Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Monday, March 29, 2010

    5 Things I Love About "Human Target"

    For those who don't know, Human Target is an action/adventure series starring Mark Valley as Christopher Chance, a sort of bodyguard/mercenary for hire who does the A-Team routine ("if you've got a problem, and no one else will help...").

    As is usually the case, Mrs. Curmudgeon dragged me kicking and screaming into viewership, and I wound up liking the show a lot more than I thought I would. Here's a few reasons why:

    5: The Music. I've never been a huge "music person". I've watched countless TV shows and movies and felt absolutely zero impact from the score, and the only pieces that stick in my head are usually the ones that have become part of the cultural zeitgeist, like the James Bond and Mission Impossible themes. Human Target's music is nowhere near as catchy or memorable (I couldn't hum a few bars if I tried), but every time I hear it, something about it says "pay attention now, cuz this is about to be really cool". It hints of suspense, danger, action, the whole nine yards.

    4: The Writing. While all action/adventure series have the same problem-of-the-week format, Human Target just seems to do it well without being overly cheesy. Yes, there are the typical tropes about the "man with the mysterious past" and so forth, but it's entertaining for a change. The plots are a mixture of Leverage/Mission Impossible-style intrigue, James Bond-style feats of derring-do, and gritty, bone-crunching "thrilling heroics" that would've made the Firefly crew proud.

    3: Winston. Played by Chi McBride, Winston is basically every other Chi McBride character (Boston Legal, Pushing Daisies): a gruff-but-lovable tough guy whose main ambition is to have things go smoothly for a change. Sure, Chi doesn't seem to have a lot of range, but the character he does play is one I love to watch.

    2: Christopher Chance. Mark Valley plays the roguish hero in a way that makes him instantly likable in a way that I've only seen Nathan Fillion do before. His devil-may-care attitude is tempered by a quiet confidence in his own abilities that is self-assured without being cocky -- well, without being too cocky. He's James Bond, Han Solo, Malcolm Reynolds and Indiana Jones all rolled into one.

    One of the great things about the character is that, for a change, we don't have the uber-action hero who for some godawful reason "doesn't like guns". This was OK for MacGuyver, who was supposed to be all about the Rube Goldberg stuff, but as a trope in shows like Leverage (with the character Eliot Spencer), it just tends to irritate the hell out of me. Chance has no such compunctions, and will gladly pop off a few rounds if he deems it necessary.

    Mrs. Curmudgeon also assures me that he's really easy on the eyes.

    1: Guerrero. Jackie Earle Haley's character is the high point of the show for me. He is completely amoral, a pathological liar, and his loyalties are more questionable than Jayne Cobb's. He's a good guy to have on your side (if he decides he's on your side), but he won't be pushed around by anyone. Attempt to corner him, for example on a situation report, and he'll lie, dissemble, or simply hang up the phone. Characters who attempt to corner him physically often find they don't like his response. Winston despises him, and some of the funniest lines in the show come from their interactions.

    Guerrero also has the some of the best intimidation lines ever, despite being a scrawny little dude who probably weighs all of 120 pounds. Like this one, when accosted by 2 anonymous thugs:

    Guerrero: I got to warn you guys, if this gets violent, I'm gonna fight back.

    Alfredo the Thug: You think you're gonna fight back?

    Guerrero: All right, maybe fight back's a little misleading. I'll take the beating 'cause that's all you two amateurs are cleared to do. And then one night soon, I'm gonna break into your house and kill each of you in your sleep. Probably start with you, Alfredo. That way Steven here can have a few extra days with Marla and the girls. It's only fair.

    I did mention he's completely amoral, right?

    Anyway, if you like action movies, you'll probably love Human Target. It's like getting a new hour-long action movie delivered to your DVR every week. Don't have a DVR? Seriously, join the 21st century.

    Posted by Tom, 3/29/2010 7:01:33 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Quote of the Day

    If you would not confront your neighbor and demand his money at the point of a gun to solve every new problem that may appear in your life, you should not allow the government to do it for you.
    -- William E. Simon

    Posted by Tom, 3/24/2010 5:38:19 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    I admire your motivation; your methods need work

    Lost in the hullabaloo over the health care "reform" bill was another legislative drama, no less important. It was brought to my attention by a Facebook acquaintance who swings rather far left of center, and seems to be the "other" cause du jour of folks in that camp.

    In a nutshell, there was a bill before the Senate, being held up by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, dealing with the present violence in Uganda and neighboring countries. The LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act will supposedly bring peace and prosperity to this war-torn region of Africa, and various activists were mobilized to get Tom Coburn out of the way. Coburn lifted his hold, the bill passed and is now off to the House for further consideration.

    Frankly, I'm confused by the whole thing. Leftists have complained for almost a decade now that "war is not the answer" with regard to terrorism, and I have actually changed my position to agree with them. But now leftists are pushing for military intervention in Africa, to bring an end to what is essentially terrorism. I must therefore wonder if they're serious at all about the anti-war stance, or if they're simply anti-war when it's convenient or popular in their circles of friends.

