Archive for June, 2007

On The Seattle Schools Decision

Friday, June 29th, 2007

My thoughts on the Supreme Court decision that concludes a seven-year battle by the parents of the Seattle students. The issue is affirmative action, and in the decision under discussion, the Supreme Court struck down a diversifying plan as unconstitutional.

1. There’s a lot of yelling going on, even though if you bother to read the majority opinion, you find the Supreme Court didn’t gut much of anything, eviscerate anything, throw anything out, overhaul much of anything…it simply decided something the way our leftists don’t like things decided, 5-4. Seems to me, the reason we’re hearing so much about it, is in Grutter v. Bollinger it was Sandra Day O’Connor who was a swing vote — she’s no longer there, and now the Court is perceived to have ruled the other way. Panic! But read the decision. The methodology for deciding these issues is substantially consistent with the methodology implemented before. The news is in the politics, and the appearance that the ruling has something to do with changing faces on the Court. It would be difficult to assert that this is really what happened. If that is really what happened, it would further be difficult to assert this is a bad thing. O’Connor’s comments in the majority opinion of Grutter, at least in my mind, represent a potential low point in her career.

2. This decision is unusually hard to find. Every year as the fireworks stands open, the Supreme Court closes out a term and hands down a small picnic-basket of controversial opinions, about which our newspaper colums and our blogs sing the praises, or complain, or which our television pundits then use to predict dire consequences like dogs & cats living together. I find it interesting that with this one, you have to do a great amount of digging to just get past the complaining, and scoop up some raw data you can use to make up your own mind. The decision is Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1, et al, and you can find it here.

3. The Washington Post notes ominously that the decision “culminates a fractious term in which the new Roberts court moved the law significantly to the right.” I, on the other hand, take note of something else: On Planet Journalism, the Supreme Court never moves the law significantly to the left. Didja ever notice that? Our Supreme Court never, ever, ever “moves left.” It issues landmark decisions. When those “landmarks” are found to have started precedent that is open to abuse, or is just plain bad, and the Supreme Court takes action to repair the damage — our journalists somehow don’t see that as plugging a hole in a dam or fixing a leaky hose. It’s always a “shift.”

4. Should I choose to go vertical on the 185-page opinion, and join the ranks of bloggers bloviating about how they would handle it, I’ve got a decision ahead of me: Comment about the Court’s consistency with it’s own jurisprudence, or about the Court’s consistency with common sense. I have never agreed with this business about “compelling interests,” at least as that phrase is used to describe a principle that can be put up against the text of the U.S. Constitution, and emerge victorious. I always found that horrifying. Maybe President Bush should do that with the interrogation of terrorists who want to blow us all up, and with the warrantless wiretapping issue: Government has a compelling interest in providing voters like me, with bodies of dead terrorists, because that’s what we want to see rolling on in when we vote. But I digress.

5. Barack Obama is deeply invested in CALWWNTY: “We have made enormous progress, but the progress we have made is not good enough.” Now I know how intelligent the Obama supporters are, and even more importantly, I know what Obama himself thinks of them. The mindset is so simplistic, the wording so constant, that I’m now closing out a year-and-a-half of lampooning it — and nobody’s bothered to sit down with a thesaurus and find a substantially different way of phrasing it. Let’s face facts: We’ve Come A Long Way, We’re Not There Yet is just another way of saying “I think my supporters are all drooling idiots.”

6. Hillary Clinton remains as consistent as I expect Obama will be, but in a different way. “If HIV-AIDS were the leading cause of death of white women between the ages of 25 and 34 there would be an outraged, outcry in this country.” Clinton is amazing this way. Since 1992, her husband has changed his tactics based on the circumstances at hand, with amazing flexibility — and she herself has frustrated her constituents by waxing and waning in her support of certain causes, like socialized medicine, or finding new ways to hate George Bush. But her political tactic has always been the same: Someone’s overly-privileged, someone’s gotten away with shenanigans, and Hillary’s here to take ‘em down a peg. If the issue under discussion is missing this kind of villain, Hillary will inject a villain into it. You could adjust a precision timepiece by watching her do this. In my lifetime, I don’t think I’ve become aware of a more negative candidate, male or female, for anything.

7. Chief Justice Roberts’ majority opinion is sprinkled with arguments, that appear pretty sound from where I’m sitting, reconciling it with previous decisions on the same issue. This seems to be the source of the criticism from Scalia about which I’ve been hearing so much. For the issue under consideration, I’m not sure the Scalia/Roberts split is as important as it has been made out to be. But the quote of the day has to go do C.J. Roberts, in the second-to-last paragraph of the majority opinion, pp. 40-41: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

8. And as is usually the case, our liberals are sucking wind and exploring ways to chart new degrees of suckage. They’re haughtily intoning to each other, and anyone else paying attention, to be upset and angry about this decision without having read it yet. Observation: Progressive movements are invariably — at least the non-anti-war ones — about curing a social ill. “Curing” is something that, assuming it involves an effective remedy, we are going to presume will involve a diminishing level of intensity and effort over time. You’re out of shape, you’re going to adopt an exercise regimen that will hurt like the dickens at first, but will eventually become second nature. You owe someone a lot of money, you’re going to make regular payments until someday, the last one will have been made. We expect an effective cure to asymptotically diminish in intrusiveness and overall intensity, with the passage of time. It’s just the way cures are supposed to work. Progressive “cures” are never expected to be this way, and nobody’s ever explained why that is, to my satisfaction. Progressive cures for our social ills, championed by the left-wing, have to be exploding constantly. Every year, every decade, every generation: Bigger, broader, more intrusive, more expensive, more in-your-face. This doesn’t impress me as the way an effective remedy is supposed to be.

Update 7-2-07: Wow, did James Taranto ever get a lick in on this:

the most striking dissenting statement in Parents Involved was Justice John Paul Stevens’s conclusion:

It is my firm conviction that no Member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.

There’s a lovely irony in Stevens’s appealing to the authority of dead white males while styling himself the champion of oppressed minorities. But by invoking the ghosts of justices past, Stevens reveals that his views of the subject are rooted in personal preference and not legal principle.

It’s reminiscent of another pronouncement a justice made 15 years ago:

I am 83 years old. I cannot remain on this Court forever, and when I do step down, the confirmation process for my successor well may focus on the issue before us today. That, I regret, may be exactly where the choice between the two worlds will be made.

That was Harry Blackmun in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the “constitutional” right to abort that had sprung from Blackmun’s imagination 19 years earlier. Blackmun retired in 1994 and died in 1999.

Stevens is 87 years old. He cannot remain on this court forever either. Like Blackmun in his twilight years, he seems dimly aware that “law” based on the preferences of men is as evanescent as the lives of men. Only principle endures.

Best Movie One-Liners

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Well, now the innernets are complete; this was the one thing they were missing.

Not a list of one-liners — no, the web is bursting at the seams with lists of things. But an insightful, semi-psychological analysis of what makes movie one-liners memorable and great. It’s sufficiently thorough enough to nudge up against, and some might even say cross, the line that defines something as being actually interesting.

Many one-liners are bad, if treasured, puns (Arnold put his stamp on “You’re fired” long before Donald did). Others display a wit that we might grudgingly concede (“Barbeque, huh? How do you like your ribs?”). The one-liner is also remarkably versatile. It spans the grandiose (“I’m going to show you God does exist”; “I’m your worst nightmare”) to the minimalist (“Get off my plane”; “Whoah”).

I’m going to have to revisit this later when I have the time and attention span to really do it some justice. There are a lot of things you can do with this, not the least of which is to condemn it for failing to list some treasured artifact. And with a cursory read I’m failing to see “Watch out for your cornhole, bud”, and “Around the survivors a perimeter create”.

Watts Up With That?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Via Gerard: The home page of Anthony Watts, a Chico, CA weatherman who’s been picking a bone on the whole global-warming-climate-change subject. His bone to pick is, get this: How are we taking these measurements?

Huh. Well…however you define “earth’s mean temperature,” which is what the whole argument is about — that figure, is nothing more than an average taken of these. So logically, the issue Mr. Watts has raised, can be no less important than climate change itself.

And the facts he’s managed to scare up, are probably more interesting than you might otherwise think.

One of the really odd discoveries that I’ve made while surveying climate monitoring stations around the USA is the fact that many of the official stations are located at sewage treatment plants…this picture comes in today from from surfacestations.org volunteer Steve Tiemeier, who visited the climate station of record located at the Urbana, Ohio Waste Water Treatment Plant:

The small item in the center of the picture labeled “MMTS” is the temperature sensor that is used to submit monthly climate reports to NCDC.

Temp StationNow in case you don’t see some of the obvious problems with this location and why its a terrible place to measure temperature, I’ll list them one by one:

- Sensor is attached to the building, just mere inches away from brickwork
- Sensor is near windows, which radiate heat from heated interior rooms in winter
- Sensor is directly above effluent grates for waste-water, Waste-water is often warmer than the air many months of the year
- Sensor is between three buildings, restricting wind flow
- Sensor is between three buildings, acting as a corner reflector for infrared
- Several exhaust fans near sensor, even though one is disable, there are two more on the walls (silver domes)
- Air conditioner within 35 feet of sensor, enclosed area will tend to trap the exhaust air near sensor
- Sensor is directly over concrete slab
- Refrigeration unit nearby, exhausts air into the enclosed area
- Shadows of all buildings create a valley effect related to sunlight at certain times
- There are two nearby digester pools, which release heat and humidity in the sensor vicinity
- Heat and humidity plume over the site from digesters is often tens of degrees warmer than the air in the wintertime

Something to keep in mind, at least? Maybe to ponder next time you see a Climate Change Chicken-Little hautily scolding you that “The Science Is In On Global Warming”? You decide.

On Skinned Knees and Grubby Faces

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Conn Iggulden is a man on a mission: To round up our boys, pump out all that bad overly-feminine wussiness we all know they’ve been fed over the years like fattened veal calves, and re-inject that rugged, noogie-giving, bug-squishing, “Hold My Beer and Watch This” stuff the Good Lord intended them to have.

He’s written a book, with his brother, called “The Dangerous Book for Boys.”

It’s about remembering a time when danger wasn’t a dirty word. It’s safer to put a boy in front of a PlayStation for a while, but not in the long run. The irony of making boys’ lives too safe is that later they take worse risks on their own. You only have to push a baby boy hard on a swing and see his face light up. It’s not learned behavior — he’s hardwired to enjoy a little risk. Ask any man for a good memory from childhood and he’ll tell you about testing his courage or getting injured. No one wants to see a child get hurt, but we really did think the bumps and scratches were badges of honor, once.

Since the book was published, I’ve discovered a vast group that cares about exactly the same things I do. I’ve heard from divorced fathers who use the book to make things with their sons instead of going out for fast food and a movie. I’ve received e-mails from 10-year-olds and a beautifully written letter from a man of 87.

I thought I was the only one sick of non-competitive sports days and playgrounds where it’s practically impossible to hurt yourself. It turned out that the pendulum is swinging back at last. Boys are different from girls. Teaching them as though they are girls who don’t wash as much leads to their failure in school, causing trouble all the way. Boys don’t like group work. They do better on exams than they do in coursework, and they don’t like class discussion. In history lessons, they prefer stories of Rome and of courage to projects on the suffragettes.

I’ve done very much the same thing with my son, although not on quite so grand a scale. On the Doofus Dad list that was picked up and passed ’round a few weeks ago, there are three or four titles I have never seen. My son came up with those, after seeing them himself, assuring me they all met the criteria.

I walk a fine line. To me, inculcating the boy with my jaundiced sentiments about the feminist movement, crosses the line. But to deny him the observations I’ve made about it over the years, withholding even a smidgen of the things I consciously wish others had taught me when I was his age, seems like a crime. And, sometimes he asks questions — in response to which I can change the subject, tell the truth, or lie. There’s no fourth option.

So in response to “How come you refer to the feminist movement in the past tense, and my Mom doesn’t?” I tell him the truth. I tell him there are revolutions that try to make the world a better place, and there are cynical political movements that just try to accumulate power. When President Clinton mistreated women, and the feminist movement gave him cover, it was revealed as a political movement, nothing more, never mind the good intentions that might have started it. And people gave up on it.

Some folks wouldn’t like that explanation one bit. Some folks think the boy would have a better shot at it being raised in the woods by wild animals. And yet it occurs to me: A father who just regurgitates the crap he’s been fed himself over the years, in order to avoid the wrath of third-parties, must be worth — what? Not a whole helluva lot. I’ve made my share of mistakes as a Dad, but I’m better than that. If it’s the truth he seeks, it’s the truth he shall have.

Not to say I’m unbiased. To the question about whether my bias has ascended to lunacy, my defense plan is to hide behind what other folks are doing, and entertain the time-honored question: Which is worse? And what a stellar example I can capture from the work of Iggulden himself:

It’s all a matter of balance. When I was a teacher, I asked my head of department why every textbook seemed to have a girl achieving her dream of being a carpenter while the boys were morons. She replied that boys had had it their own way for too long, and now it was the girls’ turn. Ouch.

The problem with fighting adult gender battles in the classroom is that the children always lose.

