stand beside them and call for Something To Be Done (especially if it means more money and power under their control).
And crass politicians, knowing they can rely on votes from these perpetual toddlers, will side with them as well and come up with program after program spending other people's money to make it seem like it comes true.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

COALITION OF THE UNDECIDED

“I do not make apologies for being careful in these areas, even if it doesn’t make for good theater.”

I don't envy President Obama right now.  In the past he's faced clear and simple decisions and waffled or been confused, chose poorly or tried to avoid choosing at all.  But with IS (Islamic States), there isn't really a good choice.
The group is gaining momentum, money, and arms, and clearly is a threat to the region.  IS plans on returning the Caliphate that it once had in the 14th century, which circled the Mediterranean and encompassed a large area of land.  Further, they plan on expanding Islamic rule beyond that to the entire globe.
Right now, IS is small and mostly in Iraq and Syria.  They are growing but still not very large.  Every opponent they have faced as given way easily but they haven't faced a powerful, modern, determined army yet.  Its possible that they have reached the limits of what zeal and no centralized leadership or discipline can achieve.
On the other hand, the organization might be destined for greater power and continued growth, and could easily gain a powerful, charismatic leader that coalesces the various factions and tribal forces now only allied for the goal of radical Islam conquering enemies.  With a good leader, other Muslim countries such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even Turkey might choose to join IS or at least ally with it, which would increase its power and influence exponentially.
And if this is the future of the organization, then dealing with it right now when it is isolated, small, and easily found is the best option.  A large and powerful IS would probably be greeted by the UN as a valid state rather than a batch of murderous lunatics, which is what they are.
And murderous is definitely an accurate description.  There is almost no atrocity, no evil that this group has not demonstrated, from rape to murder to decapitation, to attempted genocide, environmental destruction, obliteration of historical sites, and far beyond.  Women are captured for not being Muslim - or even insufficiently Muslim - and turned into a sort of roving harem for the IS soldiers to rape repeatedly.  Villages are murdered for not agreeing with their ideology.  The evil of these men is undeniable.
But is that enough reason to act?  The horror of their behavior and the potential for global reach?  Horrendous evil goes on around the world daily; such ghastly behavior is done right on the southern border of the United States by drug cartels.  North Korea is a nearly incomprehensible nightmare of brutality and evil.  Recently the Sudan was a slaughterfest of Muslims raping and killing off Christians for land and power.
So what is President Obama to do?  Because of news coverage of these evils, the American people want action to be taken - if for no other reason than IS is a thumb in the eye of the American eagle after leaving Iraq quiet and relatively stable.
President Obama in particular does not like the idea of acting in Iraq for several reasons.  First, he stated repeatedly that going into Iraq was a huge mistake and never should have happened.  Second, he declared a huge victory and took credit for it when he announced the troop withdrawals from the country.  So he'd look stupid and hypocritical for doing what he said was wrong and having to fix what he said wasn't broken.  And third, he does not want ever to use ground troops.  For him, like most Democrats, the worst thing in the world is the body bag; they think of Vietnam every single time and want no troops on the ground.
But at the same time, he's facing tremendous pressure worldwide to take action, he has made it very clear that this is the kind of thing he thinks action should be taken over, and the people seem to want something done.
So what is there to do?  Should he take action, and how?  Don Surber suggests the president should truthfully give this speech:
"My fellow Americans, we just completed the bombing of every ISIS target we can identify, we have frozen their assets in this country and we have indicted all their conspirators and supporters in the United States. I want to thank the men and women of the USS George H.W. Bush, the entire Fifth Fleet, the airmen and women al-Udeid air base in Qatar, the Secret Service's treasury operations and U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger of Minnesota and his staff, as well as the FBI special task force who assisted them in apprehending more than 100 militants in the Minneapolis area alone. Initial intelligence reports indicate that we have more than decimated this scourge to humanity, while pocketing $3 billion in assets, which is more than enough to cover the cost of replacing the cruise missiles we deployed, in anticipation of the next group of Islamic nuts who wish to destroy the world. If we have learned any one thing from our dear allies in Israel it is the need for constant vigilance."