    It is also a well-worn article of faith among the Left that "violence begets violence"... why then, would they have us believe that something in the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act is a magical antidote against recursive violence in Africa? The focus of the folks at seems to be on getting the current warlord out of circulation, but no mention is made of the fact that there's a new warlord every few years in that region.

    I wonder too, how it is that the Left can square itself with the rhetoric on the one hand that the reason Middle Easterners hate us so much is our incessant meddling in their affairs, while pretending that the people of Uganda, Sudan, and the Congo will welcome our interference in the long term, as it surely will be. Are they proposing to open military bases in the various remote regions of Africa where warlords and their armies hide out, to "protect the people there", while at the same time deploring the existence of our military bases in Middle Eastern countries to do essentially the same thing?

    It's not that I don't care about Africa or the plight of child soldiers -- to the contrary, I care quite a bit. And I certainly understand the appeal of bringing the hammer down on those who are causing mayhem in those countries -- after all, I was originally a supporter of the war in Afghanistan. The problem with the government hammer though, is that every problem starts looking like a nail.

    I think a lot of leftists (and voters in general) either don't understand or are willfully ignorant of the fact that government accomplishes nothing without initiating violence, either actual or threatened. The military solution being sought is obviously going to bloody as can be -- I'm told there's no fighting quite as savage as fighting in Africa. But even the rebuilding process is violent: under the proposal, our government will forcibly extract money from the American taxpayer, send it to Uganda, and force them to build whatever "improvements" are desired -- not by the people of Uganda, but by whatever bureaucrats in the US/Ugandan governments are involved.

    It's easy to understand why a conservative would want to do these things... they're pretty enthusiastic about the application of violence, after all -- particularly military violence. I have in fact engaged in dialog with conservatives and soldiers who have stated a burning desire to invade Africa on general principles and slaughter wholesale anyone who lifts a finger in resistance. As well as I can understand it, the theory goes that once we've killed enough of them to set an example, the rest will shape up for purposes of self-preservation.

    What baffles me is why liberals have suddenly become the hawks when it comes to Africa. The sites linked above whitewash the contemplated activities by using terms like "arrest" and "apprehend", as though this were a perfectly sterile police action, but the fact is they want to go to war. It would only be sheer stupidity and/or willful blindness that would allow a person to pretend that anything less will be effective. Send in a SEAL team or whatever to "arrest" Joseph Kony, and his followers will find a new leader. Pour millions into building infrastructure, and you provide his armies with fresh targets. Provide enough troops to prevent those armies from committing further atrocities against the locals as you engage the armies, and you build up resentment against "American military occupation".

    There is no doubt that Africa is a mess. It has been for centuries. Various aid, charitable, and religious organizations have been pouring resources into the continent for decades at the very least, and while they have done some good, it's clear that there is a frightening amount of work left to do. The continent has a long history of brutality against its people, committed by both whites and non-whites alike. As I review my (admittedly incomplete) knowledge of European/American involvement on a governmental scale, I can't think of any efforts that have really succeeded in "civilizing the savages" or showering them with "the blessings of Western civilization". I can think of a lot that ended in mass bloodshed and a lot of dead brown people.

    Government action is the shortcut answer that everyone wants to be correct. I guess the thinking goes that if the government is powerful enough, the only real concern is aiming that power at the right targets. Reality is much messier than that. Government action is not a sterile little fix that you can apply to whatever ails you without concern for side effects; it has repercussions that are felt around the world and down through the generations. It has become the easy answer for the lazy, the unimaginative, and the stupid: "pass a law! Get the government to fix it!". It also has the handy side-effect of allowing one to foist the moral responsibility of one's convictions onto someone else.

    Sadly, even if I were to agree that all of the pain and suffering incurred by accepting State action in this matter is a worthwhile trade to achieve the goals of the proposed legislation, I cannot agree that the legislation can ever hope to achieve its stated goals. Even if we were to embark on a campaign the size and scope of the present "War on Terror", focused entirely on ridding the African continent of violence, we would never achieve that goal, any more than we could achieve the goal of taming a tiger by poking it repeatedly with a hat pin. We'd be working counter to our own goals. Real progress will only be made when we ask ourselves "how do we fix this without getting the State involved?", and then apply ourselves vigorously to those answers.

    Posted by Tom, 3/24/2010 5:28:06 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, March 23, 2010

    Quote of the Day

    There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him.
    -- Robert Heinlein

    Posted by Tom, 3/23/2010 7:55:01 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Comments on the "Health Care" "Reform" Bill

    According to one article, the health care "reform" bill is "intended to make health insurance available to 32 million Americans who do not have it". This is of course pure poppycock -- insurance is already available to these people, they just choose not to buy it for reasons of affordability or personal priorities. I've worked with a ton of people who scream and moan when they're told that the latest employer health plan is going to cost them another couple hundred dollars in premiums, but think nothing of a $200/month cell phone bill and a $100/month cable TV bill and a $500/month car payment.

