Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Advanced Partying Studies

If there's anything more pathetic than a university that is known only for the prowess of its sports teams, it's one that is known only for being a so-called "party school". And it turns out -- horror of horrors! -- that West Virginia University, which is covered by the local media because it's considered part of the "greater Pittsburgh" regional sphere of influence, has gone from #1 to a mere #4 in the party rankings. This is based on an annual survey by the Princeton Review, which you would think would have more worthwhile things to talk about, but in any case...

But here's the point. It's all in good fun, and it's not considered the least bit suspect for a school to be known only, or primarily, as a "party school". (And let's face it, have you ever heard of West Virginia U. in any other context? I know I haven't.) Of course, when data such as these come out, the "officials" of the schools in question get all huffy and start sputtering -- mostly because they see their endowment at risk. But none of this is to the point, which is, why are there "party schools" at _all_? And the answer is that these places really aren't "schools" in the strict sense, but more like holding tanks or daycare centers for people who, up to the present era, would have been considered to have grown up, and to be adults, and therefore responsible. But American youth worship has succeeded in extending the span of adolescence in both directions (although, at least in theory, there is a limit to how far down it can be extended). On average, at this time, a person enters the "youth market" at age 7 at the latest, and stays in it for, at the very least, 15 years, i.e. up through college. And when I say "market" I mean to imply that the main driver for all of this is, indeed, economic. It's about selling stuff kids don't need and whose parents can't afford it. But beyond this, it's also sociological, and psychological. If you start conditioning adolescence in children who are still years away from puberty, they will respond by becoming a sort of freakish, grotesque imitation of real adolescents. It's not precocity, because they really aren't ready, on any level (except maybe verbally, but that's only because teenagers all talk like retarded seven-year-olds). And then on the other end of the scale, if you continue to reinforce ignorance, acting out, dependency, and sloth, and not reinforcing (or actually punishing, the way the public schools do) independence, thinking, and intiative, you're going to get exactly what we have, which is a society of juvenile delinquents -- not the rebellious, James Dean kind, but the Frankenstein kind, the kind we created and molded ourselves, then wonder what went wrong. But the problem is, most adults -- I mean real ones -- _don't_ wonder what went wrong. They take it for granted that, yes, they gave birth to, and are raising, parasites, who will continue to be parasites until at least age 22, after which, with any luck, they will go on to "further study" (in advanced partying, probably) or some other occupation which will keep them on the dole (in the broadest sense) indefinitely. So no, the notion of a "party school" doesn't bother them any more than the idea of toys in a day care center -- well, _of course_, isn't that what it's all about, after all?

On the other hand (and there's always an other hand) -- as I've said before, when the younger generation sees what a mess my generation has made of things, I can hardly blame them for wanting to remain in a child, fantasy world for as long as possible. To wake up one morning with a "regular job", and responsibilities, and having to face the multiple, and rapidly metastatizing, catastrophes the older generation has visited upon this society, and on the world in general -- well, it really is all too overwhelming. Dude, pass the six-pack -- I think I'll join ya.

