Monday, April 28, 2008

Absolute Government Corrupts Absolutely

A "moldy oldy" letter to the Trib from November 2006, dealing with the tag-team corruption contest between the two major parties, which continues unabated:

Ralph Reiland (“'Election-proof' hubris”, Nov. 13) asks whether the Republicans are “faster learners” than the Democrats, vis-a-vis the fine arts of sleaze, uselessness, and corruption. Well, no one has ever accused the Republicans, AKA the “stupid party”, of being fast learners before, so I don't think that's the answer. I think it has to do more with two factors. One is the obvious increase in information flow in the age of the Internet and 24-7 news. This means that no one has to wait for “feedback” for more than about 15 minutes. Say one off-color or non-PC word while sitting on the toilet during a hurricane and it goes worldwide by sunset. The result is an acceleration – for good or ill – of not only communications, but of all the processes which depend on it, including most, if not all, political processes. A plot to steal, bribe, or be bribed can be conceived, hatched, acted out, and rewarded or punished in the time it took to just start thinking it over in the old days.

The other factor is corruption – and by that I don't mean corruption on an individual basis, which has always been with us, but corruption by power – and again, not in the traditional sense of kings or dictators. There is a baseline of institutional corruption in the government, by which I mean that as government intrudes more and more into our lives, and soaks up more of our wealth and labor, those in charge (or who think they are) become more and more grandiose and delusional. It has to do with what is called cognitive dissonance. A man is elected to high office. This gives him a certain degree of authority and clout. But seriously, is anyone really prepared, psychologically, for the enormous level of power even a modest position in a highly-collectivized state provides? So the person thinks, on some level, “If I don't really deserve this much power, and really don't know how to handle it, why do I have it? I must be – somehow, and mysteriously -- special.” So the reasoning brain switches off and the delusional, hubris-prone brain switches on, and he lives from that point on in a kind of fantasy world that has little or no relation to economic or social reality, and from which there is no turning back. Can anyone doubt that many of our elected officials suffer from this syndrome?

To put it more plainly, power not only corrupts; it drives men mad – and some much madder than others. Of course, we can all admit that politics is designed for politicians, and that they are a special breed. Like – for example – time-share salesmen and carnival workers, it's difficult to picture them in any other line of work. But I don't think this political trait necessarily makes people more vulnerable to the temptations of power. I think it really is the sheer enormity of it all – that no one person can get his brain around – that is key.

So I offer these two factors – which function in a kind of infernal symbiosis -- as the basis for the accelerating rise-and-fall cycle of our dominant political parties, if not their actual ideas, which seem to simply move underground like locusts until it's time for next generation to hatch and spread destruction across the land. The situation will not be changed by changing people, because that cannot be done. It will be change only if the current system is radically reformed.

They're Here. (Have a Fajita!)

Another "moldy oldy" letter to the Trib, dated April 4, 2006, but no less relevant today:

The columnists writing on the issue of illegal immigration in the Sunday (April 2) Opinion section all have well thought out and sincere arguments (even the liberals!). But I think they are missing an important point – or if they’ve thought of it they aren’t sharing in these columns. The massive influx of immigrants, both legal and otherwise, from Mexico and Central America is, indeed, an invasion (as Michelle Malkin terms it in the title of her recent book), and should be looked at that way, not only as a current event but also from the historical perspective of past invasions over, say, the last few thousand years. Human history is full of invasions, migrations, conquests – one people infiltrating or overrunning another – and there are common elements, aside from the immediately obvious political and economic ones. (I am not talking about “refugees” here, in the traditional sense, i.e. people fleeing war, famine, and pestilence; that is a somewhat different phenomenon.) In the most general sense, “invasions”, or whatever we want to call them, occur when a society that is expanding in population and that has energy and determination moves into the territory of a society with less – or no – expansion, energy, and determination. It’s all relative, we might say; and “population pressure” is just one factor. Certainly a society that is willing and able to reproduce has a long-term advantage over one that is not; this is as true for humans as for any other species. But a “youthful” society is also characterized by risk-taking, daring, and willingness to make great efforts to expand its territory. A “tired” society that is in decline (political, economic, moral) not only lacks those qualities, but lacks even the will to resist invasion.

There is a popular image of historical invasions that they consisted only, or primarily, of armed bands of men landing on a coast or crossing a river or mountain range, and proceeding to rape, pillage, destroy, and generally lay waste to whatever they encountered. This may be true if we’re talking about the “first wave”. But it’s amazing how, in very little time, this first wave is followed by ordinary people – hunters, farmers, shepherds and then merchants and tradesmen, who proceed to integrate themselves into the pre-existing society (or what is left of it) and create, in effect, a new, hybrid society. This has certainly happened any number of times in European history – start with the repeated invasions of England from Roman times onward – and also characterizes the exploration, “conquest”, and settlement of North America. The result may be judged better or worse, depending on what side one is on at time, and in retrospect according to the value system of whichever historian is writing about it. (We have only to reflect that Attila is still a popular boy’s name in Hungary.) One can regret the fall of the Roman Empire, for example, but would we really want to give up the Italian Renaissance (which, admittedly, took a few centuries to get off the ground)? We honestly cannot say what the result of any given “invasion” in our time might be – even for those now living, to say nothing of future generations.

What is called “nativism” (ironic since the term “Native Americans” is limited to people who were here at the time of Columbus) basically boils down to “we want to keep what we have, and we want it to stay the way it is” -- a conservative view, certainly, and one that is easy to sympathize with. But let’s also reflect on the fact that these “invaders” come from a newer, more vigorous and youthful society; they are more willing to reproduce because they have not had their spirits crushed by liberal gloom and doom, and they are not hobbled and inhibited by “political correctness”. They look across the river, or the mountains, or the desert, and see something they want, and they try to get it. This is simply human nature, and when enough people get the same idea at the same time, we have what we call an invasion. We think of “America”, i.e. the United States, as a vigorous society of people who are willing to make sacrifices in the interests of “democracy”, “freedom”, and so on. And this is still true, to some extent – although moral relativism has taken most of the heart out of our campaigns, and compromises our subsequent consolidation (“peacekeeping”) efforts as well. From a historical perspective, we could be described as a society that has lost its vision, and that has morphed into something where “business as usual” (power and money) generally carries the day. Politically, we are experiencing gridlock. Economically, we are on very thin ice. And socially and morally, we are a disaster area. The day approaches when we will become just another big, unwieldy place with resources spread way too thin, and not a whole lot to offer either through example or through military and political dominance. How inspiring is that when we are asking people to fight, and to “stay the course”, whatever we imagine that course to be? We have vigilante organizations on our southern border, trying primarily to protect their own interests. But has their zeal spread far beyond the border area? No, and the media and the politicians have consigned them to the outer darkness where it is now a “hate crime” to defend one’s homeland.

It is one thing to have something worth defending, and another to actually defend it. It appears to me that we have lost that will, and that even this “soft” invasion (not led by armed marauders – at least not in most cases) will not be turned back. History will eventually place this episode into the same class as most other invasions, simply as one people being more forceful and determined than another, with the result that the former dominates while the latter submits. It’s not so pleasant when one is living it. But no one should think that anything new or unusual is going on; it’s simply part of the ever-changing pattern of history, and as such carries with it an aura of inevitability. Am I counseling despair and capitulation? Without a struggle? No – we certainly need to hold up our end of the dialogue. But a bit of long-term perspective would certainly not hurt, and might help to ease the trauma.

The Liberal Hatchery Revisited

A "moldy oldy" letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, from February 2006, in response to a George Will column. The emphasis was less on current events than on the question, "where do they all come from?" (Liberals, that is.) And of course, I had more than a clue because I attended a college which, at least at the time, ranked as one of the top "hatcheries" for egghead liberals in the country. The letter (which was published by the paper on March 1, 2006):

Every time I read a George Will column I have to admire his wisdom, perspective, and command of the language. This time, he has struck pure gold with his discussion of "Unhappy Liberals" (Feb. 23). My experience in this regard started in a small and very "liberal arts" college back in the 1960s, which was a kind of hatchery for liberals. My first observation was that most of them, to be blunt, were spoiled brats. Many were products of the "upscale" suburbs and prep schools, although there were a few genuine second- and third-generation Lower East Side "wobblies" among them. All shared the same creed: What's yours is mine, and what's mine is mine. They, of course, extended this unfortunate premise into their thinking about the burning issues of the day, which is to say every far-fetched and arcane cause they could dream up. I doubt if a one of them had been personally assaulted by Joe McCarthy or insulted by Richard Nixon, and yet they acted as though every government action and business practice they disagreed with was a personal affront, designed for no other purpose than to bruise their thin, delicate skin. How they got this way at such a tender age is a question only their therapist could answer. The problem is that we have pretty much bought into their unhappy world by repeatedly electing them to office, where they can squander billions of taxpayer (i.e. ours, not theirs) money on hare-brained utopian schemes, AKA "government programs". Our response to this should not be timidity in response to the tyranny of political correctness, but -- not unlike the proper response to cancer -- detection, exposure, and "treatment" at the polls and in the free media.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Reductio ad Obamum

Yeah, I know, this must be Beat Up On The Liberals Day. But hey, they are being such easy targets these days, who can resist? There are so many liberal chickens coming home to roost right now that they're going to have to build an addition on the henhouse. The latest facet of this saga to be held up for all to see was described by Pat Buchanan in today's paper:

He points out that the 2008 Election is the Democrats' to lose, and that they are showing every sign of wanting to do so, in a sort of frenzy of self-destruction. (I call it "political Darwinist altruism" -- a species that has no right to survive does itself, and everyone else, a favor by going extinct.) Obama is getting "outed" on a daily basis -- by both parties, but especially by fellow Democrats -- as the radical elitist that he is. But what I say is this -- radical elitism has been the heart and soul of the Democratic Party since at least the 1960s... and just plain elitism for longer than that. Oh sure, they win because they manage to fool some of the people all of the time, and... you know the rest. But do they really _believe_ in the "common man"? Hell, no. All that is typical, average, and common in America and in Americans is anathema to liberals, and to the Democrats. They know better, and there's an end on't. The only difference between Obama and Hillary is that he is less abashed (or more clueless, or less hypocritical) about showing his true, um, colors (liberal, that is). But she is no less an elitist, and her particular brand of elitism reminds me of no one more than Eva Peron... except maybe for Elena Ceausescu... or Chiang Ching. Whereas Obama is more the Salvador Allende type -- the "nice guy" backed up by a bunch of thugs.

