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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    Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    Free Speech

    The inimitable Christopher Hitchens gave one of the greatest speeches of all time on the subject:

    Favorite bits:

    Anyone who wants to say anything abusive about or to me, is quite free to do so, and welcome in fact.

    ... John Stuart Mill said, if all in society were agreed on the truth and beauty and value of one proposition, all except one person, it would be most important -- in fact, it would become even more important -- that that one heretic be heard, because we would still benefit from his perhaps outrageous or appalling view.


    I don't need a seconder. My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.

    Posted by Tom, 9/29/2009 7:18:28 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    National Debt Road Trip

    This pretty much completely explains the Tea Party folks, without once needing to accuse anyone of racism:

    Posted by Tom, 9/26/2009 9:19:24 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Jon Stewart on ACORN

    I needed some funny:

    The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
    The Audacity of Hos
    Daily Show
    Full Episodes
    Political HumorHealthcare Protests

    Posted by Tom, 9/26/2009 5:08:46 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...


    I was all ready to switch my POV around and start talking about the massive police presence in Pittsburgh, and discuss some videos I've seen of police looking like they're going after folks who are doing nothing wrong. Then I read this twit:

    Mike Nance, 28, a graduate student from Philadelphia, said he had no problem with so-called anarchists vandalizing businesses.

    "I don't think property violence is particularly immoral," he said.

    Clearly Mr. Nance's university owes him a refund, because they've failed to teach him anything of value. Every piece of property represents a portion of someone's life that they gave up through their labor and must now give up again in order to replace it. Most insurance companies won't cover "riots or acts of war", and sure, the department store chains can pretty easily absorb the loss, but what about the small businessman? What about the guy who runs a little shop, trying to provide for his family? You throw a rock because you like the tinkling sound the glass makes when it's smashed... what about the sound a man's heart makes when he sees an $800 piece of glass coming out of his paycheck? That's a house payment in many places.

    Earlier in the article:

    Unlike Thursday, when police tossed tear gas and fired rubber bullets to rout protesters who threw rocks and smashed store windows, Friday's "People's March" through the hilly streets of Pittsburgh produced no serious clashes.

    Responding to violence against fellow citizens and their property is one of the few things that I can whole-heartedly endorse as a proper use of police power. I'm not particularly thrilled with the sledgehammer approach taken, but I can understand why they did it the way they did.

    The main problem as I see it from the videos is that there were a lot of putatively innocent people caught up in the police sweeps, and that is simply not right. It takes a lot more work and patience to address individuals causing trouble, rather than to adopt an "anybody not in uniform is a bad guy" attitude, but it protects the rights of the innocent if you do it that way.

    At the same time, it's easy to sit here and second-guess the actions of police when I'm not there. I'll also grant that the real troublemakers are no doubt using the crowd to their advantage. But it really comes down to principle: Someone causing mayhem and perpetrating violence needs to be dealt with. Someone who's not needs to be left alone. When you break that rule, you lose the moral high ground.

    Posted by Tom, 9/26/2009 3:22:43 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, September 25, 2009

    Know Your Protestors Quiz

    This site has a nice little side-by-side comparison of the G-20 protests and the 9/12 "tea party" march on Washington.

    What the American political left cannot come to grips with, however, is that those of us concerned for the future of our nation are not crazy, are not prone to violence. Time after time we've seen leftist political activists destroy whatever downtown district in which the G-20 and other world economic meetings take place. We see store windows broken, cars flipped over, rocks hurled at police officers, multiple arrests, and somehow that's all accepted by the mainstream press. Yet when a few thousand people get together in a town square in Anytown, U.S.A. or a few hundred thousand get together in Washington, D.C. without a single arrest, it's suddenly the epicenter of racism and political violence.

    Think about it, for a moment. In New Hampshire, outside a contrived town hall-style meeting conducted by Barack Obama, a concerned, employed American stood with a sign in his hands and a pistol lawfully strapped to his thigh. In Arizona, a black man fielded questions at a tea party-type rally with an AR-15 lawfully slung across his shoulder and an extra magazine tucked neatly into the back pocket of his dress pants. The media went absolutely crazy, obsessed with the assassination of their president. Both men were bona-fide assassins in the eyes people like MSNBC's Chris Matthews.

    Which folks should we really be concerned about, the ones who descend like a cloud of locusts and destroy everything in their path, or the ones who peaceably go armed and make their voices heard?

    Personally, I like the "two pictures speak a thousand words" approach the most:

    Which protester(s) would you rather have in your neighborhood?

    Posted by Tom, 9/25/2009 7:15:30 AM (Permalink). 7 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009

    It's amazing how fast they forget

    As the left-leaning media outlets spiral further and further into a nightmare of their own narrative, it's interesting to see what they didn't think was news a few years ago:

    I wonder, where was Rachel Maddow's outrage and disdain then? Why was it "patriotic dissent" a few years ago, but now it's being a "bad American"? This isn't news or even commentary. This is theater. It's a hand-wringing drama queen milking it for all she's worth, hoping to make it to Jon Stewart's "stupid crap of the week" clip reel.