Certainly it would be a bold and aggressive response to the evil that IS represents.  Its the kind of speech and the kind of action that President Bush would have taken in his first term - exactly the attitude and actions President Obama and his allies showered with every conceivable negative description and suggestion.
And this sort of action would kick the legs out from under IS (although why you'd focus on Minnesota so heavily eludes me, given places like Dearborn Michigan) by crippling its resources and undermining its recruiting.  It wouldn't require soldiers in Iraq, nor would it involve building a multinational coalition which took President Bush six months to accomplish. Building coalitions is something President Obama has shown absolutely no acumen in whatsoever.
But even this is not what President Obama wants to do.  Because he's not facing the same dilemma I would be and that I list above.  His problem is of an entirely different nature.  We saw a glimpse of this problem in 2008 when Russia invaded Georgia, allegedly to help a northern portion form their own country.
The instant the news came out, candidate John McCain issued a strong statement of unwavering condemnation and opposition to a country invading another, particularly on such flimsy pretext, and bombing it without even attempting to explain why or going to the UN.  Russia was wrong, and that was clear.
On the other hand, President Obama took days to come out with a tepid, hand wringing statement of whining equivocation, asking "both sides" to be nice and stop fighting.  Later, seeing his poll numbers plummet, he changed his statement to be more condemning of Russia's actions.  President Obama showed the pattern he would continually follow in every situation of the sort after that: hesitation, indecision, moral equivalence.
A recent article in the New York Times has a quote that sums up the president's approach quite well:
Mr. Haass said attention to nuance was a double-edged attribute. “This is someone who, more than most in the political world, is comfortable in the gray rather than the black and white,” he said. “So many other people in the political world do operate in the black and white and are more quote-unquote decisive, and that’s a mixed blessing. He clearly falls on the side of those who are slow or reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you into a more one-sided position than you’re comfortable with.”
That last sentence really says it all.  The president is reluctant to decide because deciding often forces you in to a more one-sided position than you're comfortable with.
Yes, that's what making a decision does.  It forces you into a position rather than standing off and avoiding a decision so you can keep your options open.  Taking a stand requires you to pick that stand and stay with it until circumstances or information has changed sufficiently to justify altering your position.  Not taking a stand allows you to avoid any sort of decision or position at all, and move around.
The latter option feels more intelligent and "nuanced" and its the sort of position that professors and thinkers like to be in.  It isn't necessarily smarter but it feels smarter, and for academics, looks better because, why, there are no absolutes, and nothing is black and white, and we have to take everything into consideration, even the feelings of our enemies...
The problem is, part of being a leader means that you must take positions, you must be decisive, and you must take a stand.  You cannot waffle, wait, try to hold both sides, and nuance when action must be taken.  The famous quote by Teddy Roosevelt applies here: "In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."  
Roosevelt wasn't arguing its a good idea to make bad choices, but that leaders must lead and take positions, and wrong is better than waffling and inaction.  It feels comfortable and superior to sit on the fence and gaze down your nose at everyone, but its not leadership, its not constructive, and it accomplishes nothing.
A few weeks ago I posted a video, a fairly lengthy one, by Evan Sayet which examined why he holds the positions he does on topics and what the left is like inside.  I am hesitant to post videos of that sort without explanation or (even better) a transcript to read, but I was feeling poorly and needed content up.  The video is quite good, and I recommend it highly. I say that as someone who rarely watches videos online, preferring to read.
In it, Sayet argues that the left came to the conclusions they did by examining history.  They decided that in the past, all the best arguments, all the best religious efforts, all the movements and systems failed to accomplish what the left believes they should have.  There still was poverty, oppression, inequality, bigotry, and so on in all of these cultures.
Further, they came to the conclusion that the reason evils such as war, famine, poverty, and so on took place were because of these movements and arguments.  The left argues that because people took these stances and believed in these things, then all the horrors of the world took place.
So they decided the best way to approach the world was to use John Lennon's childish lyrics for the song "Imagine" as a template:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

