Thursday, January 31, 2013

Quotation Of The Day:Vocabulary And Education

From E.D. Hirsch:
It isn’t overstating the case to say that the most secure way to predict whether an educational policy is likely to help restore the middle class is to focus on the question: Is this policy likely to expand the vocabularies of 12th-graders?
Hirsch may be correct, but his Common Core disciples and their STEM allies aren't producing those policies.

A Modest Proposal: Let's Treat Guns And Porn In The Same Manner

Many folks who want to put guns in the hands of everyone also want to limit or ban violent video games and films. In short, they believe they can protect the second amendment by stomping on the first.

So allow me to make this modest proposal. Let's treat guns and porn-sexual or violent-the same way. I don't care about people's sexual fetishes. I certainly don't want to see them displayed in public. I also don't care about people's gun fetishes and would prefer never to see a civilian packing a gun in public.

First, everyone over twenty-one who has not been convicted of sex crime can buy or download all of the adult-performed porn-sexual or violent-that he or she desires. (I will stipulate that the performances must be consensual.) Civilians over twenty-one can buy all of the guns they want.

Second, people can watch all of the sexual or violent porn they want in their homes or legally parked vehicles but no one outside the residence or vehicle should be able to hear or see the material. People with guns can have them in their homes, in their vehicles, at the gun range, and in the field while legally hunting. Heck, if they want to they can buy up every old television in the state, go out to the back forty, make sure no one is around, and shoot the old televisions into smithereens if they want. When not in use, the guns must be locked up.

Third, no porn in schools, churches, courthouses or supermarkets. No guns in schools, churches, courthouses or supermarkets. (I will, of course, make allowances for police officers and evidence in courthouses.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Maybe We Should Expand The Second Amendment To Cover Bicycles

In a a Madville Times comment, MC, hints that disaster scenarios prove the necessity of firearms:
However our society seems to be fixated on a culture of killing and death. Given the deep political divides in Washington and Pierre, along with some general dissatisfaction with our government, I might need one tomorrow. As we have seen overseas, situations can change very rapidly.
Future Pundit Randall Parker points out guns might not be the only thing one needs in a diasaster:
I'm reading some after-the-electromagnetic pulse disaster novels where the electric grid has collapsed. Lots of people walking home or fleeing home on foot. In the vast majority of these novels there is no mention of any means of human transportation between a car and walking. So some guy has to walk home hundreds or thousands of miles across a post-apocalyptic landscape to get back to his family. Every person he comes across either is on foot or has some Mad Max truck fuel. What's with that?
Is this bias by the authors due to a total lack of bicycles, skate boards, roller skates, and push scooters in their rural or suburban neighborhoods? Am I so out of touch with life in some American states that I'm mistaken in thinking that large areas have no bikes? I do not think so. In the United States annual bicycle sales at 20" wheel size and above run at 11 to 14 million per year. If we suddenly couldn't get any gasoline easily tens of millions could bicycle and maybe well over a third the population. Throw in skate boards, roller skates, and other smaller stuff and 3 mph travel seems avoidable.
What's even weirder: post-plague novels have this problem. So, fine, most people do not own a bicycle. But if 99+% of the population has just died surely there is a bicycle for each and every person still alive. Hiking is really optional in such a scenario. The average travel speed should be above 10 mph if almost everyone dies.
Megan McArdle adds to bicycle analysis:
Why is it that in this sort of fiction people are either hoofing it, or riding horses?  They never get on a bicycle, or use a wheelbarrow; it's animal power, a home-distilled-ethanol truck, or nothing.  Yet on modern roads, a bicycle is at least as fast as a horse, maybe faster (forget what you've seen in Westerns; horses don't like running flat out for a full day any more than you would.)  Of course, horses have advantages--they're doing the work instead of you--but also disadvantages.  Bicycles don't break their legs, they don't need to be fed, and on a modern road, their gait is a lot smoother.  The bicycle was a radical transportation breakthrough, especially when combined with the paved road, which is why millions and millions of people in poor countries still use them. 
FP concludes:
Update: A practical point for preppers: If you are the kind of guy who keeps a gun and a backpack full of food and camping gear in your trunk (never knowing when civilization will collapse while you are far from home) then you should put a bicycle in there too. If you are keeping all your prepper gear at home then keep bikes at home too.
This brings up another point I do not see in WTSHTF disaster novels: What's cheap to buy extras of before TSHTF to use for trading once civilization has collapsed? Water filters. Bicycles. Think of the trading value of a bike WTSHTF. How about superglue? Stores for a long time with lots of uses. Ditto duct tape.
Both McArdle and Parker make a valid point. If the world does suddenly devolve to a state of nature, we might need MacGyver more than we need John Wayne.