What's extra-crispy about this particular election is that the Democrats have been caught in a snare they set for everyone else. Political correctness and racial "sensitivity" have served as their blunt weapons for decades now. But all of a sudden we have a charismatic black man running against the establishment liberal. Where's good old-fashioned bigotry when we need it? Well, it is alive and well in the person of Bill Clinton, who has emerged as the ascended (if only!) master of all the "code words" you need to declare an opposing candidate black, and therefore unqualified, without using either term. But guess what, it's not working. Americans have been beaten into submission by the liberal thought police for so long that all of Bill Clinton's whining is falling on deaf ears. No, that's not right -- it's actually backfiring. And it would probably have scuttled Hillary's campaign long before this, except that Obama just can't help being -- well -- himself. Rural white America for him is populated with primitive, superstitious, childlike creatures who need the higher wisdom and guidance of a superior, um... race? Wait a sec, isn't that what the colonial powers (the more benign ones, at least) always used to say about Africa? And isn't Obama half African? Ah yes, truly a house of mirrors, and truly a meltdown of all that is liberal, and John McCain must be getting more relaxed and mellowed out by the minute, as he sees this orgy of exploding liberal heads. Yes, truly this election is the Democrats' to lose, and they seem to be intent on following the way of the dodo. This is one species that will most assuredly not be missed.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

For Whom Sean Bell Didn't Toll

You know, times really have changed. Think about Rodney King, and about O.J. Then think about the latest to come out of New York, namely the dismissal of all charges against three police officers in the shooting (with 50 bullets!) of Sean Bell. Oh sure, there was shouting and shoving, and the predictable rant by Al Sharpton. But did the city erupt? Does a pall of smoke lay over all the "inner city" neighborhoods? Have riots broken out in other cities, in a show of solidarity? Well, no. Apparently that particular way of petitioning the government for the redress of grievances has gone out of style. Of course, one factor that added a hint of ambiguity to the proceedings was that, of the three accused officers, two were black. It's an awkward turn of events when more and more of the people charged with enforcing the law come from the same victim group as the people who typically get a pass (from liberals) for breaking it. The liberal axiom that any crime committed by a black person is not a crime at all but a "political statement" runs up on the rocks when either (1) the victim is also black; or (2) the public servant who is sent in to deal with the criminal act is also black. Of course, I guess the two black officers could have used the "political statement" defense themselves, right? But perhaps there is a growing sense that that whole concept is a crock, and that a crime is a crime, and that law enforcement is law enforcement. Oh wait, are we veering closer to that mythical "colorblind" society the liberals claim to want? Well, if so, you won't find any more fierce resistance to it than from liberals. The last thing they want is a society where race is not a factor. As Chief Justice Roberts said, in a stunning display of clarity, "The way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." But to a liberal, these words are like unto a mirror held up to a vampire. Anything but that! The way to stop discrimination is to discriminate all the more. This is kind of like someone's definition of addiction -- it happens whenever the more you get, the more you want. There is no "off" switch for liberal political ideas, i.e. delusions. The more wrong, and failed, they are, the more they are held on high. And their true victims are people like the folks outside that courthouse, who can't figure out what went wrong since those nice (white) liberal politicians promised them, over and over, "never again".

But! It ain't over 'til it's over, and of course the feds are moving right in on the situation, clearly not trusting the New York City justice system to insure that justice is done. They (the feds) will be looking for a "prosecutable violation of federal criminal civil rights statutes" -- which is another way of telling New York, "You got it wrong, and we're not stopping until you get it right." Gee, you think this is why Giuliani dropped out? He didn't want to have to betray his home town. This time I'm on his side.

No More Rice-a-Roni

OK, I know I just delivered a big lecture on why we shouldn't go making premature pronouncements of doom on the American system -- much less the world. (See post, "The Many Deaths of America", April 8). But things are getting a bit scary. To start with, we have food riots going on all over the world, and the triggering mechanism for those seems to have been the Great Ethanol Scam. Hunger is settling back in across the globe. But are American liberals showing concern? No -- they are strangely silent. Because it has, in fact, dawned on them that their love affair with ethanol may be at the root of the problem -- but they are so heavily invested in the ethanol mystique that to just stop on a dime and say oops -- mistake! -- is unthinkable. So the specter of starvation rises again after having been nearly banished in much of the world, and it's all because American liberals' greedy little cars are gobbling up the food that those people might otherwise be eating. Or, at least, the ethanol hysteria has created a domino effect that has impacted the food that they do eat. One way or the other -- and once again, just like clockwork -- a liberal dream has turned into a nightmare. Not for them -- oh no! -- but for everyone else. The only law liberals seem to obey -- if unwittingly -- is the Law of Unintended Consequences. And this time it's a doozy.

But even that's not the scariest thing out there right now. You know what's _really_ scary? The fact that Sam's Club and Costco are rationing rice. RICE !! Years -- maybe decades -- from now, when the few remaining humans huddle around campfires nibbling on gopher steaks, a youngster is going to ask one of the grizzled elders, "When did you know that it was the beginning of the end?" And the answer is going to be, "When Sam's Club and Costco starting rationing rice."

We now return you to our regularly-scheduled program of trivial and inconsequential crises, already in progress.

Where There's Will There's a Way

Anything I can say, he can say better. And George Will has once again taken his sharper-than-the-sword pen in hand and oh-so-gently eviscerated American liberals and liberalism. The article is at

The occasion was Obama's latest foray into liberal elitism and its even-more-evil twin, disdain for regular, normal people who do honest work at real jobs. Which is to say, pretty much the majority -- but it never occurs to liberals that their "vision" of America excludes most Americans. It's axiomatic that liberals "love mankind but hate people". I would add that they love their ideas more than they love anything else. And -- another axiom -- if "theory forbids it", then it cannot be allowed to happen, or even be discussed, or even thought of. Conservatives may still be breathing some of the same air that the "robber barons" breathed when they called in the Pinkertons to break the heads of strikers. But liberals are breathing the air of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao in big, huge gulps right up to this very day, and Obama is no exception. What I continue to find amazing about liberals is not even that they remain so oblivious to the fact that all of their ideas -- every single one -- have been tried, more than once, and have not only failed miserably but have caused untold catastrophe and suffering. This is all true, but what's even more amazing is the degree to which liberals are out of touch with -- nay, living on a different planet from -- the ones of whom they claim to be the anointed representatives, i.e. "the people", "the working class", "the children", "the underprivileged", "the disenfranchised", and so on. Liberals of our time continue to ride forth leading an invisible army. It's invisible because it doesn't exist. What does exist is the clique of the liberal elite -- and that, of course, was Obama's audience when he made his remarks about the great bitterness and Bible-and-gun clinginess of the working class. Who told him that the way to campaign in Pennsylvania was to tell a bunch of twits in San Francisco that Pennsylvanians were all a bunch of backward peasants? Hillary owes that person a job in her campaign.

Even more amazing than this out-of-touchness is the fact that they are so out of touch with it. Whenever someone reacts to one of their clueless statements, liberals of the Obama or Bill Clinton persuasion act startled... hurt... deeply offended... and mostly very irritated that those ignorant rednecks objected to being called ignorant rednecks. So there! Stick that in your Prius. Of course, this latest self-inflicted wound on Obama's part does not, by any means, separate him from Hillary in the elitism sweepstakes. Wasn't it her husband who said, right out loud and in public, that he didn't trust American citizens to spend their own money correctly? The fact that he was not impeached on the spot for that statement shows you how far things have gone. We are used to being despised and looked down upon by our politicians... it's a fact of life. It would feel funny if they _weren't_ doing it. But every once in a while they go too far, and that's the window of opportunity for the rest of us.

Do Your _Own_ Thing, Why Don'tcha?

The news item begins, "In Congo..." Well, OK, I guess that's right. But hey, I grew up saying "The" Ukraine, and "The" Congo. At one time, I understand Argentina was referred to as "The Argentine". But we have to modernize. Thank goodness for The Hague.

At any rate -- in Congo, it seems that practitioners of witchcraft have been "accused of using black magic to steal or shrink men's penises" for use in... what? It doesn't say. I doubt the transplant industry has made much of an inroad in that area. Plus, if I want to "steal or shrink" someone's penis, why bother with black magic? Won't a penknife and a pot of boiling water do?

Well, it all goes to show how much good the colonial powers did for all the time they spent in Africa. But what the article did not mention -- and what I strongly suspect -- is that the alleged acts had nothing whatsoever to do with black magic, but were just the locals' way of showing solidarity with Hillary Clinton.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Festering Problem of Our Time

You've seen those news items. I just know you have. Someone is arrested for spying, but the authorities decline to reveal which country the person was spying for. Now, we know that there is never any hesitation about identifying Russia or China as the source of spy activity, so that pretty much leaves, as the "mystery guest" who manages to penetrate our security time and time again, none other than our staunch ally for time and eternity, Israel. Jonathan Pollard, perhaps the most famous Israeli spy to date, rots in an American jail while our politicians line up to pledge undying support for the country he was working for. And now we have another case in the news. A guy named Ben-ami Kadish -- who bears a remarkable resemblance to Uncle Fester of the Addams Family -- has been picked up for providing "classified documents about nuclear weapons to an employee of the Israeli Consulate". In other words, he provided information about American nukes to a country that already had all the information it needed about American nukes, and which already had a nuclear arsenal that would make Lex Luthor green with envy.

Now... maybe I'm missing something, but every time this comes up I keep thinking, "What the f*** is going on here?" I mean -- either they're our friends or they aren't, right? And if they are -- and all evidence is that they are, since their foreign policy and ours are virtually identical, and our politicians are constantly taking pains to describe their interests and ours as synonymous -- why do they have to spy on us? And even if they somehow think they do, why do we mind? Haven't we given them everything they've ever asked us for? What on earth is left for them to ferret out? Can't they just ask? It seems bizarre that Israel and the U.S. are joined at the hip in every imaginable way, but yet once in a while we get these "cases", where all of a sudden they're "spying" on us and we don't like it -- and some schmuck who probably thought he was the most patriotic guy since Paul Revere is thrown in jail.