I expected a backlash. If you put the word “boys” on something, someone will always complain. One blog even promoted the idea of removing the words “For Boys” from the cover with an Exacto knife so that people’s sons wouldn’t be introduced to any unpleasantly masculine notions such as duty, honor, courage and competence.

Boys had it their way and now it’s the girls’ turn. Removing “For Boys” with an Exacto knife.

Christ on a cracker, we can get silly sometimes. There’s something going on here, not just with the womens’ movement, but with all those rabble-rousing movements from the second half of the twentieth century. They all seem to have followed the same path: Promoting the interests of a designated class; promoting political movements friendly to members of that designated class; opposing political movements hostile to members of the class; opposing people who are members of other classes — and getting stuck there. Stuck in the role of bringing discomfort and pain to individuals outside the membership, punishing the outsiders for the crime of simply being what they are.

And so in 2007, the feminist movement seems to find it difficult to help little girls without hurting little boys. All these movements engineered to conquer injustice on behalf of pre-defined groups of people…they all descend into a muck of negativity, and stay there like a pterodactyl in a tar pit.

Thing I Know #196. Real freedom is actually pretty boring. It has very little to do with noteworthy events, save for the one event marking its arrival. When classes of people take turns, over time, enjoying special privileges, not one man among them enjoys genuine freedom.

I think the lesson here is pretty obvious: All absolutist statements eventually lead to problems, including this one.

Opening a Beer Bottle

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Via our blogger friend Bartender, we come to find out about the sexiest way to open a beer bottle. I’ll set it up so you can click once instead of twice. You get tired, after all…

You know what…I think I got that one beat.

Let the reader decide.

Memo For File XLIII

Sunday, June 24th, 2007

Evidence arrives to indicate Tom Leykis, some four years and change ago, really pushed the envelope. I haven’t listened to Tom in about a decade, so I didn’t hear the show in question. It seems to be over the line, I’m convinced, even after reading MOJO Radio’s response to an official complaint.

The issue is drunk driving. Actually, that deserves elaboration. The issue is our society’s response to the problem. I can personally testify to the fact that Leykis has been harping on this for years; his politics are way different from mine, but I found him to be entertaining and enlightening, and made a point of catching his show whenever I could while it was playing here.

I can’t think of a more controversial position I’ve heard him take, on anything.

And I can’t think of another issue on which I agree with him more strongly.

Reckless and offensive as this stunt seems to have been, his point is right on the money. As a society, for all the bluster you hear we don’t do anything that seems calculated to mount an effective countermeasure against the drunk driving problem…and we do quite a few things that seem calculated to keep it going strong.

I have a favorite example in mind: Ordering beer with your pizza delivery. Can’t do it. Not in my county; wherever you sit as you read this, you probably can’t either. Now at first glance, this seems like a reasonable and effective rule. Hey it’s Sunday and the game is on, come on over to my place and we’ll get three pies with some brew. After everyone’s smashed and needs to get home, we’ll worry about transportation at that time. So yeah I can see the logic. Such a status quo can lead to nothing but trouble.

My objection is to the absolutism — the notion that if a little of something is good, a lot of it must be a whole lot better, and thus our nascent movement is betrayed by anyone stopping for a moment, for whatever reason. The notion that putting one foot in front of the other a few more times, is always an adequate substitute for thinking. As is so often the case with laws, it is non-productive and even demonstrably counter-productive. Who orders pizzas? A gaggle of guys watching a football game on Sunday…or slobby lazy bachelors without a date on a Friday night who don’t feel like cooking? Really — am I to believe the pizza parlors sit around six nights a week, twiddling their thumbs, waiting for Sunday when the real business starts? That’s just too much for my fragile little mind to absorb. Call me a dreamer, but I think most pizza is ordered by lazy people. No occasion involved. Just don’t feel like firing up the stove. Guys like me.

People who are in for the night.

Want a pizza? No problem, I’ll pick up the phone. Pizza with beer? Sorry. There’s beer in the fridge, or if there isn’t…you go without. Tap water. Milk.

Or…we can go on down to Round Table or Mountain Mike’s, and get a pitcher. C’mon. We’ll drink responsibly, like the commercials say…and with two glasses, maybe three, I’m sure we can limp home. We’ll be there for awhile, right? Four beers over an hour or more, isn’t that okay?

You can probably see my point now. The “no beer with delivery” rule might prevent some instances of drunk driving. Clearly, it might very well be responsible for causing some. A society that is really serious about stopping it from happening, with zero tolerance, ought to at least look into the issue. We don’t.

I don’t remember if Leykis discussed that, but I do remember him talking about this: Insurance premiums. And driving school. Now, if you have a real problem with alcohol and you just can’t be persuaded to stop driving when you’re tanked, these are two big expenses that you’ll have to make room for in your budget. Why? Your lifestyle choice is an ongoing threat to entirely innocent people, and you have to be “stopped” before someone gets hurt…but these things don’t stop you. They get money out of you, they don’t stop you. Stopping you, would be: Your license is gone. If you continue to drive, we’ll take the car. If you’re caught borrowing someone else’s car, you go to prison until someone’s convinced you’re going to change your ways. Which means a life sentence, because there aren’t too many ways to demonstrate that in prison. And if you do happen to get someone killed, you’re put up against a wall and shot.

And then there are bars. Bars with parking lots. Why? If at any given time there are going to be five employees there, there should be five or six parking spots, plus maybe a space for a limo. Of course, if we were to start yanking liquor licenses from establishments that don’t want to tear up their parking lots, we’d hear a lot of protestations about “designated drivers.” This is an entirely legitimate complaint; I’d invoke it myself, and I’d have cause to do so.

But that’s the only way you justify it. And apart from the fact that the designated-driver convention has been open to, and fallen prey to, abuse — now it’s the sole justification for bars to have parking lots. I mean bars — not places where you can pick up television equipment and digital cameras and ice cream and oh by the way, we have Budweiser on tap too. Not those. Bars. Retail establishments that are there for the purpose of serving alcohol.

They have parking lots for the vendors? For the Coors company representative who wants to talk to the owner about a new contract? For the plumber to stop by when the toilets won’t flush? For people who want to drink Dr. Pepper? Give me a freakin’ break.

Those are three things just off the top of my head, that we do or don’t do — somewhat oppositional to the goal of stopping people from getting hurt or killed. If I really worked at it, I could probably keep adding to a growing list all day long.

I was born within a year of Candy Lightner’s daughter. Therefore, I’ve been able to watch the anti-drunk-driving movement blossom from it’s humble beginnings during my early adolescence, after the daughter’s tragic demise, and of course it had a direct bearing on the process to which I was subject when I was first learning to drive. I’ve been fully conscious of this for most of my mortal life, and I think I’m in a position to authoritatively state: Leykis is right. Like so many things we do that are supposed to save lives, it’s a money grab.

That’s not to say the two missions don’t overlap here & there. In the early stages of what’s called “increasing public awareness,” I think those who seek to make a profit pursue a common mission with those who seek to mitigate the danger to innocents. But once we shifted out of that phase, based on what I’ve managed to see, the public-safety objective became secondary, and tragically, random. Maybe, now that we’ve got bushels of public and private bureaucratic machinery in place that’s all expected to do one thing, but is probably engineered to do something else — the time has come to run a complete audit on all of it, every nut, bolt, screw and rivet.

Lyrics to Jaws

Saturday, June 23rd, 2007

Yeah…there are some. Starts to get good after twenty seconds or so, then ascends into the realm of genius.

Is It Getting Warmer?

Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

Quote of the week: U.W. Madison Prof. Emeritus Reid Bryson, speaking about global warming, or as it’s cheerleaders have renamed it to coincide better with ongoing evidence, “climate change.”

Reporters will often call the meteorology building seeking the opinion of a scientist and some beginning graduate student will pick up the phone and say he or she is a meteorologist, Bryson said. “And that goes in the paper as ‘scientists say.’”

The 87-year-old, who founded the department of meteorology at the U.W. Madison, as well as the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, concedes that it is indeed getting warmer.

There is no question the earth has been warming. It is coming out of the “Little Ice Age,” he said in an interview this week.

“However, there is no credible evidence that it is due to mankind and carbon dioxide. We’ve been coming out of a Little Ice Age for 300 years. We have not been making very much carbon dioxide for 300 years. It’s been warming up for a long time,” Bryson said.

The Little Ice Age was driven by volcanic activity. That settled down so it is getting warmer, he said.

Humans are polluting the air and adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but the effect is tiny, Bryson said.

“It’s like there is an elephant charging in and you worry about the fact that there is a fly sitting on its head. It’s just a total misplacement of emphasis,” he said. “It really isn’t science because there’s no really good scientific evidence.”

Interestingly, a lot of scientists are coming out of the woodwork to bluster away about this unqualified yokel — until they figure out that whoever taught those scientists what they know about weather phenomena, were themselves Prof. Bryson’s students. The guy is the freakin’ Yoda of scientific climatology…and he ain’t buyin’ it.

Well, it gets even more interesting than that. Because some climate change skeptics raise some intringuing questions about the recent warming trend itself:

The salient facts are these. First, the accepted global average temperature statistics used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show that no ground-based warming has occurred since 1998. Oddly, this eight-year-long temperature stasis has occurred despite an increase over the same period of 15 parts per million (or 4 per cent) in atmospheric CO2.

Second, lower atmosphere satellite-based temperature measurements, if corrected for non-greenhouse influences such as El Nino events and large volcanic eruptions, show little if any global warming since 1979, a period over which atmospheric CO2 has increased by 55 ppm (17 per cent).

Third, there are strong indications from solar studies that Earth’s current temperature stasis will be followed by climatic cooling over the next few decades.

So says Bob Carter, professor of Marine Geology at James Cook university in Australia. Interestingly, the pro-global-warming tattletale website SourceWatch is mum in Prof. Carter’s case, on what has become an obligatory smear against all climate change skeptics: that he would have been bought-off by the energy industry. There’s no such slur on Carter’s page there. Instead, the onslaught is limited to a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald that Carter “appears to have little, if any, standing in the Australian climate science community.”

If you know SourceWatch, you know this is virtually a compliment. “He got such-and-such a grant from Exxon” would be the attack of choice; “the whitecoats haven’t let him into their club so we shouldn’t listen to him” is decidedly second-rate, used only when the first-tier smear has been thoroughly evaluated for use, and found not to apply.

Okay, so it seems both of these gentlemen are relatively “clean” and can’t be slandered into irrelevance with gossip about industry-funded research. And they’re both saying we really need to look before we leap onto the whole curtail-carbon-emissions bandwagon, in whatever form we’re propositioned to do so.

But amongst the two of them, it seems there is disagreement about whether it’s getting warmer. How do you explain that?

Well, as Dr. Carter himself pointed out, the disagreement is likely illusory because the two authorities are speaking about different timeframes. But I would like to inspect, also, the definition of “it” we are using when we say “it’s getting warmer.” What it? Seems to me, since the Earth is a three-dimensional object, if it is to be considered as a closed ecosystem and we’re going to start hyperventilating with worry and angst because that three-dimensional ecosystem’s “mean temperature” has been ticking upward, we should be measuring all of it. Which means, you pull up an enormous blender, big enough to accomodate the entire planet. Without adding anything or taking anything away, you grind up the entire planet into a liquid puree — once the temperature has been fully stabilized and distributed throughout the contents, you measure it.

By which time, of course, you’ve destroyed the SUV’s and the factories that are supposed to be causing global warming so you can’t test the theory anymore…besides of which, you probably can’t find a blender that big. But you find a way to do the equivalent. Which would yield a “mean temperature” of nine or ten thousand degrees Fahrenheit.

You know what?

That’s probably not what scientists are talking about when they say “mean temperature.”

But that’s about the only definition of it that can be produced, with real scientific merit. Nothing else takes into account all of the matter that contributes to the ecosystem. And if you aren’t going to do that, what you’re then going to do is disregard distribution, convection, wakes, currents…all the stuff that climatology is. You would be doing what I suspect our climate eggheads really are doing: Measuring “local” temperature, wherever the instrumentation happens to be, and calling it gobal temperature.

Averaging it out not according to heat density of the surrounding matter, but according to where the readings may be taken.

How far down? Well, you can stop wherever you want, to give the final result an alarming twist that will end up getting your name in the paper. Sea level…a hundred feet above…fifty feet below…if nobody’s calling you on it, you can measure it however you want. So I guess I’m calling the whole notion of a “mean temperature” into serious question here.

And that seems fair, from where I sit. The agent whose readings are going to be most drastically affected by the questions I’m raising, it seems, is sea water. Ya know what? I’m not a scientist myself, but I know water weighs a lot. And every pound of it, can absorb a lot of energy without much temperature variance. If you switch to the metric system it gets really easy: Just a gram of water will tick upward by one degree Celcius, for every calorie absorbed. One degree, in that situation, is a whole lot less than the temperature differential you’ll measure in a gram of — let’s say — sand. Or asphalt, or dirt.