Give War a Chance

Years from now, the old hard-line Busheviks are going to be saying the same thing the old Bolsheviks always said -- it would have worked, but no one gave it a chance. The latest governmental body to perform a bit of "push-back" to the administration on the Iraq war is Rand, which has now come out and said that there are better ways of dealing with terrorism and terrorists than overwhelming, raw, brute force. "But hey!" -- we can hear the neocons cry -- "We _like_ overwhelming, raw, brute force. Anything else is 'appeasement'". And of course, one might add that if it were _really_ overwhelming we would have won by now. As it is, fighting terrorists on their home turf is a lot like fighting the Viet Cong... which is a lot like walking into a room full of mosquitos with a machine gun. You can fire the machine gun for two hours, and the room will still be full of mosquitos. But in any case, Rand is counseling against anyone getting too fixated on the notion of the struggle with terrorism being a "war" in the traditional military sense (as if anyone with any brains hadn't already figured that out). In fact, they even recommend no longer calling it a "war on terror". Well, in the government tradition of word magic, this could, of course, be changed overnight, although it would necessitate recycling a few thousand tons of letterhead paper. But it's been done before, and it can be done again. No government agency or large military unit changes its "motto" any less often than once per year; one must keep up with the times, you know (which means -- with the latest media-generated buzzwords). But then the Rand people come up with something else: "Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors." Well, it seems like that's what we're already doing -- I mean, we do try them as criminals, not in ecclesiastical courts, right? But as usual, our choice of terminology serves to both highlight and perpetuate our ignorance, and hence increase our chances of failure. The thing is, _they_ perceive themselves as holy warriors, and their entire program, their propaganda, their strategy and tactics, are contingent on that fact. To not understand and acknowledge this is not unlike our failure, during the Cold War, to understand the true nature of communism -- as Whittaker Chambers pointed out in "Witness". If I could inscribe one more thing on the side of any building in Washington, it would be "know thine enemy" -- because this is where we seem to slip up most often. Because an enemy "shouldn't" be thinking in a certain way -- let's say about the military implications of their religious creed -- then we take it that they _aren't_ thinking in that way, and go on about our business assuming that either they want the same things we want -- you know, sex, power, money, and so on -- or that they're insane. The hardest thing to accept is that an enemy -- or an alleged one -- is just as intelligent as we are, and no less sane -- but that they simply have wildly different priorities and that is what motivates them. And further, that those priorities may well involve -- heaven forbid! -- religious ideas and values, which, as we all know because we've been taught this from the cradle, should _never_ constitute a reason for violence. And yet, for much of the world today, they do that very thing. So we always come off looking intentionally and stubbornly clueless.

But -- not to worry. The administration won't listen to the Rand folks anyway. Rand has a many-decades-long history of being the most highly-paid, and most ignored, of any "think tank" on the planet. It's not their fault, really. It's because the few politicians who occasionally fancy that they actually want objective analysis, when they see the result, they decide they didn't want it that badly after all. (This is often manifested by a statement along the lines of, "You people don't know what you're talking about." Or, "You people are full of crap." Or some other typically enlightened, open-minded response.) The fact is, ignoring good advice is the stock in trade of politicians, especially in the foreign policy area. These guys want what they want when they want it, and damn the consequences. And no, they never learn. Now that you know that, we call all relax. Right?

No Fatties, Please

In still another brilliant flash of socialist, collectivist thinking, the Los Angeles City Council has now voted to impose a one-year ban on new fast food restaurants in a certain delimited neighborhood of 32 square miles. (Well yeah, there are a lot of counties that are smaller than that -- but it's a drop in the bucket in L.A.) The news item doesn't spell it out quite this specifically, but chances are the neighborhood in question is (1) poor; (2) black; and/or (3) Hispanic, and thus -- statistically at least -- full of overweight people. Now, I've already dealt with the absurd paradox of America being the first society in history where the rich people are thin and the poor people are fat. Nothing has changed since I first brought this up, needless to say, but even at that they are arguably working at the margins: the childhood obesity rate in the area in question is 30%, whereas for the city overall it's 25%. So we're talking about a 5% improvment here, at the absolute maximum. But nonetheless, august bodies like the L.A. City Council -- you know, one of those outfits that thinks "public transportation" is science fiction -- think they can solve the "problem" by banning fast foods. Now, I'm perfectly willing to admit that fast foods are notoriously laden with the "four basic ghetto food groups" -- sugar, salt, fat, and grease. No problem there. But don't these people care about their health? Hey -- in those areas, any day you can go to bed at night with no more bullet holes in you than you had that morning, that's a good day. The rest is details. OK, but don't those people want to "try new things", food-wise? Yeah, about as much as just about anyone else outside the rarefied demographic of "Gourmet" readers, which is "not". And besides, don't those junk foods supply plenty of quick energy for all the things that inner city people do on a regular basis and on very short notice -- like dodging bullets and running from the cops? The main point is -- let's face it -- these folks like the stuff and, mainly, it's cheap. The geniuses on the City Council forget that it's "fast" and nutritionally dubious because it's cheap. And they also forget -- assuming they even knew -- that a place that isn't cheap (whether it's "fast" or not) isn't going to set up shop in those neighborhoods because no one will go there.