What I find at least as puzzling is that our leaders never -- never ever -- bring up these cases in public, or attempt to "esplain" (as Desi Arnaz used to say) the apparent contradictions involved. And yet the cases are, in fact, made public; i.e. they are not concealed. They are made public, and yet the resulting questions, that are screaming to be answered, are never dealt with. Now, one possibility is that the intelligence services are simply doing their job and that they haven't been informed by higher authorities that Israel cannot, by definition, spy on the U.S. because they're our most trusted ally. But why haven't they been informed? Innocent people are going to jail! Or -- our successive administrations allow Israel to play these games, but only as long as they don't get caught. But that's no less crazy. So the mystery remains unsolved. Unless...

... you subscribe to my "decoy" theory. Let me give a relatively minor instance of how this theory works, before we try and apply it to the present case. Remember when the Clinton adminsration started bombing Belgrade because of alleged "atrocities" in Kosovo and elsewhere in the former Yugoslavia? And remember how we accidently -- oops, our bad! -- bombed the Chinese embassy at one point? And remember how -- miraculously! -- the only people killed were a handful of "foreign journalists"? And the Chinese were, hey, no problemo -- they didn't make any more of it than Cheney's lawyer buddy made of the Dickster's unloading a shotgun round on his behind. It all seemed so odd... so strange... so surreal, until we remembered that, at the very same time, the Clintonistas had been "outed" as having allowed the Chinese to make major inroads in places like Long Beach in exchange for campaign contributions. Now, the decoy theory says that even an "accidental" bombing of their embassy in Belgrade could be perceived as a kind of "get tough" gesture, and thus defuse any indignation surrounding the campaign contribution issue. It was a way of saying, "Hey, we're not in China's back pocket... we're no friendlier with them than with anyone else... and here's proof. We bomb their embassy and say, hey, stuff happens, and they just back down. So get off our case about this campaign money thing."

Far-fetched, you say? Well, OK. Maybe accidentally bombing someone's embassy when we have detailed maps and imagery of every square foot of the place we're bombing is an everyday thing. Maybe not _knowing_ the location of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade is perfectly understandable. See, these were all claims that were made at the time. We were using "old maps". Yeah, sure. Maybe five _minutes_ old. Plus -- how often have _you_ ever bombed an embassy and managed to only kill a few foreigners? Who _were_ those poor schmucks anyway, and what were they doing there? I don't remember seeing that explained either. You bomb the average embassy in Washington, DC, and you're going to knock off at least three diplomats, a half dozen spies, a military attache or two, a few prostitutes, and a pastry chef. So don't give me this "foreign journalists" noise. My theory -- per the "decoy theory", that is -- is that someone over here said to the Chinese, "Hey, we've got a problem here. How's about we drop a bomb on your embassy as part of our campaign to stomp the Serbs, we both hang tough, and maybe that'll get everyone off our case on this campaign money thing? And, oh by the way, don't forget to have everyone call in sick on [whichever day it was]."

Yeah, I know -- it's a nutty conspiracy theory. But it does have the merit of fitting with the known information, and no other theory, or non-theory, does. And it did, indeed, have the (theoretically) intended result -- the whole "Manchurian candidate" issue was defused and, basically, was never raised again (and has not been raised in the current presidential race, you'll notice -- but give John McCain time).

So that's an illustration of the "decoy theory" and how it might have worked in that particular case. Moving back to the Uncle Fester case, then, what can we say? For starters, let's theorize that not everyone in Congress is totally thrilled by our relationship with Israel -- especially since, after a 50-plus-year engagement, the marriage was consummated at the start of the Bush II administration in a sleazy motel run by the Neocons and Evangelicals. A few people might be getting a bit skeptical as to whether that relationship isn't just a little too cozy, and whether our foreign policy being phoned in from Tel Aviv and coordinated with AIPAC is really the best thing for the American people and the American economy. Some might even question whether Israel, as the unindicted co-conspirator in our attack on Iraq, hasn't pushed us past the point of no return economically and foreign relations-wise. The problem is, no one who has questions and misgivings about these things can ever express them -- not in Congress, not in the media -- _especially_ not in academia -- for fear of being labeled "anti-Semitic" and banished from all polite society, and jobs that pay more than a McDonald's fry cook, from that point on. And, as far as the general public is concerned, they cling (as Obama would say) to many articles of faith, among which is the one that says, "If Congress and the media aren't worried about it, I won't be either." Which is the semi-conscious version of "If Congress and the media say the problem does not exist, then it doesn't."

And yet -- or so it seems -- the regime cannot simply continue to "stonewall" on this issue without once in a while offering up a bit of red meat, to demonstrate that, hey, Israel doesn't have a stranglehold on our foreign policy... they can't boss us around... and here's proof. So off to jail go Jonathan Pollard and Uncle Fester, who sincerely thought they were doing no wrong, and in fact they weren't, according to official policy. But once in a while someone has to be tossed into a volcano to appease the forces of bigotry and skepticism, and those guys got picked. The stories are disseminated as widely as possible, everyone sees that, yes, we can "get tough on Israel", and the tide goes out again, until next time. Everybody goes back into their accustomed comatose state and the follies of our foreign policy march on.

But of course, this is just a theory. All it has to recommend it is that it fits all the facts, and nothing else even comes close. But if you have a better idea, please let me know. 'Cause this is way too crazy.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Crack in the Facade

Count on the state of Louisiana to provide comic relief for anyone suffering from PPFS (Pennsylvania Primary Fatigue Syndrome) or who is of worrying about subprime mortgages, the Federal Reserve, and the line of succession to the throne of Iraq (well, OK, it's actually called the "senior military commander in Iraq" but we know what they really mean). It seems that the Louisiana Senate, in an unusual burst of sanity and level-headedness, has "rejected a bill... that would make it a crime to wear one's pants too low." I guess when they say, "laissez les bons temps rouler" they really mean it. Otherwise, they would have had a law that "made it illegal to wear, in public, clothing that 'intentionally exposes undergarments or intentionally exposes any portion of the pubic hair, cleft of the buttocks or genitals'". I can tell you for certain that every plumber in Louisiana, and a lot of other skilled tradesmen besides, are heaving a collective sigh of relief -- as are fat biker chicks and gang-bangers (not to mention those _really_ scary women whose pubic hair starts at about the sternum). Actually, what I suspect is that they capitulated because they were told that police departments around the country actually _favor_ loose, low-hanging pants on criminals, because they make them much easier to catch. (The police have actually pointed this out in a number of places. I'm not making this up. I never make anything up.) So saggy pants will just have to join the ever-expanding list of cultural oddities that at one time threatened the survival of the Republic -- things like long hair on men, hot pants, bras (i.e. the lack thereof), beehive hairdos, platform shoes, tattoos, and piercings -- but which were never actually declared illegal.

Now that that's settled, can we get back to the serious business of choosing, for our next president, between a criminal, a communist, and a fanatical war-monger?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Laissez My Cafe

From the e-mail file -- a comment, dated April 11, concerning a story about a guy who tried to get the words "Laissez-faire" printed on his Starbucks card. "A few days later he was informed that the company couldn't issue such a card because the wording violated company policy." My comment:

It didn't take them long to get to the heart of the mystery of why many people who have profited the most from free enterprise then turn around and support collectivist politicians and programs. But I suspect it's a form of elitism, i.e. "laissez-faire" is good enough for the smart folks who can really take advantage of it, but it's a dangerous idea in general because it could lead to -- what? Basically a conviction that no one else has the right to run your life for you, even if they have a better idea. Call it the down side of liberty -- that there will be plenty of mediocrity and plenty of people who are completely satisfied with it. This seems to offend liberal utopians for some reason. I remember this way back in college -- the "activists" tended to look down on all that was plain, ordinary, bourgeois, boring. Because they weren't interested in something meant that no one else ought to be either. So there is a bit of insecurity in all liberal thinking, namely that unless my tastes are held on high as the standard, they are in danger of being -- what? Considered "just another preference", and we can't have that -- social metaphysics [a term from Ayn Rand] demands that we have, in effect, a vote on everything, so the way to get my tastes voted into dominance is to either force them on others or force them to vote for mine no matter what they really like -- or just do away with voting altogether. So we see the origin of many historical and current liberal programs.

Me on War -- Appendix A

From the e-mail file, some comments, dated April 13 and 14, on a news item dealing with Phil Donahue's new film, "Body of War":

As for Donahue -- all well and good, but someone needs to investigate why the American public is so psychologically invested in war -- not just this one, but war in general. Why is it, for instance, that at long last we seem to be the most warlike society on the planet? Now, this is not the same as individual _Americans_ being "warlike" or belligerent or temperamental -- we are still fairly phlegmatic most of the time as individuals -- probably about average for white people at least -- but as a society (read: government, if you like) we are perpetually ready to send troops in anywhere, any time, for any reason, and we usually do. This ought to be the main focus -- that, and why there is so little resistance -- relatively speaking -- on the part of the public, including those who get hurt the most -- to the government's policies. If Americans were serious about stopping gratuitous war we would expect any anti-war candidate to win over any pro-war candidate. But that's clearly not the way it works -- in fact, it's usually the other way around. Anti-war people are still regarded as limp-wristed "wusses" and cowards by most people -- and war is still widely regarded as the preferred way for young men to "prove" their masculinity, and for the society as a whole to prove _its_ masculinity. And all the anti-male chauvinist and pacifist appeals on earth are not going to change that.

Another society that was very militaristic was Japan, up to and through WWII. But they had a change of heart after most of their country had been destroyed, all of their military materiel lost, huge numbers of troop casualties, and two A-bombs lobbed on them. I suspect that this country would need a lesson of comparable magnitude in order to change its ways. So how is this supposed to come about?