The issue is heat density. Your satellite measures a heat differential over a square kilometer; you have to ask, a square kilometer of what? Peat bog? An empty lot? Water? If water, then how far down does it go? There are a lot of ways you could settle this; most of those methods, the least expensive ones, are going to be utterly invalid, contaminating your entire “model” or experiment. And I don’t see anyone speaking to that anywhere.

But they’ve “proven” an increase of 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit over a hundred years. There. That might be why there’s disagreement about why it’s getting warmer. Meanwhile, the “proof” is there, so I’m supposed to join everybody else, fling spittle around, and panic. Pardon me if I’m a little slow to climb on board.

But anyway. These are just some of the questions I have, assuming that we’re all settled on the notion that global warming is really taking place. Our skeptics aren’t settled on that…and the cheerleader-chicken-littles aren’t settled on it either, for if they were they wouldn’t have renamed it to “climate change.”

Oh, and one other little thing from Bob Carter’s column that bears some emphasis:

As leading economist David Henderson has pointed out, it is extremely dangerous for an unelected and unaccountable body like the IPCC to have a monopoly on climate policy advice to governments. And even more so because, at heart, the IPCC is a political and not a scientific agency.

Um, yeah. High time someone raised that as an issue. But I doubt we’re ready for it, because we’re still stuck in the mold of watching movies made by former presidential candidates and calling them “documentaries.”

And, might I add…driving monster vehicles that get about eight-miles-a-gallon to the theaters to see those movies.

See, we like to think we’re treating this “scentifically,” or that if we’re not, at least the “scientists” who are trying to get us all scared and riled up, are doing that. We like to think that. But that isn’t what’s really going on, and deep down I think just about everyone understands that. It’s a fairy tale, and it’s getting more and more popular because the line between “scientist” and “politician” is quickly eroding. That is a climate change that should be capturing more of our attention.

Happiness Is Paying Your Taxes

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

Aw…would you look what our clipboard-carrying, white-coat-propeller-beanie wearing researchers have done this time.

Contrary to the common notion that paying taxes can be a painful experience, researchers at the University of Oregon say the practice actually may trigger feelings of satisfaction and happiness.

“Paying taxes can make citizens happy,” Ulrich Mayr, a professor of psychology, said in a release accompanying the study in the Friday issue of Science.

Now when we all have to pay taxes, do I really have to have some letters after my name to criticize or to question this? I mean, really? Because on tax day I’m lots of things, but I don’t think you could call any of those things “happy.”

Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology, the researchers observed the brain activity of 19 women who were given a balance of $100 each. The researchers created the effect of taxation by making mandatory withdrawals from their account. The withdrawn money was actually sent to a food bank’s account.

Participants also made additional choices about whether to give away more money or keep it for themselves.

The article then goes on to explain why all nineteen of them were female, and whether they were drifting though their financial life-circumstances like dandelion seeds, or whether they had some real hard-and-fast responsibilities to fulfill of their own. Or something in between.

Oops! I made that up. No, the article doesn’t explain any of that. So…these are nineteen enterprising female students, working their way through college while holding down two or three jobs apiece, supporting massive families of babies and toddlers all by their lonesomes, living on Top Ramen with mean old landlords hassling them for money…or, not one of the nineteen has any responsibilities to meet, whatsoever. Which means, of course they’d get warm fuzzy thoughts giving it away. ‘Cause otherwise, y’know, they’d have to find something to do with it.

Or anything in-between those two extremes.

The resolution to which…on the planet from whence I come…this would have an effect on what is to be learned from the research.

But not on planet Oregon-Pinko-Commie-Researcher-land, nosiree! Nineteen women, that’s all ya need to know.

“The fact that mandatory transfers to a charity elicit activity in reward-related areas suggests that even mandatory taxation can produce satisfaction for taxpayers,” the study said.
:
Mayr said the findings show people are willing to pay their taxes as long as they support good causes. The authors noted, however, that the results may have differed if people had been presented with a tax that seemed less fair or benevolent.

So in other words, the research doesn’t prove or suggest jack-squat. People feel good when required to make mandatory donations, so long as the funds are used in a manner that meets their liking. So to feel happy, they don’t have to choose whether the funds are spent, but they do want to choose where the funds go.

People — women — like to spend money.

I hope they didn’t spend a lot of time or energy figuring that out.

I find it interesting that the research could have been so much more explosive and charged with not-so-phony importance, if they just took it one teeny tiny step further. What parts of the brain start getting tingly when the money goes to bad places? That would have made more of an issue of the involuntary nature of taxes, I think all would agree.

Or how about when the money goes to a program that does or does not meet your approval…and, once there, it gets wasted on graft, fraud and corruption? What if the waste takes place because of a lack of controls you just know would have been in place, at least to some extent, had the money been spent in the private sector?

But stopping where it seems to have stopped, the research tells us next to nothing.

Well, it does tell us one important thing. It tells us our clipboard-carrying white-coat-propeller-beanie-wearing researchers can miss important points, points that rob all the value that might have been left in the research they’ve been trying to do.

We see it in the executive summary of the study being explored…

Civil societies function because people pay taxes and make charitable contributions to provide public goods. One possible motive for charitable contributions, called “pure altruism,” is satisfied by increases in the public good no matter the source or intent. Another possible motive, “warm glow,” is only fulfilled by an individual’s own voluntary donations. Consistent with pure altruism, we find that even mandatory, tax-like transfers to a charity elicit neural activity in areas linked to reward processing. Moreover, neural responses to the charity’s financial gains predict voluntary giving. However, consistent with warm glow, neural activity further increases when people make transfers voluntarily. Both pure altruism and warm-glow motives appear to determine the hedonic consequences of financial transfers to the public good. [emphasis mine]

It’s a thought process that ends up precisely where it began. The assumption is made that when you pay taxes, you are directly contributing to some nebulous concept that is haphazardly summarized in the words “public good.” The assumption is further made, and it seems not to be contested anywhere, that charitable contributions and taxes are responsible for the functioning of “civil societies.”

Appearances being any indication, it hasn’t even occurred to the propeller-beanie-wearing researchers that some of us might possibly have questions or issues about this.

Or that “public good” is a subjective concept, not an objective one. For example…our government now-and-then funds programs overseas to assist the indigent in family planning. This education includes abortion counseling, so whenever a Republican President is sworn in he invokes or reinstates a ban on the program, and whenever a Democrat President is sworn in he repeals the ban. That’s because some among us think these programs are in harmony with the public good, and others of us think it is oppositional to that public good. See, it’s an opinionated thing…decided by values that are ingrained deep within the personality and ethical/philosophical values embraced by that individual. There are many more issues just like this one; I’m simply picking out the one whose support, or whose opposition, is the most deeply offensive to selected subsets of the electorate.

This is, I would suggest, all of what meaningfully separates private donations from public ones. In the former, you get to decide what is good; in the latter, you don’t.

By failing to take this into account, the researchers have released a study that essentially reports on exactly what I’ve crudely summarized above: Whether our gals like to spend cash on things.

Why were they all female, anyway? It’s disturbing that this is never explained. It almost looks like they were trying to figure out how the two sexes react differently to a situation, and stopped halfway through. Maybe in the days ahead we’ll get an answer to that.

Whiskey…Tango…Foxtrot… XIII

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

I always suspected as much: All these various left-of-center causes, from socialism to vegetarianism to driving-a-hybrid to the hostility against religion, are really all about one thing: Nihilism. Becoming a zero. Slipping through this existence like prunes through your digestive tract, leaving not a single trace that you were ever here.

I need suspect no more. Now I know.

North Americans who spend their lives reducing, reusing and recycling can keep doing their bit for the environment after they die, if Europe’s “green funeral” trend makes its way across the Atlantic.

Canadian activists say green send-offs could help the dead contribute to a sustainable environment, with funerals that use shrouds or biodegradable containers and involve no embalming, no headstones and no grave linings.

“Having a green burial is one more thing a person can do to lessen the impact we’re having on our environment,” said Dorothy Yada of the Memorial Society of British Columbia.

Ugh. It’s the ultimate in bathosploration, something like a cartoon character jumping into a hole, reaching up, and pulling the hole in after himself. Maybe I should retract that prune analogy; prunes leave something of an aftertaste. So there’s no carcass and therefore no space being occupied, therefore no plot, no tombstone. Just memories and a eulogy that reflects those memories. Uh, what’s the eulogy going to be if these activists have their way? “He was relatively harmless”?

You know what is so attractive about offering the opportunity to people to eliminate themselves? Here’s my theory: It’s not the objective of quiet self-destruction itself, it’s the political movement that always seems to be attached to it. When you tether a political movement to this nihilism, it greatly enhances the potential of that political movement as a contagion. If someone suggests to you there’s no afterlife, and maybe your legacy should be a great big fat nothing, not even ashes or a tombstone, so you lose everything, your consciousness, your remembrance, your corporal remains, and go away entirely — and you agree with all this — you will sustain a white-hot angry quiet rage at anyone who does not.

Human nature. You’ll be seething with anger about this every single time. You see yourself going away, and that someone else, with values antithetical to your own, will not be. This sets people off.

There will be family bickering. If the “green burial” movement really takes off, there will be more and more of it.

And with the passage of time, the hold-outs will be seen as the cause of the bickering. That’s human nature too, you know. People who want to just keep on doing things they way they were already doing them, are often seen as the cause of discord, when all they really want to do is mind their own business and hope everybody else will mind theirs. It’s the way people are; a hot new thing comes along, and somehow, anybody who doesn’t want to try it is seen as a troublemaker.

I have to admit I’m a little divided on this. Not on whether I want to do it myself, but on whether it’s a “live and let die” situation. I’m just having a tough time envisioning how you can cheapen death without ultimately cheapening life. We seem to be getting perilously close to a Soylent Green society, and I’m worried that if too much more of this kind of creativity is shown, future generations are going to wonder how anybody could have found that old movie to be creepy in the first place. They won’t get it.

This brings us within spitting distance of that? I dunno. It certainly isn’t pushing us any further away from it.

This Is Good XL

Saturday, June 16th, 2007

Some other fellow who shares my obsessive-compulsive disorder for making lists, has jotted down what he hates about the innernets and he did an outstanding job.

I know this is a good list, because I agree with everything on it.

Especially these three:

2. Europeans
Especially the ones who blame all of the world’s problems on America and thus all Americans as well. You people know who you are. You’re just lucky there was no internet during WWII. Enough said there.
:
7. Advertisements with sound
…Whoever the mastermind was behind these advertisements should be hunted down and killed like the animal he or she is. Preferably tortured first. For a long time. A very long time.
:
9. LoL
Everyone knows you aren’t laughing, so why feel the need to lie about it?

The Doofus Dad List

Friday, June 15th, 2007

Father’s Day is coming, and it’s time to take note again of the Doofus Dad movie craze.

Very often in polite company, I’ll be compelled to share my distaste for “Doofus Dad” movies with the uninitiated, when I’d much rather not. It usually happens when a new movie comes up in conversation and inquiries are made as to whether or not I’m planning to go. When you’re a parent, that happens a lot.

I maintain that’s one of the reasons we make so many movies for kids in general. A trailer comes on the boob-tube, for a grown-up movie — it’s obviously a cheap production, and there’s little to no sign anybody’s put much creativity or thought into it. So we won’t talk about that. But if it’s a kids’ movie, that all changes. It becomes not an “if” but a “when”…When are you gonna go? After all, it’s a “fun” movie, and what monstrous parent would dare to deprive his little crumb-catchers from having fun?

But I digress. There is a subclass among these moppet-movies that disturbs me in particular. It can be defined by these criteria:

1. There is a father figure
2. He is a source of drama because of his proclivity for doing things the protagonist(s), his child(ren), don’t want him to do.
3. He’s motivated by incongruous values, or else he’s stupid, or a social embarrassment, or some combination of those three.
4. Fifteen minutes before the closing credits he has an “OMIGOD!” moment and resolves to mend his ways.
5. He and his family enjoy a newly-strengthened relationship, reinforced partly by his improved behavior, and partly by his family’s lowered expectations for him.

It’s human nature to object when other people notice something first. YOu know what they say about the frog in the pot of water. It seems when another frog points out “Hey, it’s getting a little warm in here,” denial is always the first chapter in the adventure of education. But of course that doesn’t last long. The examples are incredibly numerous, and not only that, but a casual observer will notice they’ve been produced at an exponential rate lately.