    For the record, I don't have a lot of patience for either side breaking Godwin's Law. But if you're going to talk about it, and aspire, as Maddow obviously does, to be the "grownup" in the conversation, it's dishonest to pretend that only your opponents do it. It's also dishonest to pretend that it represents a majority on either side -- the central problem of mass media is that it's the nutjobs, not the rational, that grab the spotlight.

    Posted by Tom, 9/23/2009 5:14:17 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, September 22, 2009

    And here...

    ... is the prime reason why I'm not a Republican:

    Republicans like to scoff at libertarians as "drug-loving hippies", but the War on Drugs has utterly failed to do anything it set out to do, and has only made life hell for pain patients and their doctors in the meantime. And when I allow myself to think that my Aunt Deb may have suffered needlessly in her final weeks, I want to strangle every twit that pontificates about how important it is that we stop people from getting high.

    Near as I can tell, pain is a completely subjective experience. Nobody can tell you how much pain you're in, not the best doctors, not government bureaucrats, and certainly not a cop. I simply cannot see how society is served in any way by pretending otherwise and allowing jackbooted thugs to terrorize the populace just because some parents want to abdicate their responsibility to talk to their kids about drugs. And, as pointed out in the video, Democrats are just as bad as Republicans about this, having no stomach whatsoever for taking on the drug warrior culture. Despite being the most drug-friendly (major) party, and despite having control of both houses of congress and the presidency, all we ever get is a dismissive laugh or outright bullet-dodging when the drug legalization question comes up.

    Thugs on the right, cowards on the left. A pox on both their houses.

    Posted by Tom, 9/22/2009 7:24:50 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, September 21, 2009

    P90X Round Two

    Well, we've started the second run through P90X, and so far it's going pretty well. The messed up tricep is holding together in spite of a somewhat aggressive start last Monday, after which I iced it like crazy and prayed it wouldn't give out on me. I'm not brave enough to try any dip-like exercises yet, and triangle/diamond/heart pushups, whatever you want to call them, simply aren't possible. I'm subbing in extensions and kickbacks for those exercises, just to keep the workload moving.

    The new Powertec machine is a godsend, because it's helping both of us work hard on our form in the various pullup moves, and allows us to get enough reps to say we're actually doing something. It's a little bit of a coordination hassle, getting both of us cycled through the machine on each exercise without cooling down too much, but we're working it out. The ability to have an objective rather than subjective level of assistance is also much more helpful in charting progress.

    I'm pushing myself, but ever mindful of that sensation in my arm that tells me the tricep is about to tweak out on me. I'm impatient to get back to my old level of ability, but I'd rather not go through all the issues again by tearing it up. Still, I look forward to getting back on the dip bars again, because dips are one of my favorite exercises.

    Posted by Tom, 9/21/2009 7:45:36 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Last night... a dream, I went to my Aunt Deb's funeral and said goodbye.

    I wonder if that means anything.

    Posted by Tom, 9/21/2009 4:56:50 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, September 19, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    "It rankles me when somebody tries to force somebody to do something."
    -- John Wayne

    Posted by Tom, 9/19/2009 6:05:08 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Ross' Revenge

    Reason's Steve Chapman has a nice article about Ross Perot's impact on the American voter's fiscal thinking:

    His candidacy was not for nothing. It created a new awareness of a risky fiscal policy that, in Perot's words, was "robbing future generations." It caused Americans to consider whether fiscal indiscipline was defensible on either economic or moral terms. And it sowed the legitimate fear that deficits would be fatal to prosperity.

    In the following years, Republicans and Democrats were forced to attack the deficit—so much so that by the late 1990s, the government was running surpluses that no one had ever imagined. In January 2001, the month George W. Bush was sworn in, the Congressional Budget Office projected that over the next decade, the government would pile up $5.6 trillion in surpluses.

    Of course, I've always disagreed with the notion of surplus. When the General Accounting Office says your books are in such disarray that they can't be audited, I think it's rather premature to say you've got a "surplus" that means anything other than "the imaginary numbers in this column are larger than the imaginary numbers in that column".

    And now Ross' impact is coming full circle as Obama provides an object lesson in just how bad it can get with deficit spending:

    Alas, it didn't work out that way. A 2001 recession, two unforeseen wars, and tax cuts put the federal government deep in the red. Politicians suddenly found plenty of excuses to abandon fiscal responsibility.

    Both parties tacitly agreed to ignore the deficit in favor of their own priorities, which involved spending far more money than they were willing to ask taxpayers to provide. Instead of surpluses, we got deficits totaling more than $2 trillion between 2002 and 2008.

    Those years now look like a model of budgetary restraint. In the 2009 fiscal year, the gap soared to an estimated $1.6 trillion—the biggest deficit, as a share of the economy, since America was saving the world from Hitler. And the Perotistas of 1992 have given way to the tea partiers of 2009.