[My correspondent's reply was: " Very interesting questions. It’s my impression, not terribly well supported, that the strong pro-war sentiment is actually something fairly new in American history. 80% of Americans were opposed to entry into WWII in 1941, until Roosevelt engineered an attack. There was also little sentiment, I believe, for entry into WWI, until the attack on the Lusitania was similarly provoked. But that merely leaves the question of what has changed in more recent decades. One possible factor is Truman’s creation of the military-industrial complex, which gives large numbers of people a financial stake in war. But there’s clearly something ideological going on, and not just financial."] My response:

I think the ideological and the financial exist in a state of symbiosis. Granted, the financial interest is more stable and long-term. It is also more "calculating". The ideological is less stable and more amenable to propaganda, e.g. the abolitionists before the Civil War and the "yellow press" prior to the Spanish-American War. People who are subject to the winds of propaganda and persuasion are the rightful victims of those who have made more sober assessments as to their own gains and losses. But there is something _behind_ the vulnerability to propaganda -- perhaps a sense of insecurity re: the "American experiment" and all the delusions that go with it. Which is to say, there is a kind of feeling that America keeps "failing" to provide the utopia that was promised or implied by the Revolution, and which goes back, ideologically, to the Reformation. America was supposed to be the place where all these ideals would finally be put into practice, unfettered by the inertia of the European regimes. The New World was a clean slate, upon which anything could be writ with equal conviction. So, what better place to try out the Reformation/Protestant/humanistic ideals that had been developed in England (mostly) than over here? And the Revolution did, in fact, succeed -- and many of the promises were kept -- up to a point. We had the "Era of Good Feeling" and Jacksonian Democracy, etc. but there was a heart of darkness, i.e. Masonic utopianism and secularism (actually brought to a much more dramatic head in the French Revolution), and also a major flaw in practice, namely slavery. So these were handicaps that were with us from the beginning, and which bore -- and continue to bear, to this day -- fruit of various poisonous kinds. So the answer to failure is not to re-examine our premises, but to try again, and "harder".

Whether the democratic (or at least federalist) ideals of the Founding Fathers would have stood quite so solidly _absent_ these "occult" influences -- i.e., Masonic utopianism and Reformation secularism -- is a good question. One wishes they could have stood alone, but maybe not. And if the latter, it calls into question the entire American experiment -- democracy -- representative government -- etc. Maybe it really is all an idea founded on a delusion. But that, if it is indeed the case, provides an even stronger argument for libertarianism and limited government. I.e., if we can't even trust "pure" democracy to provide the (philosophically) desired result, then what can we trust, and the answer is no "form" of government per se, but an _absence_ -- in as much as possible -- of government. Just enough government to guarantee certain rights, but not more -- because "more" will start to erode those rights, and the point at which this occurs is -- or ought to be -- a main topic of debate among libertarians. Taking the historical model, it probably happened sometime in the early 1800s, certainly well before the Civil War. (And yet we see de Tocqueville, writing at that very time, warning about the hidden flaws in American democracy, which would eventually rise to the surface with a vengeance.) Everything we've had since is on the "too much government" side, and what we've had since the New Deal is _way_ too much government.

But to return to the war question, if we limit the _ability_ of government to wage war, then it will not be so critical what the people "think". People see government as a way of protecting people from their own folly and delusions -- but a better argument can be made for _strictly limited_ government not protecting people from folly and delusions, but protecting them from the _consequences_ of those follies and delusions, by making it virtually impossible to actually carry them out. But, of course, for that you need a government whose primary mission is to be self-limiting -- and as we know it's very hard to find any system -- material, organic, or a hybrid of the two -- capable of doing that. It almost seems as if we need two elements in the mix, one to provide structure to protect individual rights and another to limit the growth of that same structure. Sort of a thesis-antithesis form. Now, the Founding Fathers had something like this in mind with the three branches -- but the way they organized the balance of powers was clearly (in the long run) flawed. That doesn't mean it can't be done right, but who do we turn to for an example?

America's Favorite Blueprint Bloopers

According to a recent Newsday article, a homeless man discovered "documents purported to be blueprints for the Freedom Tower" -- you know, that memorial thing that they finally came up with to build on the site of the World Trade Center, after about a thousand different proposals had been reviewed? And of course, this awkward turn of events "has prompted an internal investigation" -- which usually means that some schmo named Al, who nobody likes anyway, will be demoted and placed on leave without pay for a few days. Hey, this is New York, waddaya talkin'? There's an entire agency dedicated to conducting "internal investigations". Its motto -- inscribed on the official agency seal -- is "The problem has been resolved and it will not occur again."

Now, this is one of those stories that raises more questions than it answers. Number one, why do you throw stuff like that in the ordinary trash, along with pizza crusts and Dunkin' Donuts cups? But also, why are these blueprints "sensitive"? Why is their exposure a "security breach"? And also, if the guy who found them is really homeless, how did anyone find out? What did he do, turn over a new leaf and report the find to the nearest Department of Sanitation street sweeper? I guess the stock answer, "only in New York", would suffice for most of these questions.

But I have to admit that my favorite line in the article is "... could lose their contract to build the 1,776 story tower." Yes, you read it right, that's 1776 _stories_, not feet. Oh, why pick on them for making a simple typo, you say. But it's not a typo! The contractor is Halliburton, and we know how full of stories they are.

They Can Go Home Again -- Maybe

At the same time authorities down in Texas are tearing babes and sucklings out of the arms of their biological mothers, a Children and Youth Services agency in northeastern Pennsylvania has developed strange new respect for the notion of family cohesion. Not that they will just arbitrarily return children who have been removed from problem families, without some sort of preparatory procedure, mind. But the one-way street to permanent foster care has at least been paved with one lane going the other way. The program is called "intensive reunification", and is based on the existing system at what is called "Treatment Court". (I'll bet you didn't know there was an entirely separate court system to just oversee "treatments", did you? I _told_ you we were all sick!) In any case, it represents a unified effort among a number of social welfare entities, and the key quote -- from a judge -- is "The best place for a child is with the parents, if they can be." I can hardly express how radical a departure this is from the orthodoxy of what I call the Combined Nanny Establishment, which seems to feel that the family as an institution has been tried and has been found sorely wanting. Their traditional position is that institutionalization on any level is preferable to allowing children to remain in the clutches of the "family unit" with all of its attendant horrors. So it is good to see this trend suffer a small reversal -- kind of like the "Doomsday Clock" being set back a minute or two. Of course, the entire process is still firmly under the baleful eye of the state, and I imagine that once "on the books", no family will ever be able to get off. Still, it beats the bad old days.

I'll add a quote from the director of the program in Lackawanna County, PA: "For about 100 years, child services were getting it wrong." One hundred years. Think about that for a minute. That's three or four generations (and, for some "welfare families" more like six). Ever wonder where all the street gangs come from? This might be a clue. And, how surprising is it that it took them so long to catch on? Number one, they weren't looking for any evidence that would go against their premises or procedures. And they were cherry-picking horror stories about what happens when "the system" lets a child "fall through the cracks" (as if being committed to foster care is not a "crack" in itself -- or more like a bottomless pit). And -- "mantra alert" -- every government program is a jobs program, as we know. You don't create more social welfare slots by returning kids to their families. So the level of -- at least potential -- sacrifice inherent in this sea change should not be sneezed at. But after all, this is just one county, and there are many more to go.

[based on a story from the Scranton Times-Tribune, printed in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on April 20]

The De-Generation of Politics

Those of us who came of age in the 1960s... well, forget about "coming of age", let's just call it "acquired the purely biological ability to reproduce without any concomitant cortical function"... tend to subscribe to the stereotype that political differences are always generationally-based, i.e. represent a conflict between the "old" -- the old-fashioned, rigid, uptight, conservative -- and the "young" -- the with-it, loose, liberal, casual, and amoral. Because this is, in fact, the way it was in the 1960s -- or at least the way it appeared. With the exception of a few acidhead tenured professors in Ivy League and Land Grant universities, the 60s movements -- political, social, sexual, artistic, and so on -- nearly always brought generational differences into sharp relief. It was the "young and free" vs. the uptight establishment -- although, for some reason, that uptight establishment still managed to find enough young people to fill the ranks of the armed forces and police academies. But I remember how we felt about those holdouts -- they were finks, snitches, stoolies, narks, and "traitors to the cause". They were to the youth movements of those days what the so-called Uncle Toms and Tio Tacos were to the "Black Power" and "La Raza" movements. And of course, they were shown no mercy when they came back from Vietnam, even if they were missing a few body parts. Their treachery was not so much based on what they had done over there but that they had betrayed their -- our -- _"my"_ -- generation. They had, in short, sold out to "the man", and "the man" was ably represented by people like Westmoreland, Hoover, General Hershey, and Nixon. (They were all -- with the exception of Westmoreland, I guess -- what the cast of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" calls "doughy guys" -- you know, those overweight and out-of-shape 50s types with the pale, shapeless faces and baggy suits who always played police chiefs and detectives on TV and in the movies.)

So the culture wars of the 60s were also -- and inseparably -- inter-generational wars. So the impression arose that _all_ culture wars had to be inter-generational, and that the culture wars of the past must have been as well. But I remember thinking, at the time, that even though each generation shows some signs of rebellion against the customs and attitudes of the one before, it seldom turns out to be a profound break. Sooner or later, most people will wind up securely advocating pretty much the same ideas and standards of behavior that their parents did -- i.e. the differences are those of age, and therefore temporary, rather than generation. To this we must, of course, add the notion that there are _cultures_ (social, economic, ethnic, religious, racial) that differ from each other far more than do the generations, or even age groups, within each culture.