    There are undoubtedly some who cannot afford it -- I was once one of them. I paid hospital bills out of my pocket, and it was very painful to do so. I dealt with the issue by working very hard not to get sick or injured, and learning to deal with things like colds and flus by treating them at home. And I worked hard to increase my income and improve my employment situation so that I could get covered for the things that would be truly catastrophic, financially speaking. It was a hardship, no doubt about it, but I'm a better person for enduring it, and I don't understand the current attitude that no one should ever have to endure hardship.

    The truth is that the bill doesn't make health insurance available (since it already is available), but it does force everyone to buy some, then attempts to make it easier for them to do so. This should be seen not as something done "for the consumer", but rather to the consumer and for the insurance companies -- witness the stock prices booming the day after the bill was passed in the House.

    Despite its common moniker, the bill is not about health care. It is about health insurance. I've seen no indication that folks who are effectively self-insured by sitting on large sums of cash will be exempt from the bill's requirement that they buy health insurance. I've seen nothing in descriptions of the bill which will improve our supply of doctors or medicine, because the bill is not about the supply of health care available to people, it's about the supply of health insurance -- or rather, the demand for health insurance.

    Predictions of what the bill will do are probably a bit premature, but it is safe to say what it won't do: it won't solve health care problems for the USA, and it won't reduce the deficit by 138 billion dollars over the next 10 years, as stated by the Congressional Budget Office. The various schemes to "pay" for the bill, by taxing this & that, or assuming new "efficiencies" that may or may not magically appear, completely neglect the fact that conditions change. More to the point, conditions change against government and legislation.

    People do not simply maintain a static pattern of behavior in response to changing conditions -- it simply isn't in the human genome to do so. They react to minimize those things which cause them discomfort. If you tax something of mine, say a "cadillac insurance plan" or an asset or a particular form of income, I will find ways to get out from under the burden of the tax. I will change the income, or hide it in tax shelters. I will get a cheaper insurance plan. I will shuffle assets around, or find ways to devalue them. In short, I (and others like me) will reduce the income that government can expect from a given tax, and the deficit will return, probably growing in the process.

    For all the talk of "health care", this bill seems mainly like a gift-wrapped corporate welfare package for insurance companies. Yes, the big juicy carrot comes with a bit of stick, in the form of forcing them to take on customers with pre-existing conditions and so forth, but at the moment I'm thinking they're making out more than they're getting shafted. Then there's this tidbit:

    Traders focused on health stocks because the bill passed by the House will extend benefits to 32 million uninsured Americans. That means more business for insurers and drug makers. Many of the key points of the bill will not go into effect for several years.

    “You’ve got some uncertainty here lifted,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. Ablin noted, however, that other industries will face higher costs to pay for wider coverage. “What it really comes down to is that as a result of this bill health care is a beneficiary at the expense of every other sector.”

    The stock market appears to agree.

    A couple of articles, on the other hand, mentioned that a few insurance companies lost ground after the bill's passage, so it's entirely possible I'm underestimating the size of the stick involved here. And in some ways it's pretty hefty -- requiring a company to take on a customer who will never be profitable is something that I've railed against in the past. I anticipate seeing health insurance premiums going up across the board to cover for this, but I think the insurance companies will probably find ways to make it work in their favor -- again, people (and corporations) change their behavior in response to stimuli. Reading various bits of commentary from all over the spectrum, it certainly seems to be the opinion of a lot of folks that this bill is massive corporate welfare for insurance companies... something I've been told Democrats were against.

    Posted by Tom, 3/23/2010 3:50:27 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    Thought for the Day

    The less I worry about stuff I can't control, the happier I am.

    Posted by Tom, 3/18/2010 6:24:44 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, March 9, 2010

    Quote of the Day

    "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God."
    -- James 1:19-20

    Posted by Tom, 3/9/2010 6:04:37 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, March 5, 2010

    Thought for the Day

    Liberals want the State to do the Church's job.
    Conservatives want the Church to do the State's job.
    Both sides want something that's good for the State and bad for the Church.
    That's why I'm a libertarian.

    Posted by Tom, 3/5/2010 7:43:21 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, March 4, 2010

    Thought for the Day

    Government programs are like cable TV. You get a free install, all kinds of crazy channels including premium ones, for a low monthly rate... that expires in 6 months, reverting to the normal price for the duration of your contract.

    That's when you discover that, unlike cable TV, you can't call them up and cancel the service.

    Posted by Tom, 3/4/2010 7:36:36 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    Quote of the Day

    "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."
    -- Voltaire

    Posted by Tom, 3/3/2010 7:17:49 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...