Brad Ford Recycles Offensive Blog Posts

Nearly a year ago to the day, Brad Ford asserted
Farmers don’t abuse, neglect, or minimize animals under their care because problems will show up. Even slaveowners centuries ago understood this. No, people aren’t animals, but the same dynamics about caring apply. Families know this instinctively.
Today Brad Ford republishes that creepy, ahistorical, reprehensible column verbatim.
Farmers don’t abuse, neglect, or minimize animals under their care because problems will show up. Even slaveowners centuries ago understood this. No, people aren’t animals, but the same dynamics about caring apply. Families know this instinctively.
There must be some weird holiday that people like Ford celebrate between Martin Luther King day and Lincoln's birthday  Part of the celebration must include efforts to have the person at the forefront of the civil rights struggle and the person recognized as the man who emancipated the slaves both spin in their graves.

People have the write to publish such tripe at their leisure but I really wish they would learn which items belong in the trash and which items deserve to be recycled.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Minor Musing In Which I Take Issue With The South Dakota Legislature

I probably have not paid enough attention to all of the bills in the hopper, but it seems that legislators are focused on guns. Some want ensure that schools have them. Some want to nullify federal gun laws. Apparently the latter group believes they live in South Carolina in 1860 not South Dakota in 2013.

What happened to the good old days? Where's the focus on important issues like kuchen or kolaches? Maybe I'm being picky;  the marijuana medical necessity defense may cover brownies which are a dessert.

Even so, we're missing the Sharia law bill that I look forward to every year. Most importantly, do we really want Wyoming to get ahead of us in the mythical creatures department?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Quotation Of The Day: Inequality And Opportunity Edition

From this Joseph Stiglitz commentary in the New York Times:
Our skyrocketing inequality — so contrary to our meritocratic ideal of America as a place where anyone with hard work and talent can “make it” — means that those who are born to parents of limited means are likely never to live up to their potential. Children in other rich countries like Canada, France, Germany and Sweden have a better chance of doing better than their parents did than American kids have. More than a fifth of our children live in poverty — the second worst of all the advanced economies, putting us behind countries like Bulgaria, Latvia and Greece.
Our society is squandering its most valuable resource: our young. The dream of a better life that attracted immigrants to our shores is being crushed by an ever-widening chasm of income and wealth. Tocqueville, who in the 1830s found the egalitarian impulse to be the essence of the American character, is rolling in his grave.

A Little Humor For The NFL Playoffs

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Scripture And Song Of The Week: Second Timothy Edition

2 Timothy 1
7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

A Minor Musing About Devolution And The Gun Debate

Every year I sit down with young Lincoln-Douglas debaters, and we discuss two views of the social contract. The debaters only have thirteen minutes to present their position and refute their opponent's position on any issue, so we flatten some deep ideas a bit more than we should, but the debaters are at least exposed to texts and ideas that are foundations of America's political discourse.

We discuss Locke's view that humans left the state of nature and created society to preserve the products of their labor and that Locke wanted individuals to preserve as much liberty as possible. I usually throw out Ben Franklin's famous statement: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

We also discuss Hobbes's premise that the state of nature was a time when humanity lived "without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man." In the state of nature, Hobbes contends the"life of man, [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short." Hobbes then goes on to advocate a much larger state than Locke.

Both believed that society had moved beyond the state nature. Yet, the current gun debate in United States seems predicated on the idea that America is the devolving or soon will devolve back to the state of nature. Last week, on ABC's This Week, Peggy Noonan asserted:
Yes, two things I'd like to say, one is that people are buying guns like crazy now. Not because they're nutty, not enough because they're angry, but because I really think they fear their country is falling apart.
It's defensive and it's something that I think we all have to be talking about. There's so much anxiety out in America. And they also fear their government.
I find the idea that banning guns will keep me safer confusing. I have the same risk of dying in an automobile accident as I do dying as a result of gun violence, and no one is talking about banning cars.