The left imagined this and thought it was the answer to everything.  If people just stopped believing in, arguing over, and caring about anything, then it would all be wonderful.  We could slip into an eden-like utopian existence of no possessions, nations, beliefs or purpose and everyone would get along in perfection.
This is essentially what men like Rousseau argued centuries ago, believing that native peoples in the third world were living a wonderful happy life of peace and selfless comfort.  That civilization and ideology was what brought evil into the world, and if we could just go back to a time of "savage" life at one with the world around us, all those evils would stop.
Its a position that has a certain charm, when you're too young to understand human nature and have no historical or anthropological comprehension of the brutality, pain, misery, war, and horror that these native peoples lived in, but it is appealing at a certain level.
So the left argues that we should take no hard position on anything.  They argue against everything that people bring up.  If you say Islam is wrong for female genital mutilation, they argue you're bigoted and need to understand their culture, and besides we forced them into it by our white oppression.  If you argue for voter ID, they cry oppression, bigotry, and disenfranchisement.
They want nobody to be for or against anything, because they view that as the source of all horror in the world.
Now there aren't many people who actually and consciously hold to this with deliberate calculation.  Some do - many in the White House right now and in academia - but few on the street.  They've not thought it through to any real degree, they just are holding to positions based on emotion and mostly cheerleading: this is what my side says is right and the other side says is wrong.  My side good, your side bad, who cares why or what it means.
And naturally, no one is consistent in their beliefs, we all are confused and inconsistent to some degree.  But in general, this does describe the exact philosophy - the worldview - that the left follows, if only at an academic level of understanding.
Now, look at what President Obama faces here when he has to make a decision, as he does all day long in his job.  Making a hard statement or decision on any topic violates this basic principle, it is in direct contradiction to his worldview.  Equivocate, nuance, multiculturalize, that's his home and natural thought pattern.  Taking a stance, that's alien to him.  He votes present not out of sloth or inability, but natural inclination: it avoids violating the "Imagine" school of thought.
The rest of the world see this behavior and does not see heroic rising above the usual politics and theater of the presidency, but incompetence, weakness, and inability to do his job.  Which, in fact, it is.  This is why folks like me opposed this man in the presidency, he's not capable of doing it, he's hapless and incompetent.  Its not that he can't learn - the man seems bright enough - but that learning would violate his basic comprehension of the world and inclination.  He doesn't want to change, because he thinks it would be wrong to change.
And the New York Times packs its articles with people who praise and laud this behavior as being smarter and more understanding of the true nature of the world - because it agrees with their worldview.  So we have the leader of the free world unable to lead at a basic, foundational level because he believes leadership is wrong.
And he cannot build any sort of coalition not because he is incapable of being persuasive or making a case, but because he believes he should not make a case.  Some might think that this is out of a fear of being thought wrong or making mistakes, but that's not the origin of his paralysis at all.
Yet as Mark Steyn notes the end result is the same:
The Obama Doctrine - "Don't do stupid sh*t" - has been rendered in non-PG version as "Don't do stupid stuff". But it should be more pithily streamlined yet: Don't do. The Obama "Doctrine" attempts to dignify inertia as strategy. As Noemie Emery writes:
It implies in effect that wisdom is measured in negative energy, that by declining to act one can stay out of trouble, that passivity is the key to a guilt-free existence and a serene and an untroubled world.