    But of course, those tea partiers are just racists, not folks concerned with the fact that we're going to have to earn some money before we can call ourselves "broke".

    The only point of contention I have with the article is this:

    Obama's fateful choice was the $787 billion stimulus package. Enacted in the depths of a recession in a desperate attempt to revive the economy, it soon spawned buyer's remorse. Coming after the 2008 stimulus package, bank rescue program and automaker bailout—steps toward "socialism" taken by a Republican president—it created the specter of the government as Incredible Hulk, rampaging out of control.

    Maybe it's unfair for Obama to get the blame for that calamity. But by blithely adding to the problem, he validated the darkest predictions of his critics.

    It is not unfair. Obama and McCain both voted for that abomination last year, and Obama has been leading the charge on every subsequent abomination. Obama gets the blame for spending money in a way that makes drunken sailors look miserly. Even Bush, the worst spender since Reagan, has to bow down to Obama's ability to blow through cash. And now every expert except Obama is telling us that health care reform will cost even more?

    I never thought I'd say this, but it has finally come to pass: After 8 years of Bush and 8 months of Obama, I really miss Bill Clinton.

    Posted by Tom, 9/17/2009 7:27:34 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    Plants vs Zombies

    While at the Apple store to buy my copy of the new Snow Leopard operating system, I ran across a game by Pop Cap games called Plants vs Zombies. The price was right, at $19.95, and it had a PC Gamer "must buy" sticker on it. PC Gamer was always a good source of info for games, so I figured I'd give it a try. Besides, who can resist a company that releases the PC and Mac version on the same CD?

    Anyway, the game is in the tower defense model, and thoroughly addicting. The animations are cute, it's family-friendly, easy to learn, and ridiculously engaging. And now I find out you can just buy it online as a digital download... no need to even hunt it up at the store. I'm also a sucker for small, hungry companies that make tightly-woven little games that are high on fun and design quality while keeping costs low.

    So what can I say? I must hereby insist that everyone march straight over to Pop Cap Games and order up a copy. Yes Mom, that means you too.

    Posted by Tom, 9/13/2009 6:09:27 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    "...the purpose of government is for those who run it to plunder those who do not. And if you go by that understanding, then it all makes perfect sense."
    -- Thomas J. DiLorenzo

    Posted by Tom, 9/11/2009 7:57:41 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    You Can't Get There From Here

    Often when I get involved in discussions of politics, especially where it concerns economic matters, I find myself frustrated by the economic ignorance of the other side. Note that I don't say the other side is stupid... I don't tend to waste a lot of time on truly stupid people. My opponents are just ignorant, and that fact causes enough problems on its own. I've been studying economics for about 10 years now, and when I state a conclusion based on that study I generally get blank stares (or their electronic equivalent). I find myself wondering how to distill 10 years of study into a single paragraph that will make enough sense to get from the basic point of contention to the conclusion I'm endorsing, and honestly it's all but impossible. As evidenced by this blog, I have no problem going on at length about any number of topics. When the time comes to be succinct however, I find myself at a loss for how to get the point across in a way that truly makes the point rather than simply borrowing a sound byte.

    It occurs to me that I also spend a lot of time with others who are more learned than I am in their own subjects. I've often asked impertinent questions of my brother and my friend Mike about medicine or chemistry respectively, and every once in a while I get that same hesitation -- that realization that there's a whole lot of background information that needs to be imparted before the answer can be truly understood. I still want my answer, and I'm usually patient enough to listen to the lesson at hand, but sometimes it's probably more than they have time or energy to give me.

    One of the ways I've tried making myself understood is on message boards. I've had some limited success there, but a whole lot more failure. Those who have decided what's "right" without really doing the legwork to understand why are usually lost causes. In my experience, on a message board with a population of at least 50 people, there will be only one person who might be patient and willing enough to go through the process of examining their preconceptions and possibly reworking their beliefs.

    I've found that there are 3 types of people one encounters. The first is what I call the "foot soldier". These are the people who subscribe to a set of beliefs based on a very simple premise or equation. They're found throughout the Democratic and Republican parties. Examples of those beliefs are:

    "Republicans will protect your gun rights."
    "Democrats will protect your children."
    "Republicans help small farmers and small business."
    "Democrats help workers and families."
    "Republicans are pro-family and pro-God."
    "Democrats are pro-individual."

    And then there's the one that I truly hate:

    "I vote the way I do because my family/peers vote that way."

    In the first group, it doesn't really matter that all of those assertions are easily falsifiable, because the folks who fall into the "foot soldier" mold don't really think about it. It's just the advertising slogan they've trained themselves to spit out when prompted. The last reason is usually the sign of someone who doesn't do much thinking at all. Either way, there's not a lot of profit or progress to be had when dealing with a foot soldier. Occasionally you can get one to start thinking, but it's like starting a lawnmower after it's sat idle for 5 years.