1. About Schmidt (2002)
2. Adam’s Rib (1949)
3. Big Daddy (1999)
4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the new one) (2005)
5. Cheaper by the Dozen II (2005)
6. Christmas with the Kranks (2004)
7. Cops and Robbersons (1994)
8. Daddy Daycare (2003)
9. Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood (2002)
10. Dolores Claiborne (1995)
11. Elf (2003)
12. Fargo (1996)
13. Father of the Bride: Old one (1950), new one (1991) and sequel (1995)
14. The First Wives Club (1996)
15. Fried Green Tomatoes (1991)
16. Getting Even with Dad (1994)
17. The Godfather, Part III (1991)
18. The Graduate (1967)
19. The Great Santini (1979)
20. Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)
21. The Haunted Mansion (2003)
22. Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
23. Hook (1991)
24. House Arrest (1996)
25. The House of the Spirits (1993)
26. The Incredibles (2004)
27. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)
28. Jack Frost (1998)
29. Jingle All the Way (1996)
30. Kicking and Screaming (2005)
31. The Little Mermaid (1989)
32. Man of the House (1995)
33. Meet the Parents (2000)
34. Mr. Mom (1983)
35. Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)
36. My Father, The Hero (1994)
37. Multiplicity (1996)
38. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
39. One Hour Photo (2002)
40. Overboard (1987)
41. Papa’s Delicate Condition (1963)
42. Parenthood (1989)
43. Rebound (2005)
44. Robots (2005)
45. The Santa Clause (1994)
46. Say Anything (1989)
47. She’s Out of Control (1989)
48. Shrek II (spoiler) (2004)
49. The Shining (1980)
50. Sky High (2005)
51. Signs (2002)
52. The Spongebob Squarepants Movie (2004)
53. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
54. The Stupids (1996)
55. Superdad (1973)
56. Take Her She’s Mine (1963)
57. Thelma and Louise (1991)
58. True Lies (1994)
59. War of the Words (the new one) (2005)
60. The World According to Garp (1982)

So the most common question I get about it is — I guess this is Chapter Two — “What’s wrong with that?”

Apathy after ignorance, I guess. Well, I have an answer; three, actually.

Before I get into those, however, I should take just a second to point out exactly what is happening here. It has lately become fashionable, I notice, to do what’s called “bashing the corporations.” This is an ancient international pastime that waxes and wanes in American culture as the years roll by. You point out someone who’s trying to make a buck, who already has quite a few bucks, and then you bash them. Usually, you’ll end up bashing a “corporation,” because a corporation is a legally-recognized entity that exists for the purpose of turning a profit.

This makes it rather silly to bellyache when you see them making money, since that is what they are supposed to do. But for people who are too slope-headed to get that, it makes the examples far more numerous.

But anyway, the way that connects back to the main point, is this: Hollywood traditionally escapes this leisure sport. It’s an industry like any other. I say “Hollywood,” and I’m not describing just a bunch of people and businesses in the Los Angeles area, I’m describing the Entertainment industry wherever it may be found. Nobody seems to have harsh words against our television and movie industries for trying to make a buck, even as they denounce oil companies for doing exactly that. I never got that. Tinseltown shows you a movie; Exxon gives you the fuel to go where the movie is playing, so you can see it. Practically, if you’re looking for someone to bash, there’s no difference between the two.

But somehow we turn a blind eye when Hollywood makes money. Which means we tune out when it does morally questionable things to make that money.

All of which means, even though it should be obvious what’s going on here, it still bears pointing out.

Hollywood is financially invested in destroying — not just fatherhood — but authority in general. It turns out that children in a dysfunctional society will be available to watch movies much more often; they will have more cash to spend on those movies. If you’re a kid, and you have a healthy relationship with your parents, the movie theatre will just be one notch on a whole merry-go-round of things you can do together. But if there’s intergenerational discomfort in the household — it seems it’s another weekend, another movie or two.

Well if you were Hollywood, what would you want to have happen? Every time you give the green light on something it’s another couple hundred million bucks, and you don’t know if you’ll make it back or not. So Hollywood wants a dysfunctional society. It needs one. You’ll notice this about Doofus Dad movies if you see enough of them: A lot of the time, one of the big issues the family has with Dad, is he’s promoting competition and self-improvement. The Doofus Dad movie comes along, and illuminates this not only as a pain-in-the-ass, but as something with some vague, poorly-defined capacity for causing lasting psychological issues and emotional distress. By closing credits, the family becomes close-knit again when people lower their expectations not only of their patriarch, but of themselves as well. The whole point to life is to simply…be. And be happy.

Once you invest our entertainment industry with the authority to tell us what life’s all about — what other answer would you expect it to give?

And so we have the Doofus Dad movies. Now, what’s written above doesn’t bother me too much, even with the deleterious social ramifications as our society is lowered into an abyss of anarchy. We’re not supposed to be a buckle-shoe puritan society, after all, and there’s a fine line between the glorious tossing of tea into Boston Harbor, and the complete demolition of all things civilized until we live in a “Lord of the Flies” environment. Those two scenarios are close cousins. There’s a limit to how much good authority is going to do us — this is, after all, a nation started by a tax revolt. I get all that.

But there are three big problems with what is rapidly becoming a tradition of Dad-bashing.

1. It turns friendly, healthy and mature kids into buttholes.
Many among us put vast reserves of energy into being the best dads we can be, but are condemned to lord our benevolent patriarchal energies over divided households. Kids, as any parent knows or will learn quickly, are “wired” to do certain things. They have programming. One of the programs they have, has the function of “cementing” their blood parents into the roles those parents are supposed to have. Kids, it turns out, understand that divorce is a bad thing and have an instinct for wanting to reverse it.

This causes things like — my son, who by nature is very well-mannered, sometimes shuts my girlfriend out when she’s trying to talk to him, and I’m told he’s a complete dickhole to his stepfather sometimes. A quick survey of other children of broken homes will reveal this isn’t entirely conscious behavior. It’s too consistent. Kids are dicks to step-parents; it’s their way. They’re supposed to be that way.

This creates difficulties for all concerned. We have to be committed to our households, but those households are built on the foundations of other households that came before. This is an engineering flaw. We can triumph over it, of course, and the flaw is of our making, not Hollywood’s.

But we need all the help we can get. And it doesn’t help when our kids are taught to regard respect for parental authority as chaos, and rebellion as some perverted kind of order. Not when the purpose of a given outing, on their own or with the parents, is to be entertained.

Towards the end of a childhood, the child becomes a teenager. If peevishness is to be precious, we’re about to get all we can handle. We don’t need more.

2. It preaches an entirely false notion of humility.
I think this is most treacherous. Since Biblical times, storytellers have told stories about people who thought they knew what was going on and what to do, and were benevolently counseled by ongoing events not to take themselves too seriously.

The “Doofus Dad” takes that tradition and sends it ’round a questionable corner: The character who learns not to take himself too seriously, is enshrined in a familial position designed to keep audience members from relating to him too closely. Because of this, it seems we’ve been worshipping humility at the same time as we’ve been rejecting it.

Think on this example: What if you were to greenlight a movie about a “Doofus Mom” or a “Doofus Kid”? That would not turn out well of course…and why not? Because movies are made for women and kids now. You would be asking the audience to consider the lessons of humility in an old-school way — directed toward themselves. That’s what humility used to be. We seem to have watered it down a bit…humility is something for outside parties to practice now.

I perceive that if the art of storytelling were to revert to it’s old ways, and re-inject the “I’m talking to YOU” aspect of humility-stories, our modern generation would find it a little too thick and sour. We’re on guard against taking “oursevles” too seriously, but not as individuals. The ability to laugh at yourself and see your imperfections, it appears, is something the other fellow is supposed to have.

I think that’s exceedingly dangerous. We get to congratulate outselves on being humble, without knowing what that really is.

But I take this last one most personally:

3. It wastes my money.
Because I’m a cheapass. When I drop some good coin for the purpose of being entertained, dammit, that’s what I expect I’m getting.

Especially on Father’s Day!

Gore Lied, People Died

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

I’ve long ago given up trying to figure out how they get away with it.

I’m talking about politicians changing their minds about things — on a philosophical level. Now granted, I got some things I do differently than the way I did’em fifteen years ago. But I got other things I do the same way. And I’m not a loudmouth politician giving an entire country migraines until it does things the way I want them done.

Contrasted with that, we have all these so-called “leaders” who are supposed to be leaders because they’ve got vision and integrity, not because they’ve got gift-of-gab. And the leaders change their minds. Rather shamelessly, in my view. Everybody, with the capacity to win an intellect-based competition against a rotten turnip, understands these faux-leaders change their positions because of political exigencies, not because of new information, new life-lessons, or because a given course of action was lately found to contradict with some enshrined and revered principle.

Everybody gets this…I think.

But our politicians get called out on it only when they have something besides the letter “D” after their names. For example, President Bush and his comment about “nation-building.” With Iraq ‘n everything, you might see how there’s been a problem with that.

And President Bush has been criticized for it. In response to which, he and his defenders point to September 11, 2001, which “changed everything.”

It’s a stale argument. But it’s a legitimate one.

Contrasted with which…recent events have provided necessities contradictory to Mr. Gore’s change-of-tack. His rather embarrassing about-face, which I discovered on YouTube via blogger buddy JohnJ at RightLinx, is…well…I’m pretty sure that, aside from “right-wing” blogs, you’re not going to find out about this.

Would you be prepared to write a thousand-word essay arguing that this is somehow irrelevant? I hope so. Because a lot of television and newspaper editors are ready to hand down a decision saying exactly that. And I honestly don’t know why.

For The Anti-Death-Penalty Types XII

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

This is good. Usually when I write a headline like that, someone got killed or badly hurt.

Now, we got another occasion for our anti-death-penalty types to learn a thing or two…and nothing happened. Nothing except a bunch of the white coat wearing, clipboard carrying, propeller-beanie scientists putting out one of them smart-college-guy type of reports, and guess what it says?

Studies Say Death Penalty Deters Crime

Anti-death penalty forces have gained momentum in the past few years, with a moratorium in Illinois, court disputes over lethal injection in more than a half-dozen states and progress toward outright abolishment in New Jersey.

The steady drumbeat of DNA exonerations — pointing out flaws in the justice system — has weighed against capital punishment. The moral opposition is loud, too, echoed in Europe and the rest of the industrialized world, where all but a few countries banned executions years ago.

What gets little notice, however, is a series of academic studies over the last half-dozen years that claim to settle a once hotly debated argument — whether the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder. The analyses say yes. They count between three and 18 lives that would be saved by the execution of each convicted killer.

I would hasten to add, I hope this didn’t chew up a lot of dollars or take a great deal of time.

With the grittiest determination, just how complicated can we make this. I want to kill someone…you take the last guy who killed someone, and re-enact that scene from The Green Mile…I see it…am I deterred or am I not?

But wait. There’s more.

What the death penalty actually is, is pretty easy to figure out. Some guy did something wrong, he went through due process, got his automatic appeals and so forth…he’s alive…you do something to him…he’s dead. Simple. Inwardly, we all understand what’s involved here.

A little bit harder to define, and we touched on this in a previous post, is this thing we call “science” and all the stuff that goes along with that. Research. “Data.” And I find this passage very telling.

The reports have horrified death penalty opponents and several scientists, who vigorously question the data and its implications.

On this weird little planet on which I live, this is the real story. Just who are these “scientists” and how much of a practice have they been making of doing this? I mean, mixing up questions about data with questions about implications of the data. What have they been doing with valid data that present implications they happen to dislike? I mean, they’ve been doing something different with that data, than they do with data that have more palatable implications, right?

I would think, regardless of your feelings about the death penalty, it would behoove you to keep this in mind next time you read a “report” about ethical problems with the death penalty, societies being made safe without a death penalty, etc. etc. etc. We seem to have here a process in which data are dismissed based on the social implications that follow if that data are seriously considered. The article has betrayed this accidentally and mentioned it only in passing…so how many scientists do this, and which ones they are, I cannot say. But this would have to have a contaminating effect on the data that remain, as well as any conclusions that follow.

Best Sentence XIII

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

The Best Sentence I’ve Heard Lately award goes now to Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) President James Tonkowich, testifying before the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works last Thursday, about which we learned via blogger friend Rick at Brutally Honest:

The kind of radical fideism that some evangelical Christians are exhibiting toward catastrophic global warming is a betrayal of science and a betrayal of the Christian intellectual tradition. It is a betrayal of science because science is not about voting. Science is about facts, interpretations of those facts, and conclusions that either align with reality or don’t.

This bears repeating. What was that again?

Science is not about voting.

Lest I be accused of beating a dead horse: This is not something we’ve often pondered over our nationwide, multiple-generations-long argument about climate change f.k.a. global warming f.k.a. oncoming ice ages. This point has seldom been made, and when I do see it made, it seldom sticks. Instead, what I see is the protagonist says “drastic action is needed because all the scientists agree” and then the antagonist, who could very reasonably reply “science is not about voting,” is compelled instead to supply a list of names of scientsts who do not agree. Usually, the protagonist will then respond with a screed against these scientsts who fail to agree, instructing the rest of us to ignore the maverick scientists because they’re stupid, they’re evil, they’re stupid/evil, there’s hard evidence they are “on the payroll of Haliburton and Enron,” or if there is no such muck that has been raked then surely it is forthcoming.

Lost in the flotsam and jetsam, is that simple declaration that in a saner universe, would up-end the entire argument and send it cartwheeling into the nearest ravine: Science is not about voting.

Science really isn’t about figuring out “what must be done,” either — and that is a lesson that could be better learned by some prominent officials in some very high places.

In fact, the whole climate change thing has been suspiciously quiet on exactly two subjects, on which it seems to me it ought not be. And those two subjects are: What is it that suggests to us we’re about to slip past some point of no return should no action be taken…and how do we know that we have not yet? I notice that the scientific mindset, prior to getting all screechy and agitated about our public policies and going supernova with some actvist fervor, would have to be satisfied on those two premises: Continuation of our current behavior, unaltered, will surely lead to catastrophe; and there is still time to mend our ways.