Never use force, don't threaten force, and no one will blame you for anything. Pull out of wars and your foes will stop fighting. Don't send men to war and your hands will be clean
When he does take action, such as in Lybia, its not for any particular or specific plan or set of achievable goals, it is to motivate and organize, not achieve.
So if you wondered what on earth was going on with the White House, why this keeps happening, and what on earth the president is thinking, here's your answer.  He's thinking we can't go all inquisition here, we have to be cautious and thoughtful.  He's thinking he can't be a leader, because leaders have fewer options and are taking too strong a position.
And meanwhile, the world burns.

Friday, September 12, 2014

THE CLUNKIEST POST EVER

"Pay cash to destroy valuable assets? Only the government would think this was a good idea."

On July 1, 2009, the Obama administration put into action a bill the Democrat-controlled congress passed called The Car Allowance Rebate System (get it? CARS) or "Cash for Clunkers."  The concept behind this legislation was to get low-efficiency older cars off the road and thus fight climate change while stimulating the economy by increasing car sales.  The US government offered $4500 for any old car turned in, for the use of purchasing a new one.
At first, it seemed great.  A friend who works in car sales said they were selling like gangbusters, moving cars off the lot like crazy.  Then the problems started to set in.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) required dealers to take the used cars in and pay a minimum amount for them, regardless of value or quality.  Then they could apply for the cost to be reimbursed to them from the NHTSA, who took the cars and destroyed them so they couldn't be repaired or used again.  A billion dollars was printed out by the federal reserve and used for this purpose.
Except it took weeks, even months to get the money back for the cars from the government.  Yes, it was their website and administration of the program that was causing the problems.  Sound familiar?  It was a bit of a foretaste of what the Obamacare debacle was going to be like. 
Some lots started to pull out of the program completely because it was too expensive for them to participate and the system too sluggish and poorly run, but the program was amazingly popular with car owners.  Congress soon passed another bill, this time 2 billion dollars worth, to extend the Cash for Clunkers program.  So the fifteen trillion dollar debt was increased by 3 billion for this program alone.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration was reluctant to release information on how well the program was going in terms of reducing pollution, stimulating the economy, and administering the money.  When the numbers were finally released, it turned out the big spike of car sales wasn't as big as initially believed.  In fact the extension was not working out well at all.
And a recent report noted that overall, the revenue for car lots has decreased due to the Cash for Clunkers program, not gone up.  How can this be?
Well for starters, after an initial increase for August, the sales dropped off.  And in fact now used car sales are significantly depressed.  The reason is because of the increased cost for used cars, now rarer and most of the cheap knockers have been destroyed, leaving used car prices at all time high.  In other words, if Joe Poor Guy wants to buy a car, he can afford it even less.
And people are clinging to their current automobiles even more than ever before.  The average age of cars on the road continues to rise as people keep their cars due to economy and the expense of replacing them.  So lots are selling even fewer cars.
Meanwhile the destruction of these old cars has also hurt charities that help the poor by stripping them of potential used cars to sell.  And that $4500 rebate for your junker?  The IRS taxed it.  So the poor were nailed even harder.  So the very people who need the most help and are in the worst trouble yet again are the hardest hit by a well-meaning leftist scheme.
As for the attempt to help the ecology?  Most of the cars purchased in the program were low-mileage vehicles.  To make matters worse, another benefit supposed to come about from the CARS program was increased sales of domestic vehicles (particularly GM), but only 2 were GM cars and most from foreign auto makers.
To sum up, the entire program was a humiliating disaster, like just about every single thing this administration has attempted.  But the voters, we're told, rewarded President Obama with another try.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TORA TORA 9-11

You wanted confirmation, Captain? Take a look! There's your confirmation!

I watched Tora!  Tora!  Tora!  recently.  That movie is supposed to be the most historically accurate and truthful ever made about the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It was an entertaining and informative movie packed with good performances and some of the most spectacular plane crashes and stunts on an airfield I've ever seen.
And at the same time, the sequence of events that led up to the Japanese attack were almost inconceivable.  The level of incompetence, stupidity, bad luck, mistake-making, and almost deliberate failure to let the Japanese attack be so successful defies imagination.  This was one of those legendary sequences where truth is stranger than fiction.
When the radar crew (which stayed longer than their night shift required) spotted the incoming Japanese planes, they were mistaken for B-17s being delivered to the airbase and the radar station was told "yeah?  Well don't worry about it."
When intelligence services using cracked Japanese codes figured that an attack was imminent, they were unable to radio Hawaii about it because the atmospheric conditions were bad.  So they sent a telegram, which was shelved for eventual delivery because it wasn't marked "urgent."
On and on it went, delays, mistakes, confusion, circumstances, almost a perfect set of events that if you read about them in a book you'd complain was too contrived and unbelievable.  That would never happen! you'd cry and close the book in disgust.
But that's what really happened.
And when there was a congressional examination of the events to discover what went wrong, it was done after the war and while blame was assessed, the ones ultimately held responsible were, wait for this... the Japanese who bombed Pearl Harbor.  They recognized failure and incompetence but blamed the people who actually did the act.
Now, fast forward about 60 years and consider a new attack on US soil that killed thousands and demolished millions of dollars of materials.  This new attack was at an economic target instead of a military one, and it actually killed significantly more people (2,403 died in Pearl Harbor, while 3,996 died from 9/11).
When the terrorist attack on September 11th 2001 took place, the accusations and infighting began almost instantly.  President Bush was questioned by the press and the left (but I repeat myself) in America.  The US was blamed for being so mean to Arabs that they were compelled to murder thousands of civilians.
A commission was hastily set up by congress and Democrats used it to try to find fault with the administration and attack it, spending as little time as possible to focus on who were the actual perpetrators and as much time as possible on what would cause Republicans political harm.
The difference between these events is about as stark as possible.  9/11 was far less predictable and there was no catastrophic series of mistakes and confusion, it was very straight forward and extremely difficult to stop.  The Muslim terrorists that were responsible were apologized for, and the Bush administration even began to be blamed for deliberately letting or making it happen.
It was so sad to watch, how far politics had gotten in America by that point, and its only gotten more exaggerated as time has gone on.  I'd like to believe, had the parties been reversed, that Republicans would have behaved better, but I'm highly skeptical.  Its become so important to have power and that position to control so many trillions of dollars that there seems to be no honor or perspective whatsoever.
And that means we've lost a critical part of the soul of our nation.