    This is also the reason I detest watching television news. It is designed for foot soldiers -- people whose thought processes go as far as the next sound byte and no further. The simple fact of the matter is that most of the problems facing the world today require more than a sound byte or newspaper article to really understand. There have been a few debate and discussion shows that really get into the details of various matters, usually with 2 - 4 people sitting around a table for an hour. They garner poor ratings and either get canceled or relegated to some public access station at 2 AM on Wednesday nights, and even with that format don't go far enough. Assessing the problems of the world requires actual work, and those who aren't willing to do the work (and those who cater to them) really aren't worth my time.

    The second type of person is what I'd call the "opposite number". This is the person who's done a lot of reading or studying, but who has come to the exact opposite conclusion... usually as a result of reading the other side's materials. They are generally well-defended in argument, and debates can go on for days without either side really making much headway. It's highly unlikely that one will ever convert an opposite number, because all people who have "done the work", so to speak, tend to be very susceptible to confirmation bias.

    This last bit gives me pause, because it obviously applies to me as well. That's why I'm grateful to my friend Mike for keeping me grounded by at the very least hitting me with the Devil's Advocate when I really stretch. That's not to say that he makes me change my mind much, but I do take the opportunity to re-examine things and see if there's some error in judgment or calculation.

    Opposite numbers can be very satisfying conversions if and when they happen, but in my experience most of the time what happens is that one side or the other will get bored or frustrated with the conversation and wander off to greener pastures. Occasionally a foot soldier will pretend at being an opposite number, only to be thoroughly destroyed by someone who has actually done the work. Such was the case in Thomas Woods' recent evisceration of socialist blogger "Che" over at

    The final type of person is the "leaner". Leaners believe a certain way not because of some over-simplified slogan and not because of a great deal of work or research into the matter, but mostly because the way they believe just "seems right". They have a bit of confirmation bias going on, a few scraps of information gleaned from here or there that support their conclusions, but hold their beliefs lightly -- not really looking to change them, but not altogether married to them either.

    Leaners are actually pretty rare, though many people will claim to be one ("I'm not a Democrat or Republican, I'm a moderate"). They are the easiest to convert, and debates between opposite numbers are carried out more for their benefit than for the benefit of the debaters themselves. In other words, the purpose of the debate is to convert the audience, not the opponent.

    The problem with converting a leaner is that a lot of times they will lean back toward their original position if they are a leaner by temperament. That is, if they lean because they don't really want to do the work despite being perfectly capable of doing so (as evidenced by their conversion), being converted does not encourage them to seek out new information. So they drift back to their default position more out of laziness than anything else... the only way to keep them converted is to assume the task of continually teaching them until they well and truly "get it", and that can be a headache all it's own.

    This leads me back to my original problem, that of how to take what would probably be years of study, compressed into weeks of exchanges (or at a minimum, hours of face-time) and crunch it down even further into a single paragraph that a person might actually read and attempt to understand. I suspect that a great many of my opponents are simply waiting for their turn to talk, since conversations seem to go like this:

    Them: "I believe A."
    Me: "Well, here's why A can't work as you say it will."
    Them: "Oh, that's a good point."
    (a short time passes)
    Them: "I believe A."

    That thudding sound you hear is my head hitting my desk.

    The other variation is what I call the motivation exchange:

    Them: "Why do people oppose A? They must all be stupid."
    Me: "There are perfectly good reasons to oppose A."
    Them: "Yeah, if you're evil."

    As I've written before, I don't think anything good comes of assuming the worst motivations for one's opponents. For one, it's a form of moral and intellectual narcissism to assert that everyone who disagrees with you is necessarily stupid or evil. It's possible that they may be ignorant (which is neither stupid nor evil, just uninformed), as with the inspiration for this post, but even that assessment should be made carefully. One cannot fault another person who has studied assiduously and come to a different conclusion, because at least they've tried, which is far more than the vast majority will do. Carelessly assigning stupidity or malevolence to their carefully considered beliefs is unlikely to make them think highly of you, and perhaps more importantly is unlikely to win any points among the audience in a debate, especially when the audience contains leaners on their side.

    The motivation exchange also tends to reveal that a person is merely a foot soldier pretending to be an opposite number. I should add that there's a small part of me that wants foot soldiers on my side, because at least they add to the volume of my voice. That part is completely overwhelmed by the part that is disgusted, Ayn Rand style, by a human being's refusal to think. I think I'm more impatient with foot soldiers on my own side than I am with anyone on the other. In message board discussions, I've been known to throw my own foot soldiers to the wolves, just because I can't stand the vapid nature of their arguments.

    More than I want someone to agree with me, I want them to understand why they agree with me. In the same vein, I'd rather have an opposite number who respects the fact that I have done the work and come to different conclusions than a sycophant who just agrees with whatever I say. I have little patience for the opposite number who plays the motivation game, but if I can get them to understand that we can eliminate "stupid and evil" from the discussion and still have legitimate reasons to disagree, I call that a win as well.