In this sense, it appears that the 1960s were more of an aberration than the rule when it comes to cultural -- one might say meta-cultural -- trends. For when the dust settled, and the people of my generation reached a kind of truce with the older generation, we did not then see the same battles being fought in the same way from the mid-1970s on, and we do not see them being fought the same way today. The cultural battle lines have reverted to more traditional forms, and we are more likely to see two or three generations of the same family manning the same side of the barricades. What does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means that the younger generation of today hasn't been inoculated against the wisdom of its elders in quite the same drastic fashion as the younger generation of a generation ago. It may also mean that those elders are more receptive to new ideas, lifestyles, and -- yes, as much as I despise the term -- "diversity". And it may simply mean that people have found -- re-discovered, in effect -- common ground based on the things that count, rather than arbitrary alienation based on ideology. I see much less tension among generations now, whereas in the 60s it almost amounted to open warfare. (Remember that exploitation movie, "Joe"? I rest my case. A piece of solid waste like that would never be produced today.) What this means is that ideology -- being a materialistic, abstract, academic, delusional phenomenon -- has finally been found wanting by _everybody_ -- or at least enough people so that it does not continue to cause social strife. But we still have a ways to go in eliminating ideology from our overseas ventures; that may, in fact, be one of the main challenges for the... um... next generation.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

They're Coming to Take Yours Away

By now, everybody knows that the main effect of the raid on the Fundamentalist LDS compound in Texas has been to flood the social service system with hundreds of underage people requiring foster care, since their natural parents -- whose clothing makes the Amish look like Madonna's stage cast -- have been declared forever incompetent. What we are seeing is a historical extension of the "clear and present danger" concept, by which the belief system of a group is held, _by definition_ and with no further evidence required, to constitute sufficient cause for the breakup of said group and its member families. In fact, I'm trying to think of any precedents for this in either American history or world history, and I frankly cannot. Now, you're going to say, "Well, but don't you see, these innocent, young girls were about to be farmed out to a bunch of dirty old men, who would force them to bear children and live in a hotbed of pioneer-style degeneracy." To which I respond, if law enforcement were based primarily on intent, or thought, or possibility, or suspicion, rather than act, we could justify rounding up everybody in the U.S. And that is precisely the point. Start with the weak, the powerless, the disenfranchised. Have a test case or two. Firebomb the Branch Davidians and see how people react. Oh, that was a bit harsh? OK, next time we'll just arrest everyone. But you see the recurring theme. Being "different" in a non-approved way can be hazardous to your health -- not just in the dogmatic, rigid, up-tight "old days", but right now today.

Let's look at one of the many news stories that have come out of this episode so far. Now we have a "court-appointed child psychiatrist" -- and since this is a family blog I won't use the word I usually use to describe those people -- saying that "the children... were in danger of growing up with under-developed brains". Oh, well in that case let's waste no more time, and empty out the inner city neighborhoods, and put all those kids in foster care as well. And don't forget to destroy all TV sets while you're at it. This is one of those arguments that can be used against anyone, any time. It can be used against home schoolers, against religious people, against people who live in the country, or the city... and yes, against you.

To go on -- the FLDS kids face "an inability to develop healthy relationships or to make their own decisions". Well, let's see, they live in a close-knit community where cooperation is extremely important. But that apparently isn't good enough. Now, of course the community is hierarchical -- but what community isn't? These are just words that get mouthed -- but if they are mouthed by the proper "authorities" they acquire the force of law.

Try this: "In many ways, he [the psychiatrist] said, the environment the children live in is healthy, the mothers appear to be loving, the boys are happy... but there are parts of what they do that are destructive." So health and loving mothers just don't cut it. And if the boys are happy, what about the girls, who apparently live in fear, almost from the cradle, of that middle-of-the-night knock on the door that tells them they are about to be dragged off as a sacrifice to Moloch? "There are parts of what they do that are destructive" could be a paraphrase from authors like Richard Dawkins, who consider religious upbringing to be the most destructive and evil force on the face of the earth. And were "all the children... in equal danger"? Well, no one knows. But hey, why take chances? Better to arrest 'em all, and let God -- or rather social services -- sort them out.

Bottom line -- most of the arguments being used by the prosecution in this case amount to no more than blatant prejudice. They are essentially saying, "We don't like you, so you have to be stopped." Those who think they are so secure -- so far from the ravenous maw of the machine -- should think again. Could any of these words and phrases -- or ones of similar vagueness -- be used against you or your family? Not sure? I hope you don't find out too late.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Kids These Days!

It is spring again, and the sound of automatic gunfire in the public schools echoes throughout the land. It appears that, from an actuarial point of view, April is to the public schools what the Full Moon is to the streets and alleyways of our inner cities -- the time of badness, danger, and anarchy, when all of society's guardians must be vigilant and on full alert. And yes, as tempting as it is to, once again, blame the public schools and the education bureaucracy for everything that ever goes wrong within their domain, I will resist, for once, that path of least resistance. For as pathological as the schools are, and as ill-considered as the "educational theories" and policies and regulations that misshape them are, it is entirely possible that some kids just show up, on the first day, already bad. And whose fault is that? It can't be the schools'.

Now, whether they do anything to "treat" these problems is another matter. In fact, whether it's even their _job_ to treat these things is another matter. The schools -- along with the social work industry -- have pursued a program for at least a generation now of taking over virtually every family function that there is -- _except_ for the responsibility and accountability part. The day-to-day policy, which is almost stated this explicitly, is: "Your children are ours, and you will have no more say in the matter of their upbringing or education. However, when we run into a problem we can't solve, they become (temporarily) _your_ children again -- at least long enough to enable us to assign blame, and refer the case to the proper authorities -- after which time your children become ours again, or maybe even (under ideal conditions) permanent wards of the state." Oops, wait a minute -- I was copying material from an old Soviet Five-Year Plan. Or was it something from the Third Reich? Nope, sure enough, this is the actual, expressed policy of the American CNE (Combined Nanny Establishment), which includes schools, the social work system, "welfare" agencies, public libraries, and any and all busybodies who look out their window and decide there's something lacking in your "parenting skills". And it goes without saying that a corollary to the above is the policy of "if it ain't broke, fix it anyway", i.e. if a kid doesn't appear to be sick, well, surely _something_ is wrong with him, and it's our job to ferret it out. Same goes for his "learning disabilities", "anti-social tendencies", and all the rest of it. The program depends, and thrives, on the Universal Pathology Model, as I will call it -- the notion that "well" children have little or no need for "help", and as such are not proper subjects of state attention and control. And this cannot be tolerated. So we have to attribute pathology to everybody, which is the only way to justify declaring their natural caretakers, AKA "parents", incompetent, and absorbing them into the system as "cases". So the schools -- which, at one time in the long-lost past were supposed to concentrate on educating -- are now the sorting centers and clearing houses for the detection and definition of pathology, all to the greater glory and prosperity of the regime and the neutralization of the family.

But I digress! Because I started this post in an attempt to _uphold_ the notion that all is not always well on the home front, and that the schools might, on occasion, have reason to express concern. In my day it was the kids who showed up with lice in their hair and smelling vaguely (or not so vaguely) of urine. It seems, in retrospect, that they were actually "homeless trainees" who had somehow wandered into the classroom. But those problems were relatively easily dealt with. We had hyperactive kids too - but back then they were simply referred to as "bad", and they spent their golden years of youth sitting in the principal's office, driven into a frenzy by the incessant clacking of manual typewriters. We had bullies too, and although they could be dealt with in class (unlike now, teachers were even allowed to physically coerce them, e.g. to keep them from inflicting permanent injury on other children) they ruled the roost on the playground and in locker rooms. My theory is they all either wound up in jail or became cops.

But again, I digress. Let me offer for your consideration two recent news items, and let you be the judge. The first concerns a couple of "preteen girls" who assaulted a third girl on the school playground and "stomped on her head and legs, breaking her hip." This was in retaliation for the victim's telling them to stop splashing water on her younger sister. OK, now these kids had been in public school for, say, five or six years, so we can't exactly call them blank slates. But surely their educational experience did not constitute incitement of violence of this magnitude -- after all, the victim was clearly not a religious conservative, a "hater", or an adult white male heterosexual. So I think we can discount the influence of public school propaganda -- at least until we learn more about the case.

The second incident -- on the same page -- concerned a "murder list" that two high school girls had compiled, resulting in their being charged with "making terroristic threats". Now, let me say something about this tidbit of law enforcement. I imagine that, in the wake of 9-11, the new, extra-thick and heavy, layer of law imposed on all American citizens included something like "making terroristic threats", which I guess would be something like threatening to fire-bomb someone's house or ambush them on their way to Shoppers' Food Warehouse. But we see that this charge has already become the basis for a goodly number of arrests in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and it is added, as a sort of fillip, to the list of existing charges in what appears to me to be the majority of cases of what used to be termed "disorderly conduct". So, when a drunken Penguins fan shouts across the alley to his neighbor, "I'm gonna kill ya", that is considered a "terroristic threat" and he is treated the same as a guy named Rashid who tries landing on the Outer Banks with a boatload of IEDs.

So anyway, these teenaged female terrorists are in deep popo because of this "murder list" because one of the intended murderees snitched to the school principal. And when one delves into the story a bit, one finds that the only "terroristic" thing about the "murder list" was that it was entitled "Murder List". There is absolutely no supporting evidence of any evil or violent intent. But too late for all those refinements -- the kids have been caught in the "justice" machinery and will be lucky to come out of it any better than the characters in one of those "women behind bars" movies from the 1950s.

So what do these two pairs of waifs have in common? Simply that I doubt that the baleful influence of public education was a critical factor in their delinquency. The former case, in particular, has a kind of "mean streets" air about it, as if these kids showed up on the first day all ready for a rumble in the jungle. The latter story is a bit more inane, and probably represents -- as much as anything -- the usual gross over-reaction on the part of school authorities. In fact, I could argue that the public schools actually create the conditions for this kind of thing, i.e. for petty and malicious bickering and hostility. Do they create the conditions for mass murder, of the Columbine sort? Highly doubtful. That seems to depend primarily on family pathology -- and we know that the schools are already hard at work on that one. The schools may make bad kids worse, but they don't make them bad. What they do to good kids is mostly make them bored out of their skulls -- primarily because the good kids have to spend most of the day waiting around while the staff deals with the bad kids.

Gotcha Covered

Seems that the first lady of France is hot enough to have posed nude, and that the resulting artwork is hot enough to sell for big bucks, over there in the land of "we are so much more sophisticated than you poor, Puritanical Americans". Hey, fair enough -- when's the last time _we_ had a first lady whose buffness would make anyone's day? (Have we _ever_ had one like that? Let me think... ) But Reuters was quick to point out that her pose in the picture included "covering her modesty with her hands". Covering her what?? (So that's what it's called nowadays!) I imagine this is a case of something getting lost in translation. In a more reserved era, the, um... "area" of a woman was occasionally referred to as her "shame", as in "covering her shame with her hands". Well, we can't have any of that, surely. How can something you were born with be equated with "shame"? But to refer to it as covering one's modesty... well, surely it was a way of, in a sense, _exposing_ one's modesty, i.e. putting it on display -- but in a coy way, i.e. not to the extent of ruining the photo shoot. In any case, it's a blessing that the French, at least, have better things to do than worry about the prime rate.