I don’t even see those two presumptions being debated anywhere. Not scentifically. I see charts and graphs and a bunch of allegations that “all the scientists agree” that, when I check’em out, turn out to be codswallop. I see ad hominem attacks. Oh, and I see scientific “experts” who are actually on someone’s payroll…on both sides.

When someone tells me what they know and how they know it, it all boils down to this: The “mean temperature” went up by a degree or so over the last century. That’s all.

And when I start asking probing, scrutinizing questions about what a “mean temperature” really means in a large ecosystem on the crust of a rocky sphere with a nine-thousand-degree liquid iron core, very few people can answer me, and the ones who can, reveal that “mean temperature” doesn’t scientifically describe something with such rustic simplicity, and with such surgical precision, as to justify adrenaline and panic when it meanders upward by a single notch. To put it simply, we really know very little, and it would be fair to replace the word “little” with “nothing.”

Ritalin Use Doubles After Divorce

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

That is…children of divorced parents use Ritalin twice as much as children of non-divorced parents. What could this possibly mean?

Perhaps the disabilities addressed by Ritalin are not twice as prevalent among divorced children, it’s just that divorce tends to bring the needed medical/psychiatric attention to these needs, attention which is being systematically denied to children growing up in intact homes.

Or perhaps divorce traumatizes children and tends to manufacture learning disabilities that did not exist previously.

You want my opinion?

All right…you realize, that this is The Blog That Nobody Reads — written by some guy with a high school education. No credentials in anything. Which means nobody’s gone out on a limb and stated for the record that I know anything. It also means I have nothing to lose. And the case could be made, that people with impressive credentials have become plentiful and rather cheap. Whereas people who think things out, and have nothing to lose from saying what they’ve figured out…well, at the risk of sounding immodest, I would hazard a guess that our class has become a little bit more rare and precious, “blogosphere” phenomena notwithstanding.

Here’s my take on why the study found out what it found out. Just bear in mind…I never said you were going to like it.

I have already addressed this somewhat. The study gives me cause to think about Thing I Know #179, which says

Children seem to be “diagnosed” with lots of things lately. It has become customary for at least one of their parents to be somehow “enthusiastic” about said diagnosis, sometimes even confessing to having requested or demanded the diagnosis. Said parent is invariably female. Said child is invariably male. The lopsided gender trend is curious, and so is the spectacle of parents ordering diagnoses for their children, like pizzas or textbooks.

Let’s leave that last part out of it. Obviously, there are ethical issues involved with a parent waltzing in to a doctor’s office and intoning something to the effect of, “I would like my child to be diagnosed with xxx and I would like him to get a prescription for yyy.” It’s simply not supposed to work that way. And on the record, I’m sure it doesn’t. The same way I’m sure politicians never find jobs for their mistresses who’ve done the best job of sucking their dicks. And then reality beckons…politicians do find jobs for their fellating girlfriends, and doctors do write prescriptions based on a parent’s demand and nothing else. I think we should leave it aside, because there are other things I want to address, and I think in the decades to come that issue will work itself out.

Let’s just agree on this: Kids have a disability that calls for Ritalin, when an adult in a position of authority says they have such a disability. It’s a subjective thing. A child matures from his mother’s uterus, to the first drink his daddy buys him for his 21st birthday. This is a spectrum of responsibilities that increase over the timespan in question. Just as the fuselage of a jet aircraft becomes warmer as the speed of the craft increases, the child generates friction and frustration among the adults who have responsibility for his actions as he embraces these responsibilities.

This is all the way things are supposed to be…and the way they are.

But now, since we’re inspecting my opinion, let’s inspect the parents. Thing I Know #179 calls for us to pay some attention to gender relationships. Let’s think about girls and boys, and the way they mature.

First, a little background about your humble author. This is necessary, because we need to take a look at the reality I know, and the reality that has been dictated to me from about fourth grade onward. You know what I’ve been told because it’s the same crap you’ve probably been told. Something about, lessee…I’ll try to get this right. Men have been — YAAAAAAWWWWNNNNN — muscling women around for “five thousand years” I think is how it goes…and it’s time for some payback.

How does this square against what I know. Well, I grew up in a family of boys. Mom, Dad, Older Brother, and your humble scribe.

My mother grew up in a family of boys. Mom, Dad, the three sons who popped out boom-boom-boom, and the afterthought who was conceived when the youngest son was a teenager.

My father grew up in a family of boys. Mom, Dad, son-daughter-son-son-son.

And then there’s me. Good Lord, what a mess. I left home, had a live-in, had another live-in, had my “starter” marriage when I was way too young to even think of such a thing, got divorced, had another live-in, moved, had another live-in, resolved never to live-in again, moved again, got in a steady relationship, got dumped, dated up a storm, knocked somebody up, called out of retirement from live-in because I knocked somebody up…”wasted” a decade of my life on that I guess you could say…split up, dated up a storm again, got another steady…I’ll probably come out of retirement from living-in again soon.

Anyway, we’re talking about a lot of households here. And you know what I know about households?

There’s no five thousand year payback needed. From what I’ve seen, and what I know…even in male-heavy households, every single room, every single wall, every single square inch — what the matriarch wants there, is what is there. What the matriarch doesn’t want there, doesn’t go. PERIOD. There doesn’t seem to be any limit on how far back-in-time this goes. In fact, from the information that has come to my attention…way back, generations ago, when men were supposed to be cheering each other on while we gave our wives black eyes and knocked their teeth out…the record seems to indicate something else. The record seems to indicate, Grandpa got home, put his shoes exactly where Grandma told him to put them, hung his coat where Grandma told him to hang it, and pretty much reconciled with whatever decorative scheme she had going on under that roof, until it was time to leave for work the following morning.

To the best of my knowledge, we’ve really been sold a bill of goods. I’m told men made all the decisions, but I haven’t gotten ahold of any solid information to help substantiate that. Speaking for myself, the best information I have is that men made all the decisions after they were dressed and out the door, and up until they crossed that threshold again at twilight. Just that 33% of the day. No more than that.

Women run the household. They rule the remaining sixteen hours. And here’s something else: How long has this been going on? Well, to the best I can see…not just for a mere chunk of the five millenia us guys are supposed to have been knocking their teeth out…but for all of that eon. Back to biblical times. Further than that, even.

Now, let us inspect childhood. Some children are boys; some children are girls. When you’re a child, although perhaps you lack the perspective to fully appreciate it, you’ve got a lot of free time on your hands. There is time to “play”; more than there ever will be from cradle to grave. How do we spend this playtime? If you’re a boy — you spend it playing with other kids, or else you spend it “geeking out.” In my day, you played with blocks, and then Lincoln Logs, and then Toggles and Leggos and Erector sets. And then you went out and played with other kids. You played tag. You threw dirt clods and pine cones at each other. In the summer, you rode bikes together. Or you went out to that really, really high bridge and then you engaged in the activity that defines what a man is: You picked out a target, and tried to spit on it from 150 feet up. In winter, you climbed on sleds and raced them down hills. Oh, and you’d better believe somebody built a ramp; and airborne you went, slave to inertia, master of the skies. Wheeee!

What do all of these activities have in common? Simple: SHIT HAPPENS. The result you desire is defined, and simple. Reality will deliver on it…or it won’t. This is what excites the masculine psyche. I would assert that all things “real men” like, in childhood and beyond, have this in common: A documented, precision-defined desire, and an event which carries the fulfillment of that desire, out of the subjective realm, and into the objective one. Your gamble paid off, or else it didn’t. This is what gives a man a good time.

What do our girls do?

They play with dolls.

How do you play with dolls?

You figure out what you want each doll to do, and then you move them through those motions. You figure out what you want each doll to say, and then you speak for the doll, and imagine the doll saying that thing.

Now, let’s cut the crap. Our children spend copious amounts of time in the manner I’ve just described; the boys cope with reality as a form of sport, and the girls make their own reality. They spend all their leisure time in some form or another of this, and lordy lordy, nobody’s got more leisure time than a child. They do this for all of their childhoods, until they mature into adults. Boys accept reality; girls manufacture reality.

And then after they reach maturity, we indulge in this pretend-game that men and women are exactly the same. If you deviate from this by one little smidgen, acknowledging so much as a scintilla of aptitudinal difference between male & female, you are excoriated. If you possess any authority over anybody at all, you lose it and your career comes to an abrupt and humiliating end.

And yet…in spite of our cultural taboos…reality beckons.

Men and women reach maturity with differences in their individual readiness to accept reality, with all the surprises and discomforts it offers. The difference is there. Good heavens, how in the world could it not be? Sure, here and there a girl will join her male friends in spitting at leaves off a high bridge, or throwing dirt clods at each other. But that isn’t a “real” girl of course; that is a “tomboy.” That’s the way it worked with I was a small child, and I’m an old man with a head full of gray hair. It works that way right now, in the moment wherein I type this very sentence. And it worked that way when my grandmother was just an itch in her daddy’s britches. “Nice” girls play with girly things. And girly things are figurines that represent people and animals who are “supposed” to do certain things and say certain things.

Which means: Our women are experts at demanding we all behave certain ways. When humans behave in strange and unorthodox ways…well, how do I put this diplomatically. I don’t. There’s a huge gender barrier among those of us who are prepared for strange and unorthodox behavior, and those of us who are not. Men reach maturity seeing people as strangers, who might or might not do anything, at any time. Women, on the other hand, reach maturity seeing people as participants in a play, who are “supposeda” do certain things at certain times, who are “supposeda” say certain things at certain times.

And here’s another piece of reality we need to acknowledge, that seldom is. Ritalin is prescribed because “something must be done.” That phrase keeps popping up. And “something must be done” because the caregiver — the parent, or teacher, or whatever — suffers from an inability to give the child the attention “he demands.”

That’s why the use of the remedy increases after divorce. It doesn’t have to do with the needs of the child. It has to do with the resources, in terms of time & attention, the mother has to give the son. Divorce, whether you are a man or a woman, is not fun by a damn sight. It saps all of your “bandwidth”; your time, your money, your energy, your creativity, your whole reason for being.

Ritalin use doubles after divorce? I’m surprised it doesn’t triple. Women, more often than not, end up with custody. Women want things to be the way they want them to be; they were brought up that way, playing with dolls when they were girls. They’re simply not ready to accept whatever exigencies reality has to offer. Not on par with their male counterparts, who grew up being forced off the bike trail by more aggressive bicyclists, or losing the Pinewood Derby, or seeing their spitwads miss the floating leaf by a good fifteen feet, or buried headfirst down to their shoulders in a snowbank after their sled made a wrong turn.

Women want things to be the way they want things to be. It’s in their nature. Their genetic code. The way they were brought up.

And as our society becomes more pasteurized and “progressive” — our moms have some real problems relating to their sons.

Who’s going to solve this for us? Well, don’t look to our mental health professionals. The profits involved in Ritalin are said to be very steep — nobody’s offered any evidence that would contradict this — and anyone who is somehow insulated and disconnected from those profits, probably doesn’t have much to say about how a boy will be brought up by his divorced mother.

So Ritalin use will continue to go up. It will become a guaranteed thing, in any scenario wherein a maturing boy demands attention beyond what his mother is ready, willing, or able to give. She demands a level of conformity that at his stage in life, he cannot supply. So back up the truck to the loading dock — we need Ritalin!

That’s my take on it. But what do I know. I’m not a doctor. I don’t have a degree, or even a college education. I’m just a doofus. But I’m a dude…and a Dad.

And so far…after a lifetime, childhood-included, of objectively ascertaining reality and responding logically to it…I’ve yet to see reality deliver some facts to pose any problems for my explanation, or even to upset it a little.

But like I said, I’m just a rustic little peasant scribbling things down for a blog that nobody reads. So I yield to our clipboard-carrying, white-coat-wearing, all-knowing, credentialed, propeller-beanie-wearing behavioral experts, while they bring their superior academic/intellectual resources to the problem at hand, and try to address the question that has bobbled up. But until they offer a better explanation, I believe in mine, politically incorrect as it may be.

Feigning Interest

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

Now imagine this. A lady goes on a blind date with a gentleman and discovers, to her horror, that her beau is incredibly self-absorbed. It’s like the old line about “Enough of me talking about me; you talk about me for awhile.” She’s about to call the evening a total loss, when — almost by accident — the Casanova says some things that pique her interest. He keeps it up, and since she decided from the get-go that he’s kind of cute, they go back to her place. By this time she’s on a complete hormone high, but at the moment of carnal bliss he passes out on her couch and she’s left alone with her disappointment.

Today’s question is about flogs, click the link if you don’t yet know the meaning of the word. How fast would a flog move to write up this scenario? Heh. You’d better not stand in the way.

Well, some fellow named Josh Hopkins has put up a pretty high-quality video describing the opposite. Ah…as if that could ever happen. Since when has a guy gone out on a date with a woman, and discovered to his disappointment that she only likes to talk about herself, and thus been plunged headlong into an incredibly boring evening? Hmmm…

The video ends with some humorous suggestions about date rape. This is unfortunate. All around the world wide web, feminists are now shaking their bony fingers at us instructing us to find the entire video hideous, because of the ending. Well, I’ll say this much. If it were my video, I would not have ended it this way. I would therefore excise from this work the material our shrill feminists tell me has aroused their anger this time…but unfortunately, I would keep the stuff that I suspect really has.