Monday, September 08, 2014

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: Serial Monsters

"They think African Americans are off killing each other. I don't mean to be brutal here, and it's gonna come off harsh...but the media doesn't see blacks as being smart enough to be serial killers."

Criminal Minds is on Netflix, and I've been watching more TV than usual again lately, as I've been kind of worn down.  So I watched the first season and most of the second last week, interspersed with some other more cheerful television.
Its interesting to watch because the mystery and the processes are intriguing enough, but as usual there are some basic flaws; I can usually figure out the mystery before the FBI super profilers do, and they violate some basic annoying rules of crime TV (particularly with cell phones and computers, although they're better than most shows on computers at least).
And since its TV, the profilers are first through the door to capture the bad guy, rather than cops or actual field agents.  But the most significant thing (aside from the usual 'more bizarre incomprehensible serial criminals than exist in a decade per season' episodes) is the way the cases are presented.  Each year there's been exactly one female villain, and all of them, as in every single last one is white.  Every one.
They mention the DC Sniper regularly in the first year, but never note that he was black (or a Muslim, for that matter).  All monsters, killers, rapists, kidnappers and assorted awful people on the show are white as driven snow.
Meanwhile there's another show on television called The First 48.  This is not the Nolte/Murphy movie, its a sort of documentary of real life police cases following the investigation of criminal cases.  First showing in 2004 on A&E, it shows a continuous documentary of a case, usually the first 2 days, but the format has relaxed over the years.
Unlike Criminal Minds, the show The First 48 is real life.  These are real cases, with real cops, doing real investigation of real criminals doing real crimes.  And there's another major difference.  The Weapons Man notes many significant points shown on that program from real life:
  • Murderers are career criminals, usually. 
  • Criminals are generally pretty stupid people.
  • Most victims don’t die for anything big.
  • There’s usually a lot of emotion involved in a murder. The exceptions are the robberies.
  • If some armed robbers never kill any of their victims, that’s strictly accidental.
  • Victims’ lives often parallel their murderers’, closely. For example, those shot by dope peddlers are usually fellow dope peddlers.
  • The younger the criminal, the more self-centered and depraved he or she tends to be.
  • The entitlement culture is often co-morbid in these young robbers. Sometimes a victim is a “striver,” trying to get ahead by honest means; the murderer never is.
  • Murder is a crime of bad neighborhoods.
  • None of the murderers have ever been productive human beings.
  • Most of the criminals are minorities, by a large margin.
  • No murder ever on that show yet was committed with a Legally-purchased firearm.  Not one.
The stark difference between the murderers on shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order and real life stuff like The First 38 and Cops is pretty stark.  Its not that there aren't any white serial killers, its that most killers aren't white - and the black ones who kill lots of people aren't declared "serial killers" but just murderers who happened to kill several people.
White people tend to commit different kinds of crime, often those which do not carry the same kind of sentence.  Fraud, tax evasion, and other white collar stuff is more typical for white criminals, and those carry fines and other sorts of penalties than murder, rape, drug dealing, etc.  Yes, its true, the justice system is designed to treat rape as worse than insufficient tax payments.  Shocking, but true.
At the same time, most the people who do really sinister, awful things like Ted Bundy or the Green River Killer were white guys.  The ones who do lunatic monstrous things for horrific reasons, the ones who build thrones out of the bones of infants they kill and store body parts in freezers are usually white men.
Women are less often bent in such an evil way; the ones that are typically are hands-off and manipulative; they drive others, weaker people into carrying out these evil acts.  Its not that there never have been any awful female serial monsters (there are more than you would think) or that there are no minorities (again, more than you've been led to believe) but the greater majority are white males.