I also find the idea of arming teachers or expanding exponentially the number licences to carry concealed weapons confusing.  I doubt that stocking my house with guns will make me safer. First, the government has drones and tanks.  I have neither.  Second, a lot of private citizens can afford more guns and ammunition than I can. I will certainly lose nearly every arms race

Third, and most importantly, I also teach a unit on the Trojan War. Now that I'm closer to age 60 than I am to age 50, this passage resonates:
And maybe you ask, what was Priam’s fate.
When he saw the end of the captive city, the palace doors
wrenched away, and the enemy among the inner rooms,
the aged man clasped his long-neglected armour
on his old, trembling shoulders, and fastened on his useless sword,
and hurried into the thick of the enemy seeking death
In the centre of the halls, and under the sky’s naked arch,
was a large altar, with an ancient laurel nearby, that leant
on the altar, and clothed the household gods with shade.
Here Hecuba, and her daughters, like doves driven
by a dark storm, crouched uselessly by the shrines,
huddled together, clutching at the statues of the gods. . . .
So the old man spoke, and threw his ineffectual spear
without strength, which immediately spun from the clanging bronze
and hung uselessly from the centre of the shield’s boss.
Pyrrhus spoke to him: “Then you can be messenger, carry
\the news to my father, to Peleus’s son: remember to tell him
of degenerate Pyrrhus, and of my sad actions:
now die.” Saying this he dragged him, trembling,
and slithering in the pool of his son’s blood, to the very altar,
and twined his left hand in his hair, raised the glittering sword
in his right, and buried it to the hilt in his side.
This was the end of Priam’s life: this was the death that fell to him
by lot, seeing Troy ablaze and its citadel toppled, he who was
once the magnificent ruler of so many Asian lands and peoples.
A once mighty body lies on the shore, the head
shorn from its shoulders, a corpse without a name.
I will never be "a magnificent ruler," but in any armed struggle, I am much more likely to wind up like Priam than I am to survive.

I have long thought that Constitution was written by men blessed with genius. They understood that Hobbes may have correctly analyzed what happens when humans live without limits or controls, but they believed that humans had God-given reason and should be allowed to preserve as much liberty as possible just as Locke advocated.  Hence, the Bill of Rights expresses the goal that people should be secure in "their persons, houses, papers, and effects." The people were recognized as having reason, a tool necessary to live their faith in the public sphere, express their opinions, gather together peaceably, and petition the government for redress of grievances, acts that do not rely on brute force.

The current gun debate seems to illustrate that the founders were wrong; humans, at least those with the loudest voices in the gun debate have lost all sense of reason. In fact, both sides seem to wish to submit to fear, an emotion devoid of reason. If these loud voices have their way, the devolution into a world in which lives are nasty, brutish, and short can't be far behind

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I Read It But I Still Don't Believe It: Kucinich To Join Fox News

From this International Business Times report:
Dennis Kucinich, the former Ohio congressman and Democratic presidential candidate, has taken a job as an analyst with Fox News. Kucinich’s first appearance with the network will be on Thursday night’s episode of “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The IBT report does not indicate whether Fox News plans to let Kucinich speak when he appears.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Can The Young'uns Be Made All Right?

I've spent the better part of the past three days writing letters of recommendation for scholarships, and, a new recommendation experience for me, prep school admission. That fact may help explain why this Alan Jacobs paragraph has had a disconcerting impact:
It’s often said that the current generation of twentysomethings are distinctively narcissistic, but the available evidence strongly suggests that that is not true: any narcissism that has set in to American society set in forty or more years ago, just as Christopher Lasch told us. But if they’re not any more narcissistic than their predecessors, these young people do often seem bereft of a moral vocabulary with which to assess their lives — and, perhaps equally often, they seem to be craving such a vocabulary. For that lack they have no one but their elders to blame.

Jacobs is certainly correct that they young'uns don't have the tools to access their lives. They know how to take pictures and post the photos to Facebook, but they don't know how to explain why the smiles are plastic. They know how to say they are bored but they are confused by concepts such as angst or ennui. If they can't express emotion, it's difficulty for me to believe they examine their moral or spiritual condition or can explain to anyone what they believe that condition to be.

I also worry that the "elders" will continue to fail the young'us. Some of my fellow educators remain so concerned with students' self esteem that they forget that pain is a necessary to improve one's self physically, intellectually, and spiritually. Some of my uber-bosses advocate Common Core and believe that STEM has saving properties. They, unfortunately, dominate state and federal departments education. Their efforts to remove from the curriculum the novels, myths, and poems that gave most of us the vocabulary we use to describe our moral selves will exacerbate the problem. Tech manuals don't build one's moral vocabulary, and I doubt that anyone will have the time to assign Lasch's work.

Many seem to believe that the 1950s were bland, but at least everyone understood the pathos inherent in James Dean's admontion to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse. I'm not sure that the young'uns today can express that pathos. What's more frightening is that I'm not sure that they want to.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Depressing Stat Of The Day: Half Of The World's Food Is Thrown Away

From Britain's The Independent,
As much as half of all the food produced in the world - two billion tonnes worth - ends up being thrown away, a new report claims.
The waste is caused by poor infrastructure and storage facilities, over-strict sell-by dates, "get-one-free" offers, and consumer fussiness, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
Each year countries around the world produce some four billion tonnes of food.
But between 30% and 50% of this total, amounting to 1.2 to two billion tonnes, never gets eaten, says the report Global Food; Waste Not, Want Not.
Larry might have to cast a wider net to catch all fo the Earth haters or to paraphrase a rather famous polical statement: we're all Earth haters now. That's not something we should wear as a badge of honor.