The Pride of Plains

He gets all giggly and squirmy when he's about to meet -- face to face! -- and they might even shake his hand! -- people who own and operate their own torture chambers... the unabashed, unapologetic strongmen of the third world who rule with sheer terror and methods that would have been everyday fare for Hammurabi. He is totally weak for the totally strong... an admirer of absolute power, especially when it's expressed in as brutal and crude a way as possible. Well then, who is this strange creature? Some sort of "S & M" buff who lives in his parents' basement by day and cruises biker bars by night? A guy with piercings on every square inch of his body -- including a few that are, um, "concealed" in certain unmentionable places? No, not a bit of it. This is our esteemed and venerated, so-called "best ex-president ever", James Earl Carter. And what is worse, he disguises his shameless tyrant-groupie-ism as "democratic election monitoring", or "seeking to promote dialogue on human rights", or some other such wan and bloodless cause. Yes, the man is truly a discredit to his race and would be an object of universal derision, _except_ that, in his capacity as "peacemaker" over the years he has been a thorn in the side of the Republicans -- particularly the current administration -- and therefore a hero to the Democrats. With his unbroken record of foolish meddling and gaffes, he seemed the very epitome of Democratic foreign policy, a refinement -- a purification, if you will -- of the approach they have ever held dear, which is to say, grinning, shaking hands, bootlicking, cowering, perpetually apologizing, and selling out American interests. But then a funny thing happened on the way to making the U.S. into U.N. territory -- he started gripping and grinning with some of the wrong people, AKA "enemies of Israel". And the first thing that happened was that there was a massive bail-out from his organization, which had, up until that time, been considered a kind of idyllic "if only" version of the State Department -- the sort of place John Lennon might have set up if he had not been tragically felled by an assassin's bullet before he could devote himself exclusively to world affairs. Yes, the message was -- peacemaking, and "dialogue", and compromise are good and fine, but they cannot be allowed to violate the only absolute in American foreign policy, which is the "defense" of Israel at any and all cost. Leave it to Jimmy to make such a foolish mistake, i.e. to assume that our foreign policy ought to be characterized by "equal protection". Well, of course it isn't, and it never will be, as he knows only too well. He is the one who has coddled dictators (and, one suspects, given their glamorous wives the once-over during state dinners) ever since he ascended to the White House. He's the one who would rather sit down with Kim Jong-Il over a feast of monkey brains and Napoleon brandy than dine with the Pope. And his quixotic world-wide quest to achieve "democratic elections" has not fooled anybody; we know he is much happier in the company of guys with a lot of medals on their chests and whips hanging from their belts. And yet, his strange brew of obsessions was never remarked upon by his fellow Democrats until he started chatting up outfits like Hamas, and even now they aren't entirely sure they want to join the Bush administration and the State Department in "regretting" and scolding such a fine, upstanding example of humanity. Yep, he's the crazy uncle who manages to escape from the attic and take a whiz in the punch bowl. The Democrats were using him to bust the chops of the Bushites but now they're wondering if they shouldn't have just reined him in. Too late, guys.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Freak Shall Inherit the Earth

I dropped by the Freedom Rally ( on the grassy knoll in front of the Capitol this afternoon -- a sunny and brisk day with the Mall teeming with high school tour groups, demonstrators, vendors, derelicts, and misfits of all sorts -- in short, a typical day in the Belly of the Beast. The Freedom Rally was not a "biggie" by DC standards -- a low speakers' platform, a standard-issue sound system, a handful of video cameras -- _no_ visible media presence... and the Capitol as a backdrop, in all of its newly-whited spendor (with the requisite heavily-armed guards dotted here and there on the edifice). The crowd -- so to speak -- was, by my untrained estimate, somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 -- more than a street gaggle, but certainly below radar in this city of Million Whatever Marches. And to look at the crowd, you would think you were back at Woodstock (or "at" Woodstock, if you were never there to begin with), except for the age bifurcation. You have your aging hippie types who have discovered the merits of freedom (as a political, rather than just personal, concept) -- a handful of young families -- and quite large numbers of disaffected youth, many of them sporting the punk or goth look, some retro-hippies, but all, without a doubt, among the passed-over, unrecognized, and unawarded. This would not have been the rally of choice for the student council or varsity or fraternity types, or business school or law school androids, in other words. We're talking more like the ones who _would_ have been at Woodstock way back when, or marching for peace, or free love, or drugs, or whatever. There were also a few soft-core biker types, some "crazy granny lady" types with gray witches' hair and serapes, some bearded elders, and a few folks who I've also seen at the fringes of the March for Life -- you know, the ones with the street-person clothing and their own homemade signs who seem to be off in their own world, and who occasionally shout something to no one in particular. What one definitely did _not_ see was anyone who was well-dressed or well-groomed, sleek, and complacent. No coiffures here, and no makeup, and no polished shoes. This is, in short, America's rag-tag street rabble -- the prophets whose words are written on the subway walls (to quote S & G) because where else are they going to write them? The people who are satisfied with things as they are would have no need to be there, and neither would the people who are mildly dissatisfied. What we see here are the ones who want to bring Leviathan down -- to cut it out, root and branch -- to ignite the Hindenburg. These are the ones who consider the battles in Congress over whether to increase an agency's budget by 1% or 2% the height of absurdity. Their vision is to cut it by 100% -- and they can usually tell you why this is a good idea, and they're usually right. (To get to the rally I had to walk past the HHS building -- surely one of the first to go in the alternate universe where these folks wind up in charge.)

But here's my question. Would the same people who count themselves among the disaffected -- the rebels -- the outliers -- of today been in that category thirty years ago, say? Or will they be in that category in thirty more years? In other words, is alienation a personality type? Or does it really and truly depend on the status quo of society at a given time? We know that the "suit and tie campus radicals" of the 1960s are now the tight-lipped, tight-assed politically correct scolds of the political elite -- in other words, the establishment. We know that a few people who thought of themselves as "establishment" back then have become the Paleocons of today -- despised and rejected of men. So I guess it does depend to some extent on the way society is, and the way the individual is. And yet there must be some people for whom being a rebel, an outlier, is job one, and the rest is detail. Certainly in this day and age campaigning and demonstrating for liberty is to be one of a very small remnant -- guided by the light of one very small, flickering candle. And maybe a few of these would have been in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the 1930s, or been Maoists in the 1960s. But maybe we shouldn't worry about it and just accept -- in the "big tent" tradition -- whoever shows up.

In any case, just seeing a few other people with the same convictions gave these folks a great boost in morale. The speakers, of course, were "preaching to the choir" -- unless you include the occasional groups of Teamsters who wandered by, or the Hispanic group from California who had come to town to welcome Pope Benedict, or the Seventh-Day Adventist spinoff group handing out anti-Sunday sabbath propaganda. We have to remember that this is, after all, Washington DC, and the right to "petition for the redress of grievances" is what accounts for at least half of the people in the streets at any given time -- not to mention _all_ of the lobbying groups. But who knows, a few innocent bystanders might have heard one of the speakers speaking bitterness about the IRS, or the Federal Reserve. And this accidental overhearing might take root. I kept thinking -- yes, 500 is a small number. But Lenin started with a half dozen, as did Hitler. Not that their programs were especially beneficial in the long run, but it does illustrate the power of ideas, and their potential to spread like viruses, for good or ill. We say -- or think -- that liberty is passe, and that government "has to" be enormous just in order to "handle" all the "challenges" of the world as it is. But if one points out that government per se is the major challenge of the world as it is, all we get is a blank stare. Our society has evolved in a most curious way over two centuries, from moral certitude + (near) governmental anarchy to moral anarchy + totalitarianism -- surely not a coincidence, since in each case there is a symbiosis, and one reinforces the other. But government is an evil beast that fights for survival and insists upon growth, and it has many tricks up its sleeve to accomplish both of those, the first and foremost being war. The government can start wars in order to nourish itself off the blood of the citizens -- but can the citizens, all by themselves, end a war and reclaim what was theirs to begin with? The closest we have come to the citizens ending a war was Vietnam. But how much of what was lost in the process were we able to reclaim? And, in fact, how much will we be able to reclaim when (and if) the war in Iraq ends? Has the government ever closed an "emergency" or "temporary" agency, or terminated an "emergency" program, or an emergency suspension of rights? Maybe in a few cases, but more often than not all of those infrastructure entities remain firmly in place long after the end of hostilities. So yes, stop the war and bring the troops home so that the battle can begin! And if you want to know the battle plan, ask one of those scruffy "freaks" I saw lounging on the lawn in front of the Capitol today.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Nice Day on the Death Star

I drove down to D.C. yesterday, on my spring jaunt and grand tour of old haunts and old friends. Driving through "flyover country" between Pittsburgh and Washington was like skimming the borders of a Grant Wood painting -- I was not in it, but I was close enough to observe it. Of course, not all is quite as idyllic as the world of Wood -- there are plenty of trailer parks, junkyards, derelict buildings, abandoned farms, and just plain trash along the way. But still, it has a certain air of stability and authenticity. Then, as one draws nearer to the capital -- say, anywhere east of Frederick, Maryland -- the feeling of helplessness before a nameless enormity grows. By the time one approaches the D.C. Beltway, one is driving on a 7-lane highway (that is 7 lanes in either direction), bumper to bumper, at 70 mph. And this is on a _Saturday_ -- not even a workday for most of the wage slaves in the vast hive that is Washington. The thought that occurred to me at that point -- other than, how to get out alive -- was that none of this would be here -- no, not one jot or tittle -- if it were not for the gigantic, oppressive, overbearing central government we have managed to develop, mostly through benign neglect, over the past 200-odd years. The area that is now Washington would certainly include a small urban settlement, namely "Georgetown, Maryland" -- a kind of charming backwater at the head of the navigable portion of the Potomac River and at the end of a long-defunct canal system. There might be a few sprawling bucolic estates in the area now known as Arlington, as there were then. And another small town, a few miles down river, namely Alexandria, would sit in a dream-like state upon the tidewater, with the occasional river boat plying its shores. But none of the rest of it would exist -- and who can claim that the vast majority of Americans would not be better off, more conversant with their natural rights, more zealous in their application of liberty? They would reap what they had sown, and store it up against the bleak and cold winter. They would bear children and raise them up, and train them in the way they should go, without interference or harassment. They would invent, and create, and buy and sell, in a free market with an absolute minimum of regulation -- just enough to insure that those who contributed to prosperity and progress retained the rights to the fruits of their labor. Education would be need-based, and its form and duration totally optional, depending on the needs of the individual, the family, and the local community. Technology would be subject to the laws of supply and demand and the natural mechanisms of commerce, unfettered and with minimum regulation. Money -- the medium of exchange -- would be based on something tangible and of universally-recognized value (i.e., not only paper). Business and agriculture would be matters of individual initiative and individual risk, and larger enterprises would be characterized by unconstrained bargaining between owners/employers and workers. Local customs, mores, ideas of proper conduct and etiquette would not be crushed under the collectivist wheel but recognized and respected by neighbor and stranger alike. In short, it would be the America of the post-Revolutionary period without the cancer of slavery ready to bring it to its knees.