    As for the knotty problem of getting others to do the work, I guess if someone as learned as Thomas Woods has to turn it into a dissertation-length post, I should probably ease up on myself a bit. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water...

    Posted by Tom, 9/11/2009 7:21:26 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    "Some people say that Ted Kennedy's polices were the road to Hell. But let me remind you, he always had Good Intentions."

    -- commenter "John Thacker", giving his interpretation of President Obama's invocation of the late Senator.

    Posted by Tom, 9/10/2009 7:55:52 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Mises Circle

    On Saturday, August 29, 2009, the Ludwig von Mises Institute held a round-table discussion in San Francisco with various luminaries giving presentations followed by a speaker's panel. These are very well-done talks on how the Austrian Business Cycle Theory applies to the present day's economic problems, with mentions of the housing and banking crises, health care reform in economic terms, and the economic history of government interventionism. They are well worth your time.

    Walter Block talks about "Government Bailouts: Picking Winners". He's a rather understated guy, but his talk is easy to follow and understand if you're paying attention. He offers a nicely succinct discussion on the nature of the Austrian School and how it differs fundamentally from the Chicago and Keynesian Schools, as well as an easily understood description of how Austrian Economics fits into the scientific world.

    Thomas DiLorenzo covers "How Not to Deal with Economic Depression". He is an engaging speaker, my second favorite of this group. He really gets into the details of economic history to show how comparing Obama to FDR is not exactly a favorable thing for Obama.

    Douglas French gets into the subject of "Housing and Fannie Mae: FDR's American Dream". He covers the history of government "stimulation" of the housing market from the early 1900's to the present. I usually enjoy French's articles, but he was honestly the worst speaker. He seemed nervous and spent a lot of time reading rather than speaking. If you're cherry-picking, this video might be one to skip.

    Robert P. Murphy is by far the most entertaining and engaging speaker in this series. His energy and delivery reminds me of a stand-up comedian whose name escapes me. Unfortunately, his discussion of "How Politicians and Citizens Should Deal with Depression" is not very encouraging as we look toward the future. This is a must-see, in my opinion.

    Finally, the speaker's panel takes questions from the audience, all of which are rather pointed and help to round out the discussion of the day.

    If you've got the time and the inclination, watch them all, first to last. If you're looking for just the most important points, I'd say Murphy, DiLorenzo, Block, speaker's panel, French, in that order.

    Posted by Tom, 9/10/2009 7:20:40 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    "The idea that great statesmen are not needed -- to say nothing about being wanted -- can no doubt be galling to many who decry capitalism for its excesses. For the people who derive their self-worth from being paternalistic, this is a sorry state of affairs indeed."
    -- Art Carden, Why Is Capitalism So Unpopular?

    Posted by Tom, 9/9/2009 5:17:34 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009


    I'm getting just as sick of self-righteous liberal windbags as I am/they are of paranoid conservatives. The latest rot comes from the NY Daily News' Michael Daly:

    Why did people who thought it was fine for the first President George Bush to address millions of schoolkids decide it was an outrage for Obama to do the same?

    Are these the same people who are the most vocal against his efforts to institute universal health care?

    Does their vehemence really arise from their objections to Obama's politics?

    Do they really just dislike Obama himself?

    And is this dislike related less to his politics than his race?

    Is the supposedly political opposition really just a cover for people afraid to say they can't accept a black man in the White House?

    If that is so, if they are (barely) secret racists, do they become particularly unhinged at the thought of a black President addressing their children?

    Or do the nut jobs honestly believe what they say?

    The subtext here is that no one could possibly disagree with the president's politics. It is utterly unfathomable that folks could think the president is leading the country straight into the toilet. Therefore, any disagreement with things he does must be about race. This pompous arrogance on the part of the cult of Obama really doesn't do anyone a whole lot of good; all it does is further inflame the right and get everyone even more ticked at each other. And doesn't the fact that every leftist is seeing racists under their bed and in every shadow speak to a bit of paranoia on their part?

    Of course, if leftists were as good at listening as they were at running their mouths, they'd hear that what the conservatives are really concerned about is Obama attempting to pull their kids into his cult of personality. Most of what the conservatives are saying is that they're concerned about pledges and promises to help Barack Obama rather than the country. Whether or not these fears are well-founded is beside the point: most fears are not, especially fears concerning one's children. People get downright irrational when they think their childrens' well-being or upbringing is threatened, no matter how statistically unlikely or insignificant the threat (Brady Bunch, q.e.d.).

    I'd also remind the left that the paranoia presently on display on the right was matched apoplexy for apoplexy by their own wailing and moaning for the last 8 years. Or am I the only one who remembers how Bush was going to single-handedly overturn Roe v Wade, re-enslave the black community, round up all the liberals, reinstate McCarthyism, and take dessert off the menu at Chili's?