Song Of The Day: Opt Out Edition

Based on history and this Press & Dakotan editorial, the title fits, but the tone and mood might be a bit ironic.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Two Diametrically Opposed Views Of Religion

Ranting at, Rob Bricken urges a return to Greek polytheism. He argues that "modern religion doesn't have any flair." He lists several reasons that the Greek gods would be superior to monotheism. I'll probably use a few in my mythology classes, especially those that seem to have been added for humor.
They're relatable. The Greek gods are definitely gods, but they're also still recognizably human. They have the same emotions, problems and insecurities as regular humans do, and thus, they're far more understandable than nebulous clouds or old bearded men on thrones. The Greek gods actually know what people go through in their lives, because they experience the same feelings. This may make the Greek gods fallible, but it also makes them far more relatable than other divine beings. . . .
They're easily adaptable to modern life. Most major religions haven't had a serious update for at least a millennium or so. As such, it can be hard to truly integrate these religions into modern times. But thanks to their diversity, the Greek gods would snap right into place. Hermes is obviously the god of cellphones, emails and text messages. As a craftsman, Hephaestus would probably handle all computers and network issues, while Demeter would watch over restaurants. Apollo, the god of YouTube videos. You can't tell me that life wouldn't be at least a little bit easier if we had a god specifically handling YouTube videos.
I make the later point about Hermes and Hephaestus in my mythology classes. I have to guess that Bricken is being ironic when he claims that the Greek gods would not be seen as "old bearded men on thrones." Much of the artwork of the that period shows the males to be "bearded" and on "thrones."

On a more substantive note, the paragraph I have quoted and the rest of the "rant" seem to miss the whole idea of  mystery, awe, and wonder that faith should provide.

Bricken apparently is responding to the type of Christians that Walter Russel Mead describes:
Some Christians believe that you have to take the Bible literally to get any good out of it at all; if snakes didn’t talk in the Garden of Eden the whole thing is a sham. (Non-believers often think this is what Christians believe, and conclude that the whole religion is a waste of time.)
Mead offers a reminder that both views may well be wrong:
Jesus was actually a very unusual religious leader. Unlike a lot of prophets and holy figures, Jesus didn’t teach about health or hygiene. He gave his followers no ideas about what to wear or what to eat. He left no instructions about how to wash your hands or what motions to use when you pray. He didn’t tell his followers how to divide their inheritances, which cousins they could marry or what animals were good and bad to eat. He didn’t come up with a Christian haircut, beard trim, or method of brushing your teeth. Unlike the Mayan Calendar, he refused to give any date for the end of the world. He didn’t give a date for the beginning of the world and he made no effort to settle any scientific or historical controversies.
There’s no arcane supernatural knowledge. He doesn’t tell us how many kinds of angels there are, and what powers each wields. He is utterly silent on the functioning of the celestial system. He taught his followers to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” but he doesn’t tell them anything about what goes on in heaven or what people do there. If there are djinn, he is silent about them. His teachings seem to flip between impossible counsels of perfection and assertions of God’s infinite love.
When he taught, he often spoke in parables—stories that were not necessarily literally true, but that nevertheless open the door to a deeper understanding. Two of the most famous are the Parable of the Prodigal Son and the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In the first, Jesus tells us about a young man who asked his father for his share of the family fortune and then went off to a foreign country to spend it in wild and dissolute living, on prostitutes and other fun things. When the money ran out, and the country he was visiting was hit by a famine, the young man was starving and penniless and decided to return home and beg his father for a job as one of his handymen. But when his father saw him coming, he ran out to meet him, hugged him and ordered a feast to welcome him home. The son he had lost but still loved had come back to him, and that was what really mattered.
The parable of the Good Samaritan tells about a merchant who was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, where he was robbed by thieves who took all he had and left him to die of his wounds. A Samaritan (a member of a sect that regular Jews of the day considered heretical and unclean) found him, brought him to an inn (there were no hospitals in those days) and told the innkeeper to take care of the man and send the bill to the Samaritan. The superficial point here is that we should be good to those in need, regardless of their faith or ethnicity; the deeper point is that Jesus was using a member of a despised outsider group as the good example, flipping conventional values on their head and challenging his audience to reexamine their prejudices and assumptions.
No oracles, no relatability, no literalism--just a challenge "to reexamine [our] prejudices and assumptions" while dealing with impossible "counsels of perfection" and dealing with unfathomable "assertions of God's infinite love," a call to faith not the superficiality of certainty. It may not be as fun as an oracle or dipping a baby in a river to make him invulnerable but that sort of call better captures the power of both myth and faith than an actual return to Greek polytheisim as understood by most moderns every could.