However, this majority is not disproportionate.  In fact, Ann Todd at the FBI said:
"From the FBI's perspective, there has never been a generic profile of a serial killer and no set of characteristics that someone can  'look out for,' '' she said. "Further, serial killers span all racial groups. There are white, African-American, Hispanic and Asian serial killers. The racial diversification of serial killers generally mirrors that of the overall U.S. population.''
In other words: serial killers are pretty much proportionate to the population.  So out of 100 of them, about 72% are white (of which around 17% are hispanic), about 13% are black, 5% are asian, and about 5% are native American.  So yeah, most of the killers are going to be white because the bulk of the population is still (despite what you might have read in the news or see in entertainment media) white in America.  
85% of serial killers are male, and there has been only one known female serial sexual predator on record (Aileen Wuornos, who was then turned into a film star) and she used prostitution to lure in and kill victims.  However, there have been many examples of women who have killed many people such as Miyuki Ishikawa, a Japanese midwife who is believed to have killed at least 100 infants during the 1940s, who are not usually considered serial killers.
So why is the perception that these monsters are always white dudes and the overwhelming presentation of white guys as serial monsters on shows like Criminal Minds?  In the real Behavior Science Unit at the FBI (which Criminal Minds fictionalizes), Dr Louis Schlesinger notes:
"That is a total, total myth that there are no black serial killers. "There have been black serial killers for many, many years, but they haven't been publicized. The media simply chooses not to focus on them.''
And there you have it.  The thing is, media tends to focus on the spectacular and the unusual.  When some gang banger kills 33 people for the 5th Street Bangaz over 6 years, he's not treated as a celebrity serial killer, he's just some gangster.  But when John Wayne Gacy kills 33 people over six years, he's creepy and interesting.  The Unabomber was attacking public figures and news organizations, and EZ Wayne is killing poor people and other gangsters, who cares?  Or at least the press thinks that way.
There are exceptions of course.  The "Night Stalker" in California was a media sensation, and he turned out to be hispanic.  But the fame occurs before the reveal; like the DC Sniper, who we were assured by FBI profilers had to be a white guy, probably a gun nut.  Not a pair of black Muslims.
And, of course, there's the PC need to not make minorities look bad, out of sympathy for what is considered an oppressed other, and out of the fear of seeming racist.  So its easy and safe to attack white guys, not so much to attack a black woman.
Schlesinger also notes that serial monsters are not especially brilliant, despite their presentation in the media.  They have a normal distribution of intelligence compared to the general population - some being quite stupid, some being very bright, most average.  So again the "super genius serial monster" portrayed again and again on TV is a silly myth.
And, from what I've heard and read from real cops, the random lunatic is much harder to nail than the smart planner.  If you have nothing to go on, if the crimes are sudden and without reason or pattern, they're significantly more difficult to solve than the carefully plotted ones.
The difference between what we're given in media entertainment and what actually takes place in the world is pretty significant.  And its worth considering when you watch your favorite show; how close to reality are they? What are they (deliberately?) changing or avoiding saying and why?  Watch how often the guns used for crimes are owned by people or bought legally.  Watch how many are white guys.  Watch how often the "burglars don't kill" myth is propagated, or the "genius killer" one is offered up.
Because that's not done by mistake or accident.  They're doing this stuff on purpose, and that leaks into our minds and presumptions of the world.
*This is part of the Common Knowledge series: things we know that ain't so.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