    I've thought for a while now that it's highly unlikely Obama would squander his first presidential address to children by turning it into some kind of indoctrination session. Anyone who's been around kids at all knows that first you get them to like you, then you bend them to your will. (That was a joke, folks. Lighten up.) Seriously though... my only concern isn't that Obama is going to be talking to millions of public schoolchildren, it's that those children are still in public schools. Given the state of public education in America today, they'd almost be better off in the coal mines of yesteryear.

    UPDATE: Jesse Walker of Reason has about the best take I've seen on this yet:

    The speech will do little harm in itself. Schools shovel nonsense down boys' and girls' throats every day; today's menu will offer just a slight change of flavor. But that's why the protests are healthy. It's a rare day when parents across the country explicitly tell their kids to take their lessons with a grain of salt.

    Children shouldn't be taught that the president—any president—is a beloved paternal figure with a grand plan for everyone. (From the original lesson plan: "Students might think about: What specific job is he asking me to do? Is he asking anything of anyone else? Teachers? Principals? Parents? The American people?") Children should be taught the truth: that presidents are polarizing figures who are constantly dogged by controversy. That Americans don't always agree about proper public policy, and sometimes they disagree enough to do something as drastic as keeping their kids home from school. That politics is about conflict, not listening in unison while a friendly face on a TV screen dispenses instructions.

    Posted by Tom, 9/8/2009 3:10:16 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Weekend Off

    Sure, it was 16 hours in the car, round-trip. And we had a few episodes of Mr. Crankypants showing up. But it was worth every minute, because I got to spend it with my O-Dawg:

    Uncle Tom loves you, buddy. Can't wait until next time.

    Posted by Tom, 9/8/2009 1:16:09 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, September 3, 2009

    And here we go again...

    Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne picks up the gun-hating, race-baiting ball in his August 20 opinion piece and attempts to run it into the endzone:

    The Obama White House purports to be open to the idea of guns outside the president's appearances. "There are laws that govern firearms that are done state or locally," Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman, said on Tuesday. "Those laws don't change when the president comes to your state or locality."

    Gibbs made you think of the old line about the liberal who is so open-minded he can't even take his own side in an argument.

    What needs to be addressed is not the legal question but the message that the gun-toters are sending.


    The simple fact is that an armed citizenry is not the basis for our freedoms. Our freedoms rest on a moral consensus, enshrined in law, that in a democratic republic we work out our differences through reasoned, and sometimes raucous, argument. Free elections and open debate are not rooted in violence or the threat of violence. They are precisely the alternative to violence, and guns have no place in them.

    On the contrary, violence and the threat of violence have always been used by those who wanted to bypass democratic procedures and the rule of law. Lynching was the act of those who refused to let the legal system do its work. Guns were used on election days in the Deep South during and after Reconstruction to intimidate black voters and take control of state governments.

    Yes, I have raised the racial issue, and it is profoundly troubling that firearms should begin to appear with some frequency at a president's public events only now, when the president is black. Race is not the only thing at stake here, and I have no knowledge of the personal motivations of those carrying the weapons. But our country has a tortured history on these questions, and we need to be honest about it. Those with the guns should know what memories they are stirring.


    Yet if we can't draw the line at the threat of violence, democracy begins to disintegrate. Power, not reason, becomes the stuff of political life...

    I was all set to pass on this one, but that last bit really set my blood boiling. If there were one concept that I sorely wish leftists would somehow grasp, it is this:

    Power is the very essence of politics.

    There is no such thing as this tidy little fantasy where we debate the issues, come to an agreement, shake hands, and go about our merry way. It didn't exist at the founding of this country, and it sure as hell doesn't exist now. In politics, when somebody wins, they use the power of government to harass, oppress, even crush those they dislike. This is not a high school debate club. This is about the ability to force everyone around you -- at gunpoint if necessary -- to do things the way you think they ought to be done. If you don't believe that, try not paying that portion of your taxes that goes to programs you disagree with, and see how long it takes for men with guns to show up at your door.

    Government is force. Its essence is coercive, not cooperative. The only way that government can possibly be a cooperative effort is if everyone subjected to its rule gives their unanimous consent. Once a single individual decides to withhold their consent, the rule of government ceases to be cooperative and becomes coercive.

    In some cases, this is not necessarily a bad thing. We have laws and government coercively affecting those who commit crimes like murder, rape, arson, and robbery. It is a response of force and violence to the initiation of same (I would argue that what we know as "government" is not wholly necessary to the fulfillment of this function, but that's another post for another time). Where this goes awry is when government undertakes to initiate the use of force and violence simply because it believes it has the right to do so, and that at worst such actions are morally neutral instead of evil. This is the fallacious belief in the sanctifying power of government -- that under its auspices, an individual may commit an evil act but have it become good simply because it is covered by the aura of government in the form of a badge or uniform or similar insignia.