But fear not! A certain councilwoman wants the council to, for its next act, "craft measures to lure healthier, sit-down restaurants to a section of the city that desperately wants more of them." Well, lady, to begin with, if that section of the city "desperately" wanted more "healthy, sit-down" restaurants -- guess what? -- it would be getting them. It's called "capitalism", good business, and "supply and demand". Duh! If places of that sort aren't opening up right and left in the inner city, there has to be a reason, and I suspect I've touched on it already.

OK, we've already shown that plain common sense is in as short supply in the L.A. City Council as yellowcake uranium (yellow cake... mmmm.... ). But the other half of the brainstorm is even better. How are they going to convince non-fast food places to descend into the "ghetto" and open their doors? Again, details are sketchy, but I assume the same strategy -- marvelous in its subtlety and sophistication -- is going to be used in L.A. as is used in Pittsburgh, when someone decides, e.g., that there "ought" to be a "full-service" food market in a notoriously bad neighborhood. The strategy is bribery, pure and simple. The city just pays the retailer to come in and set up shop. If they happen to succeed, the retailer goes home with the money. If they fail, they're fully covered by the city. That is what is called a "sweet" deal. But it happens all the time -- and it's about to happen in L.A. No, a year from now you will most assuredly not see ghetto denizens sitting at sidewalk tables munching on artisanal cheeses and heirloom tomatoes. They'll be high-tailing it out of the "hood" just far enough to load on up on the usual garbage, cursing the City Council all the way. The "healthy alternative" restaurants will soon be boarded up, their owners handsomely compensated by the city for their contribution to "gastronomical diversity", and life will go on. The rich will get richer and the poor will... get fatter. Only in America.

Dr. Evil Unmasked !!

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln: Liberals must love the poor; they make so many of them. By which I mean, liberals "make" the poor, or perpetuate poverty, in any number of ways, including: (1) "Poverty programs" that only perpetuate the habits that lead to poverty, and thus multiply and expand the poverty demographic, especially in urban areas; (2) Taxation, which has now reached all the way down to what are called "poverty-level" households. In other words, people who qualify for welfare and other entitlements are also taxed. Makes a lot of sense -- right? -- since the income-redistribution payments come from the government and the tax payments go to the government; (3) Supporting and perpetuating dismal and failing public schools, which also contribute to building in the things that readily lead to poverty, such as negative attitudes toward achievement, the "entitlement mentality", and all-around ignorance. This is all, of course, contrary to the liberal political line, which is they want nothing more than to "lift" people out of poverty. Well, for what has been spent on poverty programs since "The Great Society" got underway, they could have all been lifted into the ranks of millionaires -- but the programs didn't do this because, frankly, they were never meant to. Liberals and Democrats (assuming there is even a distinction) know that the "poor" (who, in any other society on earth, would be considered moderately well off) and -- note this next phrase -- people who _think_ they're poor, or who consider themselves poor, constitute the largest and most reliable -- and most vocal -- component of their political base. So expecting the Democrats to "solve" the poverty "problem" -- i.e., to eliminate poor people -- would be like expecting Republicans to, well, close down all the golf courses. It just ain't gonna happen.

Now, once you understand all this, you're ready for the next revelation, which is that, according to a recent study, "making people feel poor will prompt them to spend more money on a chance to become rich" -- like, in this case, buying lottery tickets. Yes! It turns out that people who buy lottery tickets aren't necessarily actually poor by any reasonable standard, and that's not what counts anyway. The point is, they _think_ they're poor, and that's what makes all the difference -- in lottery ticket buying as well as voting (which, when you think about it, is not all that much different from lottery ticket buying -- you vote for whoever you think is going to take the most money out of someone else's pocket and put it into your own).

So, what conclusion are we to draw from all this? Obviously, that liberals, and liberal politicians in particular, are in cahoots with the lottery industry. Playing the lottery helps make people poor, which is good for the Democrats. And Democrat programs help keep them poor, which is good for the lotteries! It's a match made in Heaven (or wherever). Skeptical? Think about it. They both promise sudden riches... unearned success... manna from above (e.g. from Washington)... and they very seldom deliver! And a big part of their message, in both cases, is that you're "entitled" -- that it's "your turn" to get "your piece of the pie", etc. The only distinction, as far as I can tell, is that playing the lottery seems to be a lot more fun than just sitting around and waiting for an entitlement check. But