I Love It When Literature Makes The News

Both NPR and Politico report that poet Richard Blanco will read a poem during President Obama's second inauguration.  From Politico:
The Presidential Inauguration Committee on Wednesday named the Inaugural poet, who will appear at President Barack Obama’s swearing-in ceremony on Inauguration Day. Richard Blanco will be the country’s youngest Inaugural poet and also the first Hispanic and first member of the LGBT community to serve in the position, according to a statement from the committee:
The cynic in me sees this choice a stroke of pure genius. It's a nod to the Latino community in general, and it's a sign that Democrats are willing to reach out the Cuban-American community in particular. The latter group has tended to be solidly Republican.

On the other hand, the fact that Blanco is gay will certainly drive Obama's most ardent and vitriolic opponents into a dither. I can't wait to read Brad Ford's and Steve Sibson's take on this choice. It's always fun to see people foaming at the mouth. (As a side note, I think that some of Obama's critics on issues like drones and the usurpation of civil liberties need to get more coverage. I wonder if that coverage would occur if they did froth at the mouth more often.)

The only possible downside for President Obama is the fact that including a poet may anger Secretary of Education Arne Duncan along with the testing and Common Core folk who think literature is a waste of time. In order to make them happy, Obama would have had to ask Bill Gates to do a public reading of the new Windows tech manual..

Cynicism aside, here's "Burning in the Rain" one of Blanco's poems that was published in the New Republic in 2011:
Someday compassion would demand
I set myself free of my desire to recreate
my father, indulge in my mother’s losses,
strangle lovers with words, forcing them
to confess for me and take the blame.
Today was that day: I tossed them, sheet
by sheet on the patio and gathered them
into a pyre. I wanted to let them go
in a blaze, tiny white dwarfs imploding
beside the azaleas and ficus bushes,
let them crackle, burst like winged seeds,
let them smolder into gossamer embers—
a thousand gray butterflies in the wind.
Today was that day, but it rained, kept
raining. Instead of fire, water—drops
knocking on doors, wetting windows
into mirrors reflecting me in the oaks.
The garden walls and stones swelling
into ghostlier shades of themselves,
the wind chimes giggling in the storm,
a coffee cup left overflowing with rain.
Instead of burning, my pages turned
into water lilies floating over puddles,
then tiny white cliffs as the sun set,
finally drying all night under the moon
into papier-mâché souvenirs. Today
the rain would not let their lives burn.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

AIG May Sue Federal Government Because The Federal Government Bailed Out The Company

Sometimes words fail. The New York Times reports that AIG may sue the government because the government bailed it out during the financial crisis that led to the recent recession.
Fresh from paying back a $182 billion bailout, the American International Group Inc. has been running a nationwide advertising campaign with the tagline “Thank you America.”
Behind the scenes, the restored insurance company is weighing whether to tell the government agencies that rescued it during the financial crisis: thanks, but you cheated our shareholders
The board of A.I.G. will meet on Wednesday to consider joining a $25 billion shareholder lawsuit against the government, court records show. The lawsuit does not argue that government help was not needed. It contends that the onerous nature of the rescue — the taking of what became a 92 percent stake in the company, the deal’s high interest rates and the funneling of billions to the insurer’s Wall Street clients — deprived shareholders of tens of billions of dollars and violated the Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for “public use, without just compensation.”
I have nothing to add. AIG concedes the bailout was needed. The bailout saved the company from bankruptcy. AIG's managment earned huge bonuses for nearly destroying the world's economy, but some shareholder believes he didn't get his cut so he wants to sue. Since words fail me, I'll use these paragraphs to conclude. (emphasis mine.)
Some government officials are already upset with the company for even seriously entertaining the lawsuit, people briefed on the matter said. The people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, noted that without the bailout, A.I.G. shareholders would have fared far worse in bankruptcy
“On the one hand, from a corporate governance perspective, it appears they’re being extra cautious and careful,” said Frank Partnoy, a former banker who is now a professor of law and finance at the University of San Diego School of Law. “On the other hand, it’s a slap in the face to the taxpayer and the government.”