    When someone says "we need to pay for health care with taxation", they are saying they want to force everyone to give up a portion of their earnings to pay for healthcare, and further that they want those who don't comply to be imprisoned or shot if necessary. Whether or not this is what they intend to say, this is the inevitable result of their advocacy. This is not a debate over "taking care of the least among us", this is a debate over whose rights will be trampled in perpetuity, and by how much. We don't need a government program to take care of each other -- if someone's medical bills are beyond their means, there are many ways to seek relief. There are churches, secular charities, and random individuals who are more than willing to help keep someone afloat who's having trouble, and it's only sophistry that makes taking money from a charity "a handout" while taking money from government is somehow "standing on my own two feet". At least the people who give to charity do so voluntarily.

    And at least Mr. Dionne was honest enough to write "I have no knowledge of the personal motivations of those carrying the weapons", even as he insinuated that their reasons were motivated by racism. I find it's generally better to assume the purest motivations for one's opponents, and work from the positive rather than the negative angle. If you and I are both people who just want to help out our fellow man, surely we can come to an understanding. If one of us is a monster in the eyes of the other, the only result that will make one of us happy is if the other is dead.

    Carrying a gun is not a violent act, no matter how much the leftists want to believe that it is. Carrying a gun is not using it, brandishing it, threatening anyone with it, or any other such thing. It's simply carrying a gun.

    Voting, on the other hand, is an act of violence. It is directing the massive power of government to aim itself at one's fellow man and threaten him with the most dire of consequences if he fails to comply with your wishes. There is only one exception to this rule: when one's vote indicates a desire to disarm government -- to say in effect that one doesn't think anyone should be threatened, coerced, bullied, or pushed around, no matter how noble the cause which would benefit from said bullying.

    If I hold a gun to someone's head, or ask government to do it for me, just to get my way, there is nothing "nice", or "charitable", or "Christian" about that act. It doesn't matter if I'm sticking up a bank or stealing pension checks to fund an orphanage and a widow's home, when I do such a thing or ask the government to do it for me, what I'm doing is evil.

    On the other hand, if I take my earnings, from my labor, and apply it to the problem, and seek the voluntary cooperation of others in my efforts, only then have I done something good. In voting, if I seek to remove the obstacles to such cooperation, such as those government regulations that prevent cooperative and voluntary efforts from working, only then am I doing something good.

    Those who would use the government to achieve their ends at the expense of their fellow man, without his consent, are simply advocating the oldest form of government: might makes right. The ends justify the means. Democracy, whether it be "pure" or a republican form such as we have in America, is nothing more than window dressing. It is the velvet glove over the iron fist. Too many today are willfully incapable of seeing anything but the velvet glove, to the point of denying the very existence of the iron fist. But a few are convinced that the fist is real, and work to make its reality known to as many of their fellow travelers as possible. That's what the gun-toters are communicating to me: that they realize the nature of the discussion, and are simply bringing it out into the open. They're saying "we won't allow you to pretend that this is a high school debate, that everybody wins and nobody gets hurt if you get your way. We understand what's at stake here, and we won't buy into your comfortable little fantasy that says all of this is harmless, no matter which way it goes."

    Summing it all up: ask me for a handout, and we can be friends whether I decide to give one or not. Demand a handout at gunpoint, and you have necessarily made me your adversary. Only the first offers the possibility of enriching both of us. The second makes me a victim and you a criminal, neither of which is edifying.

    As Heston put it, "civilization's veneer is wearing thinner all the time."

    Posted by Tom, 9/3/2009 7:59:15 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, September 2, 2009


    As if to echo my earlier sentiment (not that he'd be caught dead in this cyberspace backwater), Matt Welch weighs in on the racism narrative:

    I agree that scapegoating the Other is a predictable byproduct of any national trauma, but the questions are how much, and where is the evidence? As I wrote last week, 9/11 was a helluva lot more self-soiling and scapegoat-creating than the vague and apparently perennial sense "getting lost and forgotten in a rapidly changing society," and yet the promised wave of anti-Muslim violence never materialized. If townhall protesters were motivated by race, wouldn't they be focusing on the black attorney general's drastic expansion of civil rights litigation?

    We are, thank God, an almost unrecognizably different country than in 1954, particularly on questions of racial tolerance, conformity, and the pace of change. The "collective identities" Rodriguez points to are hardly the exclusive provinces of the political left, as evangelical Christians and Dallas Cowboys fans can attest. If the dislocated-whitey thesis was as convincing as mainstream newspaper pundits are claiming, surely there is more concrete evidence than essays from a half-century ago, and some raised voices at the first real opportunity for citizens to interact with their elected representatives after a 10-month binge of federal intervention.

    Not to mention a 10-month binge of profligate spending, and the complete refusal to acknowledge the avalanche of public outcry against the various bailouts, starting with the one done by Bush. Somehow, on the liberal planet, folks no longer care about the jaw-dropping levels of government money-squandering because there's a black guy in charge, but they're royally pissed off because there's a black guy in charge. As one commenter to Welch put it:

    The left was desperate for there to be a massive racist backlash against Obama. When it was really nothing more than the usual suspects, they had the media invent it for them. Add "confirmation bias" to the long list of concepts they refuse to grasp.