They’ll never confess it no matter what, of course. But I think they understand this isn’t about date rape. Beginning to end, the video draws on an interesting device in which the main character has split in half; the well-dressed version represents his corporeal self, and the guitar-playing “narrator” is dressed in a tee shirt and jeans, representing the thoughts in his head. This is crystal clear. And of course when the time comes to “mount” the drunken floozy, guess which guy is doing it. Right. It’s not the corporeal entity.

So that takes care of this concern about promoting rape.

But that’s all Captain Obvious stuff. None of this is really on-topic, and the feminists know this to be true. They don’t want to discuss what the video is really about.

And you know what I find interesting about that? The video isn’t really about much. Men, it turns out, can suffer from boring dates too. That one sentence covers just about everything. Pretty innocuous, and yet it manages to excite a “throw a rock into a pack of wild dogs, the one that yelps is the one you dun hit” moment. Our feminists really, truly, down to the marrow of their bones, do not want us to see this video. And if we do see it, they don’t want us to find anything good about it.

It’s all speculation, but if it’s fair for the feminists to psychoanalyze men, it’s fair for someone else to come along and do the same with the feminists. I think they see this video is all about a complaint that is perfectly valid, and they’ve been aroused into an instinctive frenzy of finger-waggling at everyone else, whether we’ve seen the video or not, whether we’re interested in it or not — because the valid complaint undermines their entire message. At least, the message from the brittle, frigid, extreme feminists. Their message has been one of expanding the definition of oppression.

Rape, battery, inequitable pay, everything in between, these are forms of oppression. Extreme feminism is about including more things. Putting up posters, pictures and drawings of women with better-looking bodies. Indulging in inappropriate humor in mixed company. Saying bad things about women in any setting. Saying good things about men. Passing laws that NARAL wouldn’t like. Voting Republican.

Feminism in 2007, is about stopping us from doing any of that. And if we can’t be stopped, it’s about getting rid of us.

For the past several decades, they’ve succeeded in this. And in early 21st-century America, we find ourselves in a culture in which a specimen of the fairer sex, whether she is well-bred or otherwise, regardless of her level of sophistication, feels a lack of motivation to broaden her horizons.

During my eight or nine months of single-hood a few years ago, I noticed this. There was me; there was an apparitional golem representing the man my “date” for the evening would want to meet. Some vision she had dancing through her head long before she met me, that had not been altered one iota since she learned about me, and would not be altered in the course of meeting any man, ever. Very much like the vision she had for a wall hanging or piece of furniture, just before heading to the mall to shop for it.

Questions about me, should they have arisen at all…had to do with any differences that might exist between me and that apparitional golem. A genuine question-question, I noticed after awhile, was a real occasion. And from the comments I see from other single men, this is not a unique experience at all.

I expect most of the single ladies — extreme feminist or otherwise — are somewhat clueless about how insulting that is for a man. And you know what’s funny? They aren’t supposed to be clueless at all. For much of my early-teen adult years, the feminist movement was supposed to be all about “objectification.” As in, admiring a lady’s bare limbs or conspicuous cleavage. Well…what better way to objectify someone, than to compare them with some preconceived ideal that has nothing to do with their personalities, or other individual attributes, whatsoever?

Anyway, in my meager experience that’s what single life is in modern America. A shallow woman talks about herself all night…and if she’s a real deep thinker and somewhat interested in you, she’ll ask a question or two to figure out how well you’ll blend in with her wall hangings, ottoman and Berber carpet.

The women who can think in more grown-up terms, it seems…to plagiarize from the single ladies unapologetically…are already taken. I’m just glad I have one of them now.

But like they say, it’s not easy out there.

All of which begs the question. If dating isn’t all peaches & cream for our spinsters, and it’s no more fun for the bachelors either, where’s this oppressive patriarchal society that our feminists keep telling us about?

I Made a New Word II

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

FLOG (n.): A feminist blog. FLOGGER (n.): One who runs, or writes for, such a blog.

The time is right for these words. Our floggers deserve them. Read some non-feminist blogs…then read some feminist blogs. The tone is very, very different.

To ponder why this might be, let’s consider what the word “feminist” means. It’s a deliberately vague term. You can’t explore what it really means, without spending some energy examining how we got to this point.

Sometime in the late seventies, it became fashionable for men to announce, with no small amount of theatrical irony, that they were feminists. It was a term intended to shock. I’m a male nurse…I’m a male bellydancer…I’m a male feminist. By design, this was supposed to lead into a conversation about what exactly a feminist was — the answer to which, of course, was that a feminist believed in equality between the sexes. A man might go to sports bars and strip bars, he might drink beer and eat meat, he might work on a 1965 Dodge charger on the weekends in an old tee shirt twenty years out of style — but if he believed women should be paid the same as men, that there was a feminist, no two ways about it.

The rumor persists to this day. I say, I AM A FEMINIST — and I might mean…equal pay for equal worth. I might be pro-choice. Or, I might be a transgender who hates men. Or anything in between. There’s just no telling what that word means…

…outside of the computer.

In cyberspace, it’s a different story. Someone with a feminist blog says she’s a feminist — you can safely assume a lot of things.

Everybody who’s hit such a site, knows what I’m talking about. I can string tangential embellishments on my definition all day long…and it’ll still work.

On the web, a feminist blog has some incandescent indication that the person who runs the blog is female. And “progressive.”

Which means negative. The feminist blog makes itself known to new arrivals, exactly what the theme song is. It is dark. It is acrid. There are pictorial representations, large-font headlines and sub-headlines, leaving no room for doubt whatsoever: The CEO of this blog is a woman, and she has pet peeves.

The feminist blog is not like the political blog. Surely you’ve noticed by now — a conservative blog, and a liberal blog, will make it a point to highlight what is to be deplored, and what is to be adored. Permanently. On the masthead. In the sidebar. Someplace that won’t move. This guy’s a fool…that other guy is a hero. Three cheers for so-and-so…boos and hisses to such-and-such. And the positive stuff will always at least be somewhat present. Usually, it’s an invitation to join a webring, hosted by like-minded people.

Not so with the feminist blog. These are not out-of-computer feminists, who on occasion at least pretend to like things or people. No, in Internet-land, the feminist blog is a decidedly negative fountainhead of bile. It exists to find things reprehensible, and to broadcast such findings frequently, voluminously, and with grandeur and gusto. The feminist blog is like the siren luring Jason and the Argonauts to certain doom, with tones screeching rather than dulcet. All other purposes are secondary.

This is a meaningful transformation. In my lifetime, orthodox feminism has clung to a veneer of plausible deniability — never straying far from the “Who, Me?” motif. Every insinuation that feminism had something to do with caustic things…even legitimately cynical things…was invariably answered with a peevish counterinsinuation — hey, no, we’re just here to assure fair play. No man regards us as an attack or a threat — no man has any need to — unless he is somehow “insecure.” A level playing field is all we’re about. Like what, you got a problem with that?

The Internet feminist labors under no such motif. Chalk it up to the sinister, anti-socially shading effect of the Internet itself. The cyber-feminist is a decidedly darker version of her flesh-and-blood sister. She is acrimonious, jaded, angry, petulant. She makes no apology for being so. Not only that, but if a day is spent and no nastiness has managed to bubble to the surface, it seems the day has been a waste. It’s part of the identity. The kitty has claws — or else she’s not worth the trouble of being.

Check out masthead after masthead after masthead on some feminist blogs if you have trouble envisioning this. You’ll see what I mean. The “author” is represented by silhouette, or by avatar, or by an actual photograph. There is no smile…not unless it’s been made up into some misshapen sneer. Read the actual posts — and the problem is more pronounced still. Time after time, the theme is left intact, unshaken, unwrinkled, unmoved.

It is this: Somewhere, something is, and it ought not be. That’s it. Overall, it seems the fem-blog hasn’t much else to say. Sensors have detected something somewhere that exists, that we think should be banished to oblivion. Can we get an ‘Amen’ here?

The salty language highlights another key difference. Our flesh-and-blood feminists out here in the real world, use language unfit for a mixed audience — the same way we use it here at The Blog That Nobody Reads. When they think it will add to the point they seek to make. Of course, someone else will always disagree about that, but that’s how we do things here. If a swear-word contributes nothing, we leave it alone, and if it contributes something, we’ll go ahead and toss it in. The same methodology is used by your face-to-face feminists, the comediennes, the water-cooler advocates. Use the PG-13 language with some discretion. It’s a measure of how comfortable they feel with the present audience, and occasionally is used as a testament to how infuriated they are but the topic under discussion.

But outside the cyberworld, I’ve noticed the feminist is careful to avoid wearing it out.

Not so with the fem-blog. The swear words are gratuitous. They have to be on the front page somewhere, and in the scroll format, that means a G-rated post is something tripped across seldom-to-never. “Floggers,” we are left to conclude, use this as a calling card to visitors in cyberspace. Or more like a welcome mat. Rest ye weary bones, Sister In Perpetual Anger; here you’ll find all the solvent acid dripped at the oppressive patriarchy your little heart desires to see dripped.

But they aren’t all bad. It was thanks to a “flog” that I found out about this.

Feelings First, Education Second VII

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

It’s that time of year again. You don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

With the school year almost done, the pressure for marks is on – and not just for students, but also teachers.

A growing chorus of educators say Queen’s Park’s new drive to keep kids in school to 18 is pushing them to coddle students with inflated marks, too many second, third and fourth chances and too few flunking grades, adding to an already lofty sense of entitlement.

In a new survey of nearly 1,000 high school teachers in Durham Region, four out of 10 say they feel principals push them to drop standards so more students will pass. One in four feels pressured not to give an F.

Another one in four doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, and the other two are liars. Well, that last part I’m just reading into it because I’m a cynical bastard.

Well really, shouldn’t I be? Our most critical jobs are entrusted to people with educational credentials. Not the most critical 10% or even the most critical 50%; rather, it’s gotten to the point where you need not apply for a position as a McDonald’s fry cook if you don’t have a Master’s. We’re definitely headed in that direction anyway…

…not that this says anything bad about employment prospects. We’ve got programs up the yin-yang to get you in somewhere. A growing consensus among us seems to feel there’s no purpose for even having a military, other than to dispense educational freebies. And yet — what’s going on at this high school, is no different from what’s happening in colleges. Public sector or private. The institution doesn’t exist to educate — if someone graduates without knowing something, nobody has anything for which to answer. Heads won’t roll. Nobody’s even embarrassed anymore.

No, what fails the litmus tests, at least the ones that count, is — a number of students being knocked back, or even, just receiving derogatory grades. Our educational institutions aren’t in the business of educating, they’re in the business of handing out bits of paper.

What are those bits of paper worth?

Well…at any given time, they’re going to be worth what people are held accountable for making sure that they’re worth. And at the moment, it would appear people are held accountable for handing ‘em out. Quantity over quality. What do they prove? Eh…that answer’s practically self-explanatory. Nobody’s got any ass cheeks positioned over a Bunsen burner on this issue, so how can they be respected as anything proving squat?

I’m afraid we’ve left that era in history wherein diplomas actually prove anything. They’re just bits of procedure. Some folks follow process manuals that say you’ve gotta demand to see them, and other folks follow process manuals that say you are supposed to present them…and then some other folks follow process manuals that say you’re supposed to give them out.

Is the situation somewhat more complicated than that? Lordy Lordy, I’d love to think so. What I wouldn’t give up to be able to think so. But it’s been so long since a hunk of evidence has drifted my way, persuading me to.

Crisis in Omaha

Friday, June 8th, 2007

Via fellow Webloggin member Bookworm, via Community of Blogging Excellence Webloggin, we find out about this very well-put-together clip about how D-Day would have been reported today.

Love the flags. With one little “swish” the point is made: Things that are obligatory in news reporting in 2007, would have gotten you shot in 1944 and rightly so.

On the same subject, into the “Required Reading” file goes Victor Davis Hanson’s article about Lessons from D-Day. The lessons as I see them: There’s nothing admirable about getting discouraged and giving up. And a well-organized political campaign, designed to coerce others to get discouraged and give up, is no less deplorable.

If it’s worth doing something, it’s worth beginning with the end in mind. I really do wish our left-wingers showed one-twentieth as much courage and conviction and vision for victory fighting crazy Islamic psychopaths, as they show when fighting Republicans. Both “wars” have to do with public relations. How about directing that energy a little more evenly?

Right-Wing Fraud to Repudiate George Bush

Friday, June 8th, 2007

Writing for Salon, Glenn Greenwald — and it really is him, not one of his sock puppets — has finally answered the question of what the passionate, foamy-mouthed Bush-bashing libs are going to do after President Bush goes home in 2009. It’s no surprise, really. They’re going to do what they’ve always done, which is to cook up their own version of reality (link requires registration).