And yet, Washington D.C. is green. It is clean, scrubbed, ready for visitors, tourists, conferences, marches, demonstrations, all forms of commerce and social interaction. On the surface, it is not the least forbidding (provided, as I said, one can survive the traffic). But at the same time it is a whited sepulchre. Behind every limestone and marble facade there is a hive of parasites whose only interest is to stifle and squelch the freedom of others. Around every verdant park stand the edifices of those whose only desire is to exert power over others, in any form they can, unto the institutionalization of tyranny, one law, rule, regulation, or "guideline" at a time. And of course, the rulers -- the regime -- are always exempt from their own rules. The human race must, according to their view of things, be divided between the ruled -- i.e. the many -- and the rulers -- i.e. the few. There is no other possibility. Leaving people alone to -- for better or worse -- pilot their own destinies and decide their own fate is heresy... blasphemy... simply not done. Power has its own "technological imperative" -- what can be done will be done. By whom, to whom -- these are secondary considerations. If one is an accepted member of the power elite, one acquires staggering power over others... but one also acquires a price on one's head. If a bigger, or more vicious, person comes along who wants what you have, there is nothing whatsoever, in principle, keeping them from reaching out and taking it. And this is the down side of the system, or -- as some might say -- the saving grace. How often do we say, or think: "Lo, how the mighty have fallen." The person who today can walk through any door in Washington and bend those within to his will, and every whim, can be made a pariah and laughingstock tomorrow. It has happened, and it will happen. But apparently they consider it worth the risk; the rest of us just stay below radar and try to stay out of the way. Is this the "reductio ad absurdum" of democracy? Does this reveal the fatal flaws in the original American experiment devised by the Founding Fathers? Or is it a mutation of some sort -- a "road less taken" that, once it is taken, leads to moral chaos and social/economic totalitarianism? I'm sure I don't know. This is an "experiment" that cannot be rewound and repeated in a slightly different way. Does the failure of an application lead inevitably to an indictment of the ideas behind it? We like to make this claim vis-a-vis communism and fascism. How would we respond if someone made this claim vis-a-vis democracy? With indignation, or resignation?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sputnik, Meet Nudnik!

Some outfit called Strong American Schools -- which gets money from, among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (read: cosmic busybodies) -- has filed the 1000th formal complaint against American schools since World War II, contending that "students in the United States often fail to take the courses needed to compete in a global economy". The proposed solutions? (1) "Rigorous standards across the nation" -- read: No Child Left Behind, which is already starting to look like a beached whale; (2) "Effective teaching"; and (3) More time for learning through a longer school day or school year." Gee, I wonder which reform is supposed to be implemented first? If you do #3 first, all it means is that kids will spend more time not learning. Implementing #1 without working on #2 will give us... precisely what we have now, in the wars being fought over NCLB. And frankly, if we really had #2, #1 would be unnecessary and #3 would be optional. So what are we left with, class? Effective teaching is clearly the key to success. Now, why is that criterion the very last of the three that will ever be seriously tackled by the education bureaucracy? In fact, why is it that that criterion won't be tackled _at all_, thus rendering the other two -- predictably -- expensive, time-consuming, and irrelevant?

The first thing we need to do, to clear our minds of cobwebs regarding the education issue, is to realize, and acknowledge, two simple facts: (1) "public education" is a government program; and (2) every government program is a jobs program. That public education is a government program can hardly be denied. That every government program is a jobs program might strike some as an over-simplification, but I assure you that it's extremely true. But guess what, you'll just have to take my word for it for now; I'll argue the case at some other time. But what it means is that public education -- regardless of the stated mission, which is actually not at all clear (what exactly is "education" anyway? -- everyone thinks they know, but nobody agrees) -- is a gigantic bureaucracy in which the number of people in direct contact with the "customers" -- i.e. the teachers -- is a small minority, and getting smaller every day. This bureaucracy perpetuates itself in the exact same way as any other government bureaucracy does -- by constantly expanding its mission, and intruding into areas it was never intended to be in, and where it is not creating sinecures and padding job descriptions so that ten people wind up doing the "work" of one... by maintaining a highly-paid elite "management corps" who can't "manage" their way out of a wet paper bag... and by hiring contractors (i.e., creating even more jobs) to do things the insiders cannot or prefer not to do. It also works to stifle competition and drive competitors out of business -- e.g., charter schools, magnet schools, private schools, parochial schools, and home schools -- and wages merciless war on any attempt to acquire "school choice". In all of this, as I've said, it behaves as a typical bureaucracy -- no more, no less. But on top of this, there is an additional aggravating factor, namely the teachers' unions, which enjoy political power and influence nearly unmatched by any other domestic organization or cause. While unionization in the economy as a whole continues to decline, the public schools fall more and more into the death grip of the teachers' unions. And their Job One is -- big surprise -- maintaining existing slots of union members, creating new slots for union members, and rendering it impossible for union members to be fired, disciplined, or sanctioned in any way. (Oh, and did we mention a pay scale that would have caused the court of the Pasha of Istanbul to marvel?)

Somewhere along the line, with the bureaucratization and unionization of public education, came the mysterious phenomenon by which the quality of education, and the relevance of the curriculum, became first a secondary consideration, and eventually not a consideration at all. Just as "bad money drives out good", bad education has apparently -- by a similar process -- driven out good, in many respects. Basic human psychology provides a clue. Behavior which is reinforced tends to persist; behavior which is punished, or ignored, tends to disappear. So, to begin with, anything that conflicts with the "jobs" criterion, like efficiency and limiting bureaucratic overhead, will suffer from neglect. And anything that conflicts with the "protecting union members" criterion, like job and performance standards, will likewise be neglected.

So -- into this morass of conspiratorial incompetence and negligence fall none other than Bill and Melinda Gates, and their "Foundation", and its cutting-edge organization, Strong American Schools. And great is the hand-wringing, and the posturing, and the pontificating -- but nonexistent is the outcome, because even Bill and Melinda occasionally meet their match, and in this case more than their match. And yet -- those old enough to remember will, in fact, remember the panic that followed the Soviets' launch of Sputnik, and the fact that it stimulated a near-revolution in American education, particularly a serious drive to increase the quality of education in math and science. (Of course, one might question why the achievements of a handful of -- mostly German -- scientists in the USSR should uproot the entire American educational system, but let that go for now. That falls under the heading of "mass hysteria aided and abetted by government", and is a huge topic in its own right.) In short, the system was challenged, and it responded. And yes, it was a bureaucracy then, but it had not yet reached critical mass whereby all but a few had lost sight of the original mission of public education, namely (to over-simplify) to educate people for good, and productive, citizenship. If public education has any trace of this mission left, it has been distorted by the intervening political fog into something like: to produce unquestioning, ignorant, dependent, compliant drones whose spirit is crushed by political correctness and who have no resistance to collectivization and totalitarianism -- i.e., the "citizens" of Orwell's "1984". Now of _course_ these people will be unable, or disinclined, to "compete in a global economy". They will "fail" to take the needed courses because there will be no incentive to do so. When outcomes have nothing to do with effort -- by dint of legislation -- then effort will diminish (basic human psychology again -- totally alien to liberal ways of thinking, of course). If most people can "get over" by dozing through their public school careers, guess what -- they will. Only a few fanatics will love learning enough to go seeking it on their own. They are in the position of a hard worker in a totally collectivized society -- it doesn't do him a bit of good, but he enjoys it, so what the heck. (But even that won't do, if he's accused of "speeding up the line", the way ambitious black students are accused of "acting white".)

Now, some naive person might say -- and it's hard not to chuckle just thinking about it -- "Well, why not just _require_ public school students to take a minimum number of "serious" courses, and enforce standards on both them and their teachers? Why not bring back the concept of failing grades, and having to repeat a grade? Why not make it possible to discipline teachers, and fire the really bad ones?" I would be willing to bet that the societies the "Strong" organization cites, namely India and China, have already embarked on that radical program. In fact, I'll bet that they've never done it any other way. So this organization is trying to urge the presidential candidates to "address" the problem -- as if it hasn't been "addressed" by every president since the days of Horace Mann, and in recent decades they have given up in despair.

I have to add that, at the time of Sputnik, American society, with all its faults -- all its "racism, sexism, homophobia", etc. etc. -- was considered to be superior, good, and worth perpetuating. Can we say that the people in charge of the culture now feel the same way? Not by a damn sight. Our political, social, and cultural movers and shakers are almost all, to some degree, anti-American -- or at least "anti-" the America that existed in 1957. You know the litany -- Eisenhower, McCarthyism, "Father Knows Best", "Leave it to Beaver", Wonder Bread, steaks on the grill, etc. -- all those bland, boring, paternalistic things that gave rise to the 1960s, when all that was old, and known, and secure was uprooted, turned on its head, and tossed in the nearest dumpster. And I am not saying that some of those postwar cultural habits and obsessions did not deserve to die -- far from it. I am simply pointing out that the level of resistance of any society to invasion by hostile forces has a lot to do with its own self-confidence, and with the real, day-to-day security and stability it provides for its citizens. Like it or not, these nice, comforting, "bourgeois" things are what keep a society together and enable it to respond to threats, whereas radicalism, revolution, and deconstructionism have just the opposite effect. They create a kind of societal version of AIDS, whereby there is _no_ resistance to threats from without. All that is left is a kind of ritualized pattern of "doing something" or "addressing problems", but the actual mechanisms for making changes have long since rusted into one solid, impotent block.