Monday, January 7, 2013

Quotation Of The Day: American Exceptionalism Edition

From Daniel Larison:
If that is a short version of what American exceptionalism is, what is it not? American exceptionalism is not enthusiasm for global hegemony or an enormous military, nor is it a belief that the U.S. has a right or responsibility “to mold the world in its image.” There are ways to describe those ideas, but it is wrong and misleading to call them American exceptionalism. Americans may sympathize with other nations that desire to establish liberal and representative governments, and it’s conceivable that our government could occasionally assist them when there is good reason to believe that our assistance is welcomed and constructive, but the recent track record regarding the latter is so poor that the rest of the world would likely be much better off if it were not subjected to continued “molding” of this sort.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday Evening Geek Post: Some Great Geek Quotations From GeekDad

I admit to being a pop culture geek. GeekDad has published a list of 100 pop culture quotations that every geek should know. A few of my favorites follow:
“Spock. This child is about to wipe out every living thing on Earth. Now, what do you suggest we do….spank it?” — Dr. McCoy, Star Trek: The Motion Picture

“If you think that by threatening me you can get me to do what you want… Well, that’s where you’re right. But – and I am only saying that because I care – there’s a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing.” – Chris Knight, Real Genius

“We’re all very different people. We’re not Watusi. We’re not Spartans. We’re Americans, with a capital ‘A’, huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog.” – John Winger, Stripes

“Well, let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning’s reading, it would be a Twinkie thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.” – Egon, Ghostbusters

“And I said, I don’t care if they lay me off either, because I told, I told Bill that if they move my desk one more time, then, then I’m, I’m quitting, I’m going to quit. And, and I told Don too, because they’ve moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were married, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire…” – Milton Waddams, Office Space

According To Brad Ford Hurricane Relief Means Liberals Are Nazis

Brad Ford is at it again. For those who have forgotten, Ford has asserted that slave owners did not abuse slaves.
Farmers don’t abuse, neglect, or minimize animals under their care because problems will show up.  Even slaveowners centuries ago understood this.  No, people aren’t animals, but the same dynamics about caring apply. Families know this instinctively.
As I noted when Ford first posted this ridiculous notion, 12 million slaves died over the Atlantic. Further, 27 million people are still enslaved today.

Just to update the numbers a bit, Manna Freedom reports:
Globally There are more slaves today than at any time in human history.  An estimated 27 million men, women, and children are living in bondage. In 2007, slave traders made more profit than Google, Nike, and Starbucks combined.
  •     There are over one million new people trafficked annually.
  •     80% are women and 60% are children.
  •     Every minute two children become victims of human trafficking.
  •     The average life span of a child caught in the sex slave trade is two years.
  •     They are either beaten to death, contract HIV/AIDS, contract bacterial                meningitis, or overdose on drugs forced on them.

Then there was his infamous racial blending post.

Today, Ford asserts that Hurricane Sandy relief is evidence that the United States is governed by people with Nazi sensibilities. If I follow the train of thought correctly, Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast. The Northeast is hyper-liberal. Chris Christie threw Mitt Romney under the bus. Massive fraud will ensue and be supported by the Federal Government. The only obvious conclusion to be drawn from these observations: Nazis.
But deliberate fraud by individuals may not be the biggest problem.  America has liberal power brokers ensconced in the highest levels: government, education, and the media.  Thanks to political correctness and demagoguery, their authoritarian controls rival that of Nazi Germany, though in different guise today to elude obvious parallels.
Are there even any independent conservatives still left in America who can be watchdogs of Hurricane Sandy relief payments to make sure the Northeast doesn’t glut itself with excess.  The money should go to those who really need it.
Ford is free to make his assertions, but I wish he'd remember Godwin's Law. More importantly, I wish he's remember just because one has the opportunity and right to make inane or offensive remarks doesn't mean that one should.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The NRA And Hollywood And Irony

To the best of my knowledge, I have not sat in a pew in the church that the P&R, who writes at P&R Miscellany, pastors. I stop by his blog because he offers a viewpoint that differs from mine, and like Ross Douthat, I believe one should expose oneself to opinions that differ from one's own.

In a recent post, P&R examines the mid-season TV offerings and finds them wanting:
Two unoriginal, derivative horror shows, a show about teen sex, a hospital soap opera, and the spies next door.  Not one worth taking the trouble to actually watch.
I'm not going to quibble with his descriptions. I probably won't watch five of the six shows he mentions. I may watch an episode or two of The Following. The program might be a excuse to revive the great game 6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon. P&R, however,  doesn't share my Kevin Bacon nostalgia:
The Following is about a psychopathic murderer with a cult following who escapes from death row and the cop who is trying to nail him.  Lots of killing for no particular reason than to glory in the fact of killing and to have an excuse to put gore on the screen in order to titillate viewers.  But, hey, if we just banned assault weapons we wouldn't have any of that killing and so how would they make a TV show about it, then?
The tone and phrasing of those last few sentences seems reminiscent of the Wayne LaPierre rant about video games and Hollywood.