The great fraud being perpetrated in our political discourse is the concerted attempt by movement conservatives, now that the Bush presidency lay irreversibly in ruins, to repudiate George Bush by claiming that he is not, and never has been, a “real conservative.” This con game is being perpetrated by the very same conservatives who — when his presidency looked to be an epic success — glorified George W. Bush, ensured both of his election victories, depicted him as the heroic Second Coming of Ronald Reagan, and celebrated him as the embodiment of True Conservatism.

This fraud is as transparent as it is dishonest, yet there are signs that the media is nonetheless beginning to adopt this theme that there is some sort of epic and long-standing “Bush-conservative schism.” But very little effort is required to see what a fraud that storyline is.

One of the few propositions on which Bush supporters and critics agree is that George Bush does not change and has not changed at all over the last six years. He is exactly the same.

Now, this is true. Mr. Greenwald is putting into practice, with a level of skill that can be accumulated only through experience, Thing I Know #121:

One verifiable fact can sell a whole package of unlikely speculation. One appealing opinion can sell a whole package of outright falsehood.

And the one verifiable fact is the famous consistency of George W. Bush.

But the logic is weak, because Greenwald needs to live in a universe where the events surrounding George Bush are as motionless and unchanging as the President himself is known to be. For example, in such a universe we would have to have been talking about illegal immigration in 2003 just as much as we are now.

And, well — we weren’t. We were all talking about Saddam Hussein. President Bush was all about taking that asshole down, and our liberals were busy lecturing us that we should leave things as they were, come what may, because that’s what Germany and France wanted us to do.

And the fact of the matter is, if the Bush administration is in any mode of self-destruction right now, it’s there thanks to an abandonment of conservative principles, not because of any unholy alliance with them. This can be validated rather quickly, if Greenwald simply takes a minute or two to actually talk to some of the conservatives he claims to be analyzing here.

I’m not surprised to see he didn’t. On Planet Greenwald, nothing bad happens except things caused by Republicans being fraudulent about things. Irritable bowel syndrome? You’ve got a case of the trots because Karl Rove must have wanted you to.

Do you know any conservatives who are ready to abandon George Bush because of…let’s say, to pick something people on both sides would agree really is conservative…the 2003 tax cuts? I don’t. How about…to pick something on the opposite side of the spectrum…amnesty for illegal immigrants? I venture to say if you were to conduct some kind of poll among conservatives, this issue would dominate all the others. Bush lost my support because he’s letting in all those illegals. And then in second place, there would be — spending money. Are these unlikely predictions? I have trouble seeing such a poll turning out any other way.

What would Mr. Greenwald call these things? If President Bush were to be succeeded by someone who would lock down the border, enforce the law, and veto some spending provisions from Congress as he’s been unwilling to do — what would you call that new President? Conservative? I’m sure Greenwald would agree those would not be liberal things.

Ultimately, his essay fails because it’s built around a stark falsehood: That conservatism has no definition, it’s just a bunch of powerful people and interests who are fair-weather friends with whatever is winning at any given time. At the same time, he contradicts himself by insisting that conservatism does have a definition, and it’s been enshrined in a presidential administration that everyone is now forced to agree is a failure.

I wish, for Greenwald’s sake, someone compelled him to think on this a few more times before it saw print. He’s either not paying attention, or he’s chosen to confine his intended audience to other folks who haven’t been paying attention. Conservatism is a process in which we figure out how much liberty, and how much money, the government needs to do it’s governing. We give it that much and nothing more. Liberalism is a process in which the Government figures out how much liberty and money we need to do our living; and if we show ourselves to be what certain nameless, faceless individuals want us to be, maybe we’ll be allowed to have it.

President Bush was friendly to the first of those two mindsets when he passed the 2003 tax cuts. He got a lot of ridicule at the time for the advance refunds that were mailed out, but nowadays it’s a little hard to assault this cornerstone of his legacy. Once again, the principles of the Laffer Curve have been proven. I’m sure we’ll forget all about them later.

[The tax cuts have] succeeded even beyond Art Laffer’s dreams, if that’s possible. In the nine quarters preceding that cut on dividend and capital gains rates and in marginal income-tax rates, economic growth averaged an annual 1.1%. In the 12 quarters–three full years–since the tax cut passed, growth has averaged a remarkable 4%. Monetary policy has also fueled this expansion, but the tax cuts were perfectly targeted to improve the incentives to take risks among businesses shell-shocked by the dot-com collapse, 9/11 and Sarbanes-Oxley.

Now, when did President Bush show his fidelity to the notion that powerful, anonymous individuals should decide how the rest of us should live, with our liberty and our own property riding on our ability and willingness to conform? Well, his current friendliness to amnesty is probably a better example of that than anything else he’s done. And then there’s his making nice-nice with the global warming sham, which is an exercise in anti-capitalist elites telling the commoners how to live if ever there was one.

These things are not helping his popularity. The people aren’t going for it.

Greenwald might have been more truthful if he’d written an essay to the effect of, “I guess the people who’d been supporting the President have been much more capable of independent thinking than I thought.” Instead, he wants to pretend conservatism exists only in the sense that it can be measured through presidential approval ratings now — but it wasn’t nearly tangible enough to be measured by the same metric right after the September 11 attacks, or two decades ago when Reagan carried two landslide victories.

Well. It’s been often wondered where all this Bush-bashing energy was going to be directed after President Bush went home. Like I said…now we know. It will be bled off, into more viciousness and more spite aimed at any candidate showing the slightest reluctance to kill babies, confiscate guns, slander soldiers, increase taxes, and outlaw all jobs that do not comport with some narrow beltway elitist view of a “minimum wage.”

Supercar

Friday, June 8th, 2007

My birthday is coming up awfully quick, and everybody wants to know what I want. Well, in response to the millions upon millions of e-mails, I’ve decided the best thing to post is this video, which will probably make you giggle. Really giggle. Like a man. Not in a “Oh isn’t that ridiculous” kind of a way, but with some oohs and aahs.

This year, it’s the fastest production automobile in the world. I get the distinct impression the fellow is yelling to be decently heard, putting much more effort into his projection than you can actually see. Most folks who’ve been to a boat race or an auto race, know what a thousand horsepower sounds like from about 500 feet away, this guy’s sharing a tiny compartment with the same thing.

Four turbochargers, 488 cubic inches, a gallon of fuel per minute. Amazing.

On Revolutions

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

I keep hearing how GOP candidates are distancing themselves from President Bush. Sounds like we’re all fed up with conservatism, naturally…until you hear the issues over which the candidates are distancing themselves. Immigration. The War in Iraq. Hurricane Katrina.

Hmmm.

We have an obvious problem here. The President has never been a conservative on immigration. The conservative position on the War in Iraq is that it is a War on Terror…and I’ve heard far fewer candidates, from either party, distance themselves from WoT than from WiI. And as that goes, the candidates campaigning in favor of another Hurricane Katrina, are rather few and far between.

I think the American electorate understands this. There are “issues,” as in, Mr. candidate please tell me your positions and if they comport with my own, you stand a better chance of getting my vote. And then there are “issues,” like — your boss called you into your office and it turns out he has issues with your performance. Those are different things. The voters understand this. The people who make good money telling voters what to think, don’t quite get it. Pundits. Pollsters. Newscasters. Columnists.

I’m a voter. I can promise you this. Any asshole who’s in favor of another Katrina disaster, isn’t getting my vote. But that’s not the question is it.

I wish this distinction on the word “issues” was made more prominent. And you know, it strikes me as a tad strange: It’s an odd-numbered year. Pretty damned early in one. Not Father’s Day yet. And we are deep into a campaign season, which essentially means American is now living perpetually in a campaign season. Would it not, then, be appropriate to use words in such a way, that the message from the electorate is made more clear when they cast their votes?

Perhaps not.

Since childhood, I have been regaled with an abundance of legends about “conservative” themes prevailing in entrenched, elitist governments, mostly in America but occasionally in foreign lands, which in turn “oppress” the people until there is a “revolution.” Said revolutions are supposed to install more “progressive” personalities in positions of power, who then responsibly service the interests of “all the people.” It has not been completely lost on me, that this is what revolutions are supposed to be inclined to do: Tilt things to the left.

And yet, in my lifetime, the American revolutions I’ve seen have gone the opposite way: 1968, 1980, 1994, 2000.

I suppose you could talk about 1974, 1992 and 2006. I know it rankles my liberal friends for me to say so, but let’s just get this out of the way becaues it’s a hard, bitter truth: Those are different. They are subordinate. They simply don’t stand out. They don’t carry a message. In other words, in modern times, when our liberals carry a victory nationwide, they’ve managed to do it by means of a scandal, or with mindless cheerleading; by diverting attention away from the issues.

Conservative revolutions are genuine revolutions; the numbers involved tend to be overwhelming, involving landslide victories. Strengthening the criminal justice system in 1968. More commercial-friendly energy and tax policies in 1980. Welfare reform, personal responsibility and tax relief in 1994. And 2000 was all about getting rid of our personable, “popular” President Clinton, the guy whose glowing words and boyish charm made everyone forget all about their problems and could brighten a room by walking into it. People understood this guy was more entertainer than executive. We’d had enough of him. We elected a President to reverse his policies and gave that new President a friendly House and Senate so he could get it done faster.

Seven years on, that President has completed his trifecta of converting to liberalism. Government spending. Immigration. And now, the global warming scam. He’s still the guy who took down Saddam Hussein, but it seems he’d just as soon we all forget about that.

And it gives me cause to reflect on the past: Highly successful presidents, tend to be highly successful conservative presidents. Even Clinton had his moment in the sun when he was pressured into passing welfare reform, which nowadays even our left-wingers are going to be quick to highlight as a Clinton victory. But our conservative presidents aren’t very conservative when they wind up their second terms, are they? This current President seems to be worried about his legacy. And that’s a real shame, because people who are worried about legacies tend to lean left. How stalwart of a conservative was Reagan, after about 1986?

It would seem this is the flaw in American government. Our politicians tilt toward the right to get us to vote them in. And then they list left, so the history books might write something glowing about them. Who’s writing those history books?

Perhaps that is the question we should be asking. After all, the history books tell me 1960 was a successful, progressive, peoples’ revolution that gave us Camelot. The hard data tell me the victor received 49.7% of the popular vote.

Whatever the cause, it seems the voters are engaged in an effort of getting some sensible, right-centrist policies going in our government: Bring justice to the guilty, or at least make it so that guilty people don’t live at the expense of the innocent; stand up to terror; make government work with the businesses that provide jobs to everyone, or at least don’t get in the way.

And it seems to be like nailing jello to a freakin’ tree. Because, I’m gathering, our historians want something different and our politicians want to please the historians.

Look no further than the global warming scam to see what I’m talking about. Sometime in the next ten years, something’s going to get passed. It will be crushingly expensive for American businesses, or it will be a simple pain-in-the-ass inconvenience. But something will get passed. The earth — being, y’know, really big & all — will continue to do whatever it will do. And our history books will sing glittering generalities about this initiative. If the “mean temperature” somehow continues to rise according to the statistical curve that’s gotten us all angsty and agitated up ’til now, the history books will clamor gloomily about how things might have been, if we didn’t do what we did — something completely unprovable, but they’ll definitely say that.

Well, long-term there isn’t much reason to worry. Human nature favors the conservative side. If people go to work and pay taxes and follow the rules, it’s against their nature to support the lifestyle of someone who thinks hard work is for suckers, or that laws are made to be broken, or that it’s okay to hurt people and take their money, or that a nation’s borders can be crossed at will just because someone wants to cheat. And I think deep down, people understand that a society isn’t really free if it has a government deciding how much money people need to live — as opposed to a people, deciding how much money the government needs to do it’s governing. People understand the word “greed” is thrown around, nowadays, to excess. And if greed has any definition at all anymore, it damn sure doesn’t mean a desire to hang on to the money you earned yourself, that you know in your heart belongs to you.

How Not To Use Powerpoint

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

Nobody ever reads this blog, so the saying goes.

If you do read the blog, you probably don’t work anyplace I work.

And if perchance you do…and you’re about to pass word up the chain-of-command “don’t promote that Morgan Freeberg guy whatever you do, because he’s got a weird-ass blog”…before you make that phone call can I ask one favor? Pretty please?

Watch this.

Oh Lord, we’ve got a few people who need to watch it rather desperately.

A Not-Illegal Bad Guy

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

KhadrRest well, America. The judicial oversight is on the job, to stop jurisdictional abuses in their tracks.

The Bush administration’s plans to bring detainees at Guantánamo Bay to trial were thrown into chaos yesterday when military judges threw out all charges against a detainee held there since he was 15 and dismissed charges against another detainee who chauffeured Osama bin Laden.
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In back-to-back arraignments for the Canadian Omar Khadr and Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni national, the US military’s cases against the alleged al-Qaida figures were dismissed because, the judges said, the government had failed to establish jurisdiction.

That’s right, the government didn’t establish jurisdiction. It’s like my liberals keep telling me…the Constitution is stronger, for the benefit of us all, when it is used to safeguard the rights of the least among us.

I guess.

So who is this guy anyway?