The bottom line is that ability to "compete in a global economy" is not an incentive. The government can mouth all the words it wants about "standards", but if they are unenforceable -- even assuming they are appropriate, which is highly doubtful -- what good are they? Keep kids in school all summer because they're no longer needed out on the farm? Again, a great jobs program for teachers and education bureaucrats, but when's the last time just having more of something mediocre made it any less mediocre?

Plus, hey, we know the "global economy" is the playing field of the multinational corporations anyway, and what do they care where their manpower comes from -- the U.S., India, China, wherever? In fact, they would prefer "Third World" manpower since our own educational "products" are so apt to be lazy crybabies and entitlement junkies. Finally, a quote from a local education bureaucrat. This is priceless. "One thing we haven't come to grips with in America is we haven't decided what we want education to be." Well gosh, we've only been here for 230 years, what's the freakin' rush?

Cop Rises from the Dead, Slays Bagpiper

The funeral for a policeman killed in the line of duty was briefly interrupted when the deceased clambered out of his casket, walked unsteadily up to the bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace", and throttled him in full view of hundreds of mourners, including the entire police force of the city, who were technically on duty but had warned all felons, miscreants, and double parkers to "behave yourselves" until the ceremonies were over with. Upon dispatching the bagpiper, Officer Dale Shaughnessy made his way calmly back to his casket and climbed in, with what one onlooker described as a "look of great satsifaction" on his face. After the incident, the officer's wife said that, while she was a bit startled, she was not terribly surprised, since her husband had complained quite often about the ubiquitous playing of "Amazing Grace" by some guy in full tartan regalia at funerals for policemen and fireman, "'and some of them aren't even Scottish or Irish', he would say. 'They play it for Poles and Hispanics too.'" Apparently he had vowed that if anyone attempted to play the tune at his own funeral, he would find a way to wreak vengeance, "and it seems like he managed to work it out", said Mrs. Shaughnessy. "He was a stubborn man who wouldn't take 'no' for an answer." Police authorities were understandably taken aback by the incident, and indicated that they would review the policy of hiring a bagpiper on every possible occasion. "We always thought it was a joke when people said that music would wake the dead. Who knew?" said a police official. The Bagpiper's Union has yet to comment.

Snapshots, 4/10/08

1. Chew on This

"In India, a man lost his life savings after termites infested his bank's safe-deposit boxes and ate his paper notes." Well, we can all feel his pain, since much the same thing will happen to any American who socks their money away in a box in a bank or has a standard savings account. Except, in our case the "termites" work for the government; in fact, the termites _are_ the government. The "hidden tax" of inflation is one way in which the government redistributes money from your pocket to its own. The other way is with policies that allow the dollar to lose value vis-a-vis even very sketchy foreign currencies. I mean, it's one thing to look bad compared to the Swiss franc, but how about the Malaysian ringgit? That's just plain insulting. And -- oh yes -- the government is forever bemoaning the fact that Americans are poor "savers". No -- they aren't poor savers, they're just smart enough to know that money that is not spent will disappear anyway.

2. Colombia, Gem of the Ocean

OK, so what's this animus the Democrats have concerning the trade pact with Colombia? I mean, it's not like we're talking big bucks here -- the trade deficit with Colombia was $800 million in 2007, which is about equal to the _daily_ deficit with China. (Of course, this amount does not include illegal drugs, which are, after all, Colombia's leading export commodity, with us as the biggest customer.) Is it just a matter of busting Bush's chops one more time before he leaves office and retires to the front porch of his ranch? Do they really care about trade deficits? (Remember, these are the same folks who pushed NAFTA like it was an Olympic bobsled.) I suspect something a bit more sinister. Number one, Colombia is, arguably, a puppet of the United States and more explicitly the Bush administration. We pay them huge amounts of money and they pretend to be "doing something" about the drug trade. They are also the enemies of the new Marxist governments in South America, with which the Democrats undoubtedly feel some sympathy (especially when they remember how cruelly we worked to subdue leftist regimes in Chile and Nicaragua). Basically, Colombia is the Israel of South America. It's on the receiving end of a 24-7 hemorrhage of US taxpayer money, and what it gives us in return is basically squat. That's the kind of behavior that _occasionally_ gets liberals riled up, since they would rather squander our money on _their_ foreign parasites rather than those of the Republicans. In any case, we'll find out who the liberals like if Hillary or Obama get in next year. To begin with, you can expect China to be raised on high as the ideal trading partner, regime, ally, and Olympic host. Other less important regimes will have to wait their turn.

3. Neither Wild nor Wonderful

Robert Byrd, the senator from The Land That Time Forgot, AKA "An Indian Reservation for White People", has vowed -- from under his oxygen tent -- to keep on legislating, and pontificating, as long as "this old body" will let him. Clearly hoping to overtake Strom Thurmond's longevity record in the Senate, he has sent scores of West Virginia "herb diggers" out in search of the choicest ginseng root and morel mushrooms, with which an ancient crone bearing a remarkable resemblance to Mammy Yokum prepares an invigorating tonic for the senator to quaff every morning before breakfast. Some of his Senate colleagues, concerned that his ability to function as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee might be compromised by his advancing dotage, seemed reassured when it was pointed out that Sen. Byrd's main function for many decades has been to divert as much funding as possible to his home state, with the result that winners of the West Virginia lottery typically have to take a reduction in their standard of living. However, there are indications that the state has a backup plan in case of the senator's permanent incapacitation, namely that they will secede from the Union, fight a war with the rest of the U.S., and lose, thus assuring their future prosperity for generations to come.

4. Torch Song

In the first instance of a flaming object _not_ being welcomed in San Francisco, protesters stalked, harassed, exposed themselves before, and otherwise tormented the Olympic torch as it made a brief and fitful stop at the City on the Bay. The demonstrations included tense confrontations between Friends of Tibet and Friends of China (whose ranks included Friends of Bill). At one point, "the first torchbearer took the flame from a lantern and held it aloft before running into a warehouse." Fortunately this was not the warehouse used to store fireworks for the Chinese New Year celebrations. At another point, one of the torchbearers waved a Tibetan flag during her brief run with the torch. "The Chinese security and cops were on me like white on rice", she said -- in what was interpreted as a clear instance of racism (not to mention that organic rice -- the preferred breakfast of Al Gore -- is not white). Now, it seems to me that this fetish for having an actual flame (which has to be repeatedly extinguished and then re-lit anyway) is totally behind the times. What would be wrong with having a "virtual torch" with an electronic flame, that could be transmitted via the Internet? That way, instead of a measly 85,000 miles the torch could travel _billions_ of miles, in mere seconds? Of course, we would still need "help desk" services from India in order to make sure nothing went wrong. And -- oops, wait a minute -- India and China don't get along all that well. I'm gonna have to work on this one...

5. Now That's Using Your Noodle

The former prime minister of Japan has come out in support of ramen noodles, AKA "the college student's best friend". Apparently this ubiquitous product, which has found its way into space shuttles, solitary confinement cells, and time capsules, nonetheless still requires "promotion". What I suspect is that ramen noodles are actually part of a sinister plot to debilitate American youth with MSG, the way flouridation was a communist plot back in the 1950s. What good are perfect teeth if your brain has turned to mush from over-consumption of ramen?

6. She Wasn't Wearing a G-String

"Prized violin found by homeless woman." This happened in Toronto, where a Symphony Orchestra violinist left his instrument behind while getting on a streetcar. OK, number one, better check this guy's medications. But then he goes back later and finds said violin in the possession of a homeless woman. He offers her "all the money in his wallet -- $35 -- and she accepted but then also demanded a ring he was wearing." Now I see a great future for her as an agent -- or at least a pawnshop owner. It's amazing what sorts of talent you can find just about anywhere. I recall the last day of a major Van Gogh exhibit in Washington, DC -- bitterly cold, as it happend -- and the "street people" turned out in droves to be the first in line for free tickets. Were they art lovers? Not exactly. They were picking up the tickets in order to scalp them to hapless last-day Van Gogh fans for _big bucks_. And it was all perfectly legal! This is something liberals can never get through their heads -- the poor are not stupid, and "street people" are not stupid either. Some of them are damned clever. They can game the system like nobody's business. So we don't have to appeal to them as if they were retarded, or children -- just treat them as normal people with normal capabilities for once, and see what happens.

7. Another Talking Byrd

In England, "a young parrot has been teaching foul language to its avian brethren." (So they're all males?) I prefer the theory that Tourette's Syndrome has made a jump from the human species to the macaw species. I always thought that a "syndrome" that includes compulsive trash talking sounded like some sort of scam. If it's not, then I guess all rap and hip-hop artists, professional athletes, and most stand-up comedians are victims -- not to mention a few prominent politicians. I mean, are you honestly telling me that foul language is stored in a different part of the brain than other words? If a person had been raised in a convent, would they "know" these words anyway, just because they had this "syndrome"? If so, we're looking at something truly remarkable here -- a form of infused knowledge, but from an unholy source. In fact, I suspect that people with Tourette's Syndrome were, in less enlightened times, considered to be victims of demonic possession. Hmmm... wonder what would happen if they were dragged into a Mass, kicking and screaming? Might be worth a try.

8. "Maryland could cut female crab harvet by 40%"

Will the media never quit making veiled snipes at Hillary and her supporters? Haven't they suffered enough?

9. All Not-so-Bright

Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, taking time off from her role as Jabba the Hutt in the new Broadway musical production of "Star Wars", opines that the next administration will have to ramp up diplomatic efforts in order to meet current challenges. I wonder if this includes resuming the bombing of Belgrade, or other similar bits of diplomatic subtlety. She did sound a note of warning about Iraq, however, namely that we should "leave Iraq in a responsible way", which is diplo-speak for "not leaving at all". Consider this an early warning as to Hillary's actual intentions vis-a-vis our current foreign policy ocean of quicksand. Plus, Madame A. says that the terrorists are actually murderers, and should be referred to as such. (I'd like to be a fly on the wall of the NPR editorial offices right about now.) And her most striking recommendation concerns dealing with Iran: "You don't begin with a president of the country..." Well, then, who? The shoe shine guy down the street? We see now where the sterling performance of the Clinton State Department got its inspiration.