Given that connection, I wonder what P&R will make of this little bit of news.
Since 2010, the NRA National Firearms Museum, which is based out of the group's Fairfax, VA, headquarters, has hosted "Hollywood Guns," an exhibit featuring firearms made famous by movies like Dirty Harry, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and Die Hard. According to NRA magazine American Rifleman, "If you love guns or you love movies or, still luckier, you love guns and movies, this is a trip you cannot miss."
. . . museum senior curator Phil Schreier says, "[W]e encourage you to come by and visit this sequel and come see a true blockbuster here in Fairfax, where all the stars of the silver screen have descended into these galleries and are represented by some of the firearms that we've fallen in love with in our youth and our adulthood, wishing that we too could be like our matinee idols."
Writing at Think Progress, Alyssa Rosenberg notes:
Notably, he [Schreier] doesn’t exactly draw a distinction between the guns employed by good, law-abiding citizens, and badass, deeply transgressive villains: guns used for mayhem against innocent civilians are apparently just as awesome as guns used by law-abiding citizens in self-defense or officers of the peace in pursuit of criminals. “We have the Joker’s shotgun, the one that Heath Ledger used in The Dark Knight, a role that he won the academy award for,” Schreier says. “And speaking of Academy Awards, we have the silent shotgun that Javier Bardem used in No Country For Old Men.”

Who would have thought that the NRA has a museum that houses guns handled by characters who killed for "no particular reason than to glory in the fact of killing"? Surely, they'd have more sense than to create a museum that glorifies props from films that "glory in the fact of killing and to have an excuse to put gore on the screen in order to titillate viewers."

In short, Hollywood and glorifying violence on screen is the enemy except when it isn't. Media Matters reports that "firearms companies seek to have their guns featured in violent movies, particularly pointing to the rise of Glock handguns as in part a result of their strategy to get the guns into the hands of Hollywood prop houses."

Sometimes politics and pop culture make reality far stranger than fiction. The NRA may not hate Hollywood after all.
According to the museum's senior curator, the exhibit "is all about phenomenal firearms borrowed from our friends in America's movie capital," a somewhat kinder description of the movie industry than the one LaPierre provided.

Everything Should Be Pay As You Go

Yesterday's Yankton Press & Dakotan printed a letter from Dennis J. Muser of Pierre. Mr. Muser contends:
I think that the real question is WHO is responsible for the education of children? The simple answer in three words — PARENTS, PARENTS, PARENTS! The point being, if schools really do need more funding, it is way past time that parents start paying tuition to their public schools rather than relying on the coercive power of government to hit property owners, etc.
 Let's leave aside the little technicality that the South Dakota Constitution mandates "it shall be the duty of the Legislature to establish and maintain a general and uniform system of public schools wherein tuition shall be without charge . . ."

In fact, let's take this suggestion out to its logical conclusion. I'm sick of government using its coercive power to tax gasoline. Let's run everything on a pay as you go system.. Let's put a ticket machine at the end of each driveway and the entrance to every roadway so that drivers pay every time we drive. Drivers can grab a ticket when they enter a roadway and pay when they leave. It doesn't matter if they're driving from their home to the nearest Walmart or from Walla Walla, Washington to Washington DC. Everyone should pay every time he or she drives.

I suppose bicyclists could pay a lower rate because they cause less wear and tear on the road, but with a pay as you use system, they'd have some skin in the game. Right now, they're freeloaders using the public roadways without paying gas taxes that fund roads. They even have the gall to complain if someone driving a 4x4 pickup runs them over. Skin in the game isn't the same as skin on the road. That 4x4 driver pays more for those roads than the bicyclist; he should have the right to drive from center line to shoulder as he sees fit.

People could hire their own private security forces instead of relying on police and fire department. Every individual could hire his or her own health inspector to insure that all the food one consumes is safe. That situation alone might make everyone feel like a king or queen. Didn't they have food tasters in the Middle Ages? Safety and self-esteem in one fell swoop, who could ask for anthing else?