    Now of course there's the media hubbub over the pastor who's actively praying for Obama's death. Setting aside the obvious spiritual wrongness, the media is juxtaposing the "story" (such as it is) with their own racism narrative in order to give the appearance that the reason he's doing it is because the president is black. It's curious then that the only comments being made by the nut-in-question are to the effect that the president is ruining the country with his socialist agenda. It seems to me that surely a pastor who will admit to something as obviously wrong as asking God to kill someone is not going to be shy about also saying that he wants Obama dead because Obama is black, if that is in fact the reason.

    So once again I find the accusations of pervasive racism simply overwrought and most likely being employed to divert attention from the fact that what Obama is doing is following in Bush's disastrous economic footsteps. After all, I note that he re-appointed Bernanke, Bush's pro-inflation boy wonder, to what is arguably the top economic position in the country, Secretary of the Treasury be damned. This cements the idea for many like me who believe there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, at least when it comes to economic matters. So much for "change".

    Posted by Tom, 9/2/2009 7:08:48 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, September 1, 2009

    Storm from the Shadows

    It's been awhile since we saw anything new in the Honorverse, and I was beginning to despair that maybe David Weber had decided to be done with it. Happily, it turns out that is not the case.

    Storm from the Shadows is not a "main thread" Honorverse novel (ie, those concerning Honor Harrington herself), but rather a sequel to Shadow of Saganami, covering events in the Talbott Cluster (now the Talbott Quadrant) before, during, and after the events of At All Costs (book 11 of the main thread).

    Honor's friend from her academy days, Admiral Michelle Henke, was captured by Haven at one point during either War of Honor or At All Costs and paroled back to Manticore under the condition that she not serve against Haven for the duration of the present hostilities. She is therefore sent off to the Talbott Quadrant to try and sort out the mess discovered (and partially rectified) by Captain Aivars Terekhov during Shadow of Saganami, as well as generally showing the flag and extending the Queen's protection to the people of the new colonies. It gets ugly however, when Mesa/Manpower decides to up the ante in response to their losses to Terekhov, and pulls more Solarian strings to get mankind's largest navy involved in the brewing storm.

    This is by far the most complicated novel yet, and I'm beginning to think that Weber seriously needs to consider footnoting his work. The number of cross-references to other works in the Honorverse is staggering. I found myself constantly looking things up in my digital copies (thank God for the CD that came with At All Costs!), as the characters constantly talk about other events that I've forgotten in the past 3 years since I finished all that was in print at the time. In typical Weber fashion, the plot moves forward from several different points of view until the pivotal confrontation when Admiral Henke gets to have her very own crowning moment of awesome, her first (that I can recall) of the series.

    It's a testament either to Weber's greatness as a writer or to my own fandom that understanding and following his work now requires the equivalent of homework on my part, and that I'm willing -- even eager -- to do it. Other "great" novelists whose work has been studied endlessly by various friends (Tolkien, I'm looking at you...) have never driven me to this level of enthusiasm. Add to that the fact that he seems to really know how to draw me into the plot, to the point where I've read several of his books on the edge of my seat (which has never been done by any other author, even the much-venerated Heinlein), and all I can say is that I'm glad some new stuff is finally coming out.

    Speaking of new stuff, a new anthology of short stories (not all Honorverse) is coming out in September, titled Worlds of Weber. In November, Crown of Slaves will be getting its own sequel, Torch of Freedom, a la this novel's sequel to Saganami. If this means more Victor Cachat and Thandi Palane, I'm positively giddy with excitement.

    All of that is apparently the set-up for the knockout blow coming early next year, supposedly book 12 of the main thread. Also, for those of us getting into the e-book reader (eg, Amazon Kindle) craze, Baen is apparently selling Kindle versions outside of the Amazon channel for some reason or another. They look to be available here.

    Posted by Tom, 9/1/2009 6:10:29 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    P90X Update

    The wife and I formally finished our first round of P90X last week, though we've timeshifted the cooldown workouts to this week and are skipping a couple due to scheduling problems. Next week is an off week, and then we plan to start over again at the beginning.

    My arm has received the seal of approval from the physical therapist, a cute little Vietnamese lady with a stern demeanor. She tested my strength and flexibility, figures I'm good to go, though not 100%. I may have mentioned that she is also doing P90X, so it was really easy to discuss the do's and don'ts of my working out, and she's given me some guidelines for round 2, to protect the arm and keep it healing as I get back into it.

    Overall, the arm has had something like 5 weeks of rest already, and will have had 7 by the time we restart, so I'm feeling pretty confident. With the new machine taking the guesswork out of my pullup progress, I think it's safe to say I can avoid a repeat of the circumstances that led to the injury.

    Posted by Tom, 9/1/2009 4:24:27 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...