Khadr’s father moved his family to Afghanistan, where they lived in Osama bin Laden’s compound, and played with bin Laden’s children. Khadr’s father has been described as one of bin Laden’s senior lieutenants.

Omar’s older brother Abdurahman Khadr described being sent to military training camps shortly after his arrival, when he was just eleven years old. All of the Khadr boys are believed to have military training while they were children.
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On July 27, 2002, 15-year-old Khadr was in a compound near Khost that was surrounded by US special forces.
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Most press accounts of the skirmish say that Khadr killed a “medic”, implying that he had attacked a noncombatant after giving his surrender, but although Sgt. Christopher Speer had been trained as a medic, he was actually leading the squad combing the compound after they believed all occupants had been killed.

Khadr leapt from hiding and threw a grenade, which injured Sgt. Speer and led to his death, and injured three other members of the squad. Omar was shot three times, and left nearly blind in one eye. He was subsequently treated and his life was saved by U.S. medics.

Oh…kay…so why are we throwing the case out again?

At issue, according to [Judge Peter] Brownback, was a 2004 finding by a so-called Combatant Status Review Tribunal that declared Khadr an “enemy combatant.”

The process was designed by the Pentagon to substitute a military review panel for civilian courts after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rasul vs. Bush in 2004 that Guantánamo detainees have the right to contest their detention.

Congress then stepped in to create the 2006 Military Commissions Act after a U.S. Supreme Court decision ruled an early military commissions format unconstitutional.

But the so-called MCA, signed into law by President Bush, said only ”unlawful enemy combatants” could be brought before the special war court.

The distinction and technical language has evolved across the five years the United States has been detaining and classifying war-on-terror captives — and shuttling them here via an 8,000-mile air bridge from Afghanistan.

In short, an ”unlawful enemy combatant” has no right to be on the battlefield while a ”lawful enemy combatant” may have the power to engage in warfare.

All right, I think I’m seeing the picture. Let’s narrate it in the most cool-headed, centrist, objective way we can.

We got here, in the parlance of old, a “bad guy.” Remember those, right? A guy the good guys are fighting. No argument there…he’s playing with bin Laden’s kids, getting military training with al Qaeda, throwing grenades at our guys and killing ‘em dead. So he’s this bad guy. He mortally wounds Sgt. Christopher Speer, and Speer’s comrades shoot him up, then treat him for his wounds. He’d a-killed them…but once they had him in custody, they treated his wounds. Seems pretty clear who’s wearing the white hat and who’s wearing the black hat here. So with apologies to Sen. Kerry and all my “nuanced” liberal friends…we got good guys here, and we got bad guys here. Or one bad guy.

Bad guy gets captured.

Lawyers say…hey. Bad guys in Guantanamo can contest their detention. Bush administration says, fair enough. We’ll go by the precedent that was created by President Roosevelt during WWII. Enemy combatants. Legalistic term for bad guy. He fits, right? He killed one of ours. He’s a combatant…he’s an enemy. We’ll try the bad guy in a military tribunal.

Supreme Court declares the early military commissions unconstitutional, and so in response Congress passes the Military Commissions Act. This addresses the earlier unconstitutionalities, somehow, using the term unlawful enemy combatant. So I guess, not only is he a bad guy but he’s an illegal bad guy.

Yeah. Not only is he killing our good guys, but he’s breaking the law doing it.

Except — he was never classified that way. So the court, here, is saying the MCA doesn’t apply to him, because he’s an enemy combatant — not an unlawful enemy combatant.

Court’s not saying he’s lawful, mind you. It’s a procedural issue. A clerical boo-boo. The peg was put in a square hole instead of a round one, so we have to throw everything out and start again.

See what’s happening here?

Let’s put it all in historical context. Look up Marbury vs. Madison, and read top to bottom. Everyone who follows stuff dealing with the word “unconstitutional,” should do exactly that.

This is the decision in which the Supreme Court invested itself with the authority to declare things unconstitutional. Except — it didn’t do that. Read the decision. Up until six-tenths of the way through, the decision argues forcefully that the plaintiff is owed a remedy. Only after that point, are the constitutional implications considered. And in considering those, Chief Justice John Marshall finds his Court to have derived such authority for remedy, from a law that is utterly, irreconcilably incompatible with the Constitution.

And interestingly, he doesn’t cite anything in the Constitution that says “you can’t do this”; he simply cites an absence of any constitutional passage that says you can. But that’s an argument for another day.

Now fast forward to June of 2007. This is different from what was done in 1803.

This is “Gotcha!” jurisprudence. It is a practice of scanning the case, top to bottom, and looking for an excuse to fold. Finding some flimsy justification somewhere for yelling “Yabba dabba doo!” and packing it in and going home. Rationalizing. With precedent, or without it…find a reason why we must stop, turn ’round and go back. Invent new rules, if that’s what it takes.

Of course, highly observant legal minds could point out the same was true of the Marbury decision. It was a political maneuver, after all. Some might even say a cynical ploy in the feuding between Marshall’s Federalists and President Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans. And this would be a good point. But the decisions are still substantially different.

Marshall had to spend a few paragraphs showing why it was that awarding the Writ of Mandamus was absolutely, intolerably, incompatible with the Constitution. How, even under the best of circumstances, awarding the remedy he had determined to be proper, would violate even the most forgiving interpretation of the charter he had sworn to uphold. In fact, if you read the text, he shows himself to be beholden to two laws that directly contradict each other — placing himself in the position of being forced to break one or the other. He then illustrates the absurdity of violating the greater law, for the purpose of observing his fidelity to the lesser one.

In other words…it’s plain, old-fashioned logic.

That isn’t what’s happening now. This latest decision is an exercise of looking for excuses. What logic is involved? Bad guy…legal bad guy…illegal bad guy. The commission only has authority to try bad guys, who don’t have the right to be bad guys, and this guy does have the right to be a bad guy, so we bring everything to a stop?

I’m glad Luke Skywalker didn’t have to worry about this legal jockeying when he was blowing up the Death Star. In fact, I would have to say with this decision, the whole notion of law and order has been completely demolished. Imagine. Someone’s a bad guy…but before we can do anything we have to cogitate on whether he has the right to be a bad guy, or not. We got processes for dealing with legal bad guys, and other processes for dealing with illegal bad guys. Don’t go getting in the wrong line, now.

The issue is consequences. We have a system of justice, because we’re worried about consequences — if you can do bad things and get away with it, you’ll probably keep doing the bad things and others will learn from your example. With our system of justice in place, we have oversight because we’re worried about more consequences. You arrest people without cause, hold them without a trial, refuse to recognize their constitutional protections, what’s to stop you from doing the same to everybody else?

Consequences. Our entire legal system is based on worries about consequences. The enforcement, the legislation, the judicial oversight. It’s all about the consequences.

What are the consequences of dealing with people who want to kill us, as if each of them represented some strange, pain-in-the-ass red-tape exercise at the DMV? Take a number, and…well, no two of our bureaucrat desk clerks can agree on what line you’re supposed to get in. Maybe you have to renew this registration by mail. We’re not sure. Did you know you can make an appointment online? But how to get this thing done-done…well, nobody’s sure. We all just work here. Take a number. Have a seat.

What’re the consequences of THAT?

I think everyone would agree, our country has “enemies” in the sense that there are people we’re trying to neutralize, before they neutralize us. I think everyone would have to agree with that — and if not, then some pictures from 9/11/01 should help them see the error of their ways. Well, I don’t think those other guys are confused about what line to put us in.

And here we are obsessed with legal bad guys versus illegal bad guys.

Our system understands procedures; it’s a little foggy on the concept of threats. Time for an overhaul.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form XVIII

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Quoth Thing I Know #110: which, according to my notes, popped into my head about a year ago give-or-take…

Everyone’s willing to bet an unlimited measure of resources from a company, corporation, committee, council, organization or club, that the “smartest guy in the room” really is the smartest guy in the room. Because of that, the smartest guy’s ideas usually go unopposed. I have noticed it’s extremely rare that anyone, anywhere, would bet one dime of their personal fortune that he’s really that smart. This may explain why some of the best decisions I’ve seen, were made outside of conference rooms.

I would rate this wording as medium-to-bad. But I would think the spirit of the phenomenon, is something we’ve all seen in one form or another. There’s one guy in the meeting who, when he starts a sentence, you know he’ll be allowed to finish no matter how much he rambles. It’s not his position in the organizational hierarchy, it’s — the inflection of his voice. Or not. Maybe his voice is quite squeaky and irritating. But he’s just oh so smart. He knows so much. You say it’s raining outside, “Jim” says it’s sunny, and you’re going to be the big dope even if everyone can hear the raindrops going pitter-patter on the tin roof. And as a result of this, when “Jim” talks nobody dares say anything substantial. Empty platitudes, maybe. Nothing beefy. Nothing meaty. It might conflict with something “Jim” said.

Real decisions are made. Real money is spent…but it isn’t “real” real money. It’s the company’s money, or the money placed in trust of the group. Simply put, the group is upholding a group duty to safeguard the funds — and it’s doing it badly. Individuals don’t do things this way. Individuals don’t take money, their own hard-earned money, and place it on the word of an unchecked “smart guy.” Not without someone else somewhere making sure the smart guy is right about things. But that’s how individuals work…groups work in packs, they assign a Head Dog, and they bet all the resources on what that Head Dog says whether it’s right or wrong.

SorosNow, I don’t know if Steve B. Young, TV writer and author of “Great Failures of the Extremely Successful,” reads my blog. I would think hardly anybody does. But how then do you explain this gem, which appeared this morning in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Disease of always being right
Even if you aren’t, your self-esteem demands that you think you are. And that stops learning.

It once resided largely in neighborhood bars, infecting anyone who had moved past a third beer. But today, the disorder appears to afflict every facet of our society: politicians in the aisle and on either side of it; talk-show hosts (the more famous, the worse afflicted), TV folks (Rosie O’Donnell’s View-undo was more a result of SPIRD – Smartest Person in the Room Disorder – than a contract disagreement).

It’s a baffling psychosomatic disorder because being the smartest person in the room doesn’t mean that you’re actually the smartest person in the room. Only that you believe you are. It’s not so much about being smart as feeling you’re always right.

SPIRD symptoms include, but are not limited to: thinking you have all the answers; thinking you should know all the answers; bulging forehead blood vessels; a compulsion not only to shout down your adversaries, but finally to demonize or ruin them.
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Fact is, having SPIRD is not about being smart at all. It’s about the need to win at all costs. Winning becomes more important than being right. Alas, the tragedy is that even when you beat the guys who are right, you’re still wrong. And that isn’t winning at all.

SPIRDs are not hard to spot, mostly because they tend to carry a spotlight to shine on themselves. Truly smart people are more difficult to notice. They neither shout down nor try to defuse an adversary’s argument by turning off their mike. To do otherwise might keep them from actually learning something – which someone with SPIRD can’t do.

That’s the most deadly consequence of SPIRD: that it denies the carrier the chance to ever get any smarter. We learn, let’s face it, from our errors, and if we can’t accept that we ever make any, we’ll never, ever, ever learn.

I’ve been robbed, but I’m not calling the police. I’m quite flattered.

Of course, there’s a subtle difference in our commentaries here. Young is writing, here, about aspiring SPIRs and the antisocial excesses in which they indulge in order to reach that position. My own beef is with entrenched SPIRs. People, I’ve come to realize over the years, are going to be what they are. Being a SPIR is something someone picks up…well, I’d guess by the age of five, a child has figured out whether he or she will be a SPIR. The die has been cast.

My beef is with the group. What I’m complaining about is accountability.

You make a decision by yourself, as an executive. Some information is brought to you, and a decision must be made. There are two options — both carry risk. You select one. There is no need for a meeting. There is no SPIR. What happens if the decision turns out to be the wrong one? It’s on you. And you know this. And so, taking into account the magnitude of potential loss, and the likelihood of failure of each option, you select the one that sucks less.

Groups work differently. “Jim” talks, the group gets the impression of which option “Jim” likes better, and then that’s the one that is done. Is this not then a decision “Jim” has made individually? No. Because if it turns out to be the wrong one, nobody’s going to say “Jim” screwed up. Nobody’s going to say that — because it was a group decision. It’s not on Jim, it’s on the group.

Is the group then acting as a lightning-rod of blame for Jim’s benefit? No. What if you’re in the group, going-along to get-along, signing off on this thing “Jim” likes? Oops, it turned out to be the wrong decision. Are you going to catch hell? No. The guy who sat at the table to your left won’t catch hell. Nobody will catch hell.

So why is anybody going to put any thought into the possibility that the wrong choice is being made? They won’t. There are exceptions…someone is usually “chairing” the meeting, and that person can catch some hell. But that doesn’t really work well. This is usually a non-technical person, or a person who admittedly knows less than what needs to be known to make the decision. In situations like those, this is a big part of the justification for having the meeting. And let’s face it, the chairman didn’t make the decision…that’s not the way it will be remembered…group decisions, overall, are just things that “happened.” If they’re wrong, they aren’t the fault of anyone. They’re events.

Anyway. I’m glad to see a year later the rest of the world is finally catching up with me. Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go have a well-earned SPIR moment of my own.

Credit for the image goes to Moonbattery.