Heck, let's do away with all taxes and rely of tariffs the way the country did for most of the 18th and 19th Centuries. A standing army is only quasi-constitutional anyway.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Quotations Of The Day: Literary Allusion And Assault On Civil Liberties Edition

First Judge Colleen McMahon uses the two literary classics to describe her ruling that the Constitution doesn't allow the President to assassinate American citizens but that the Administration does not have to release internal memoranda that justify ordering assassinations:
“I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the executive branch of our government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret,” she wrote.
“The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me,” Judge McMahon wrote, adding that she was operating in a legal environment that amounted to “a veritable Catch-22.”
Conor Friedersdorf begins his analysis of McMahon's ruling with two more literary references:
Permitted to run CNN for a day, I'd amuse myself by arranging for a Crossfire-style debate between English professors who disagree intensely about how best to characterize President Obama's national security policies. "They're Orwellian," one would insist. "They're actually better described as Kafkaesque," the other would counter. They'd go back and forth, citing his transgressions against basic norms of justice and comparing them to plot points from dystopian novels. Poor Wolf Blitzer. He'd be horrified by a segment that afforded so little deference to a sitting president.

Implementing Common Core In South Dakota May Mean No Debate

Or at least no high school debate classes.

Currently South Dakota high school students must earn 4 language arts credits.  Those credits must include 1.5 writing credits, 1.5 literature credits. That literature requirement specifies that a student must take a semester of American Literature. The requirements also mandate a half credit of speech or debate and allow for a half credit language arts elective.

A new proposal that I'm told will be taken up this spring will operate under the principle that "each standard need not be a separate focus for instruction and assessment." In short, students many no longer be required to take American Literature along with speech or debate in order to earn a high school diploma.

Eliminating the speech or debate requirement is problematic and counter-intuitive on several levels.

First, the Common Core emphasizes non-fiction reading. Preparing debate cases requires that students read news articles, research students, white papers, and philosophical texts. No one sites Flannery O'Connor or Nathaniel Hawthorne in a policy debate round. Sometimes, I wish they would, but that's a topic for another day.

Second, debate requires students to evaluate sources and be aware of source bias. More importantly, speech and debate textbooks have units on propaganda techniques and recognizing logical fallacies. Given that fact checking has of necessity become a cottage industry. Politicians and pundits make a career by using facts to prove points that those facts were not intended to prove. TV advertisements use every logical fallacy imaginable to get consumers to buy products the consumer probably doesn't need. In short, recognizing logical fallacies and propaganda seems a necessary 21st Century life skill

Senator Russel Olson wants colleges and universities to teach students to be primarily good workers not necessarily good thinkers. If Olson's bill passes, high school speech and debate classes may be one of the few chances students get to question presumptions and construct arguments.

Of course, it's possible that Olson and those behind the proposal that will eliminate the debate requirement don't want citizens to think but just do what they're told. If that's the case, then South Dakota needs more not fewer debate classes.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013 Resolutions Part 2

I found these three posts about resolutions interesting and thought I would share them.

This Ken Santema Libertarian reminder is thought provoking.

Although not resolution specific, this longer post about the Jerry Seinfeld productivity method that consists of not breaking the chain seems helpful for disorganized folk with short attention spans when it comes to doing mundane tasks. I am one of those people.

Finally, this list of low-key resolutions has two that I really need to follow:
1. Listen longer before responding.
2. Ask more questions.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year's Day Geek Post: All The Bruce Waynes Morphed Into One

From this post:
Still debating on which Hollywood representation of Bruce Wayne was the very best? No need to anymore. Here is a shot of every single actor who has played the live action superhero morphed into one perfect Batman. It includes Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale. This comes from Redditor morphinapg. Personally we would have left Kilmer's lips, but that is still one fine looking troubled millionaire.

I have to admit that I'd be much more interested to see a photo morphing all of the actresses who have played Catwoman: Julie Newmar, Lee Merriweather, Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, and Anne Hathaway. The following YouTube video includes all of the actresses except Hathaway.

A Minor Musing About The Certainty Of A Middle Class Tax Increase

The Washington Post points out that Americans who depend on a paycheck will have a tax increase under the deal that Vice-President Joe Biden and Senator Mitch McConnell negotiated.
The deal negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses a separate tax — the income tax — and would prevent tax rates from increasing for all but the wealthiest Americans. But both sides have decided to leave the payroll tax out of the agreement.

Unlike income taxes, which rise along with a worker’s income, the payroll tax is a fixed percentage of an employee’s salary. Allowing the tax cut to expire increases taxes on salaries by 2 percent for every American worker. Up to $110,100 a year in salary is subject to the tax.
First, I have to admit that I'm ambivalent about about the payroll tax holiday lapsing. I don't like the idea that my paycheck is going to be decreased 2%, but I realize that payroll taxes affect social security benefits.

The thing that really bugs me about the end of the payroll tax holiday is that Mitt Romney and others of his ilk can smile their plastic smiles and chuckle woodenly that the 47% got what was coming to them, more taxes. Meanwhile, Romney et al. will be setting up another tax shelter in the Caymans.