OLD HABITS ARE THE BEST HABITS

I have been working on rebuilding the cover to my fantasy novel Old Habits, and Batman picked up a copy.
Shouldn't you check it out too? Its available in print as a paperback for 10 bucks, or as an e-book for $2.99!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

OF CELL PHONES AND BONDAGE

"Dude, whatever"

I don't have a smart phone.  I don't have a phone of any kind, even dumb.  There's a land line in the house, but its not mine.  I don't want a cell phone because I can't pay for the montly fees and I have no practical use for one.  I'm from the generation that grew up before these things became so common, we can get by just fine without them.
If I'm somewhere and want to look something up, I remember it and look later.  If I need to call someone, I can usually find a phone nearby, or do without.  I'm not the President of the United States, I'm not a brain surgeon, I don't run a fortune 500 company; nobody needs to reach me at a moment's notice.
That said, I can see the uses and advantage of having an internet-ready device at my disposal at all times.  There have been times I wish I could look something up on the fly or check on something.  There are times I wish I could fly, too.  I've lived nearly 49 years without either.  But they'd be handy.
The thing is, cell phones are changing society.  They are making an impact on what we do and how and the way we behave socially.  I'm not just referring to effective illiteracy and lack of social comprehension that is beginning to take place in younger people, which I've written about in the past.
 Those things are a concern, but there's more to it.
As I write this, millions of people are scouring the internet trying to find nudie pictures of celebrities such as Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence which were leaked by a hacker.  The hacker or hackers got into the "Apple Cloud" storage and grabbed lots of pictures that these celebrities had uploaded.  Now they're all over the internet.
For most of us its hard to be too terribly dismayed by this news, the narcissism of stars is not exactly unknown and taking thousands of pictures of yourself on your phone is not a sign of a healthy human being.  They might be upset by this, but not too upset, after all no such thing as bad publicity, and beautiful, self-focused people love to be admired.
But there's an aspect to this that isn't well understood by many.  A lot of these stars are saying "but I deleted those!" They are noting that they didn't upload anything to the "cloud," that these pictures were only on their phone.
Except the I-Phone by default automatically uploads your pictures to the cloud, unless you change that setting.  And deleting them off your phone doesn't do anything to that big internet storage waiting to be peeked into by a well-motivated person.
Now, before the advent of the cell phone camera, people were a bit less inclined to take so many pics of themselves, particularly nekkid.  They had to get the pictures processed, usually by someone they didn't know, and hence the possibility of it being stolen or distributed seemed too high to risk it.  There are examples of starlets in the past who got glamourous shots of themselves in the buff for a lover or to make some money before becoming famous, but they are few in example and the pictures limited in number.
Cell phones give a delusion of privacy and personal control which leads people into thinking they can handle all this stuff themselves and nobody else will touch it.  But that's not just ignorant, its potentially damaging.  Hackers are continuously stealing passwords and info from the internet and cell phones to use; identity theft and using peoples' bank cards.
Consider this bit of news by Jack Dutton in the San Francisco Chronicle:
Seventeen fake cellphone towers were discovered across the U.S. last week, according to a report in Popular Science.

Rather than offering you cellphone service, the towers appear to be connecting to nearby phones, bypassing their encryption, and either tapping calls or reading texts.
In addition to the zoning fees and land, a cell phone tower takes about $150,000 to set up.  Seventeen of them, at least - there are likely more as yet undetected - were set up just to hack phones.  Someone though it was worth spending at least two million bucks to do this, and it wasn't for a prank or to post pictures on 4chan.  People believe they have the power to do things privately that they absolutely do not have, simply because of the devices they spend so much time on.
Meanwhile, cell phones are having an impact in other areas.  Consider this video (yes, it has gratitutious, pointless bleeped profanity, to seem "real" and "street" but the point is good):



Having a cell phone means never really needing to plan anything.  You can make it up on the fly.  Why memorize anything, its all in your phone?  Do you even remember peoples' phone numbers any longer?  Do you make lists and remember things or do you just rely on the phone or calling people?
Do you even know how to get across town without using the phone for directions?  If you do, you're probably older than 25.  Do you know how to use a map?  Are you committed to appear places or be at a party or do you leave it contingent on who else will show up or cancel?
We're way past the rudeness of ignoring the people around you to text or look at your phone.  That's so well established and recognized we all know it - it doesn't seem to change anything, but we know it.
The smart phone is an amazing, powerful tool, but it is having far greater impact on the very fabric of culture than any device before it.  And that's worth examining.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

MANN'S MEAN STICK

"It is generally believed in the scientific community, I think, that Michael Mann is a fraud and a liar, as well as a bully."

I've poked a lot of fun at Dr Michael Mann over the years for his insistence on the threat of climactic change caused by human activity.  His name and his work with the Hadley Research Center lends him to mockery (Michael "Piltdown" Mann, from the scientific fraud perpetrated in the same area), and his antics are difficult to not laugh at sometimes.
But there's a more serious side to the story.  Michael Mann's behavior is something that warming alarmists should be looking at more carefully.  He has a serious problem with the truth and with facts, something no scientist should ever suffer from.
I'm not just saying that there are good arguments against his position on climate change.  I mean in his life and actions.  I don't even mean how he deliberately doctored data to get his "hockey stick" graph to work or how he used different sets of data for different parts of the graph to ensure its design would be just how he wanted.  The stick is a flat out lie, it is utterly without scientific merit, as even most alarmists admit now.


I mean the man just lies.  For starters, he claimed to be a Nobel Prize winner.  He does it a lot, and he got Pennsylvania State University to go along with him, publishing his information for the school with that claim.  He never won a Nobel Prize for anything.  The closest he came was working with the IPCC, which won a Nobel prize.  That's like playing for an orchestra that gets a Grammy, then claiming you won it.
And when Mark Steyn called him on it, he didn't admit he was being silly or simply insist it was true, Mann sued Mark Steyn (and several other people) and the case has been dragging along for months now. To make matters worse, Michael Mann did not sue over defamation, but that Steyn must be silenced because he's questioning things Mann has said that the EPA has supported.
In the court case, Michael Mann has continually claimed absurd and absolutely false things over and over again.  Steyn writes (pdf):
In his later court filings, Mann has made equally preposterous and objectively false claims. For example, Mann has claimed that he has been "exonerated" by such bodies as the University of East Anglia, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, and even by the government of the United Kingdom, none of which have investigated Dr Mann at all, never mind "exonerated" him.

The audacity of the falsehoods in Mann's court pleadings is breathtaking. For example, on page 19 of his brief below dated January 18, 2013, he cites the international panel chaired by the eminent scientist Lord Oxburgh, FRS as one of the bodies that "exonerated" him, whereas on page 235 of Mann's own book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, he states explicitly that "our own work did not fall within the remit of the committee, and the hockey stick was not mentioned in the report." It is deeply disturbing that a plaintiff should make such fraudulent claims in his legal pleadings.
Mann's lies continue.  He claims to have been "one of the first to document the steady rise in surface temperatures during the 20th Century" which is not just wrong but akin to Justin Bieber claiming to be the first to use an electric guitar in 20th century music. 
Fellow IPCC scientist who worked with Michael Mann to produce the 2001 report writes:
Regarding the Hockey Stick of IPCC 2001 evidence now indicates, in my view, that an IPCC Lead Author working with a small cohort of scientists, misrepresented the temperature record of the past 1000 years by (a) promoting his own result as the best estimate, (b) neglecting studies that contradicted his, and (c) amputating another's result so as to eliminate conflicting data and limit any serious attempt to expose the real uncertainties of these data.
The Lead Author in question is, of course, Michael Mann.  And in the IPCC report, there was no mention that Mann deleted portions of an expert's report that would have conflicted with his conclusions.  The parts deleted?  The ones that noted how misleading the "hockey stick" graph was.
During the legal process in the United States court system, there is a stage called "discovery" in which all data relating to the case is required by law to be made available to both attorney teams - prosecution and defense in criminal cases, for instance.  However in this instance, discovery means that data that Mann has been zealously guarding to the extent of violating freedom of information law (as admitted in the Climaquiddick emails) and preventing other scientists from getting will be brought to light.  
I'm not making this up.  Michael Mann has fought long and hard (along with many other alarmist scientists) to keep other scientists from being able to look at their work and the data they used to come to their conclusions.  This is such a fundamental violation of every basic principle of science it is amazing to me that they aren't a byword for fraud and deceit in scientific circles.
But discovery forces them to release this data, which is partly why so many people eagerly celebrated Mann's foolish lawsuit.  And his legal team has spent months using every conceivable delaying tactic, legal trick and stunt to stop discovery from forcing Mann to give up his data.
Now step back and look at this objectively.  This guy is the rock star of global warming, he's Mister Climate Change.  There are still some fools out there that swear up and down that hockey stick graph is absolute truth.  Mann is held up as a beleaguered hero of those who F'in Love Science, a man of great learning who is being attacked akin to Galileo.
And this is the man that's being defended.  He's a liar and, by most accounts, a bully that uses his leverage and contacts to destroy people who dare disagree with or question him.  He's the exact opposite of what a scientist is supposed to stand for.
He's becoming an almost infamous liar.  And this is the face of climate change science?  Small wonder that, outside the radical left, climate change has lost almost all of its public support and is no longer even mentioned in entertainment media like it used to be.
Remember, the last time there was measurable global warming, Bob Dole had just picked his running mate against Bill Clinton.  Tupac Shakur was still alive.  Seinfeld was still on the air.
Ultimately, I have to agree with Mark Steyn when he says:
Things warmed up a bit in the decades before the late Thirties. Why? I dunno. The Versailles Treaty? The Charleston?

Then from 1940 to 1970 there was a slight cooling trend. In its wake, Lowell Ponte (who I believe is an expert climatologist and, therefore, should have been heeded) wrote his bestseller, The Cooling: Has the new ice age already begun? Can we survive?

From 1970 to 1998 there was a slight warming trend, and now there's a slight cooling trend again. And I'm not fussed about it either way.
The climate seems to be varying back and forth over time, without any real connection to human activity at all.  Should we as people be better stewards of the world we've been given?  Certainly.  Its irresponsible and dishonorable to do otherwise.  But crying wolf never works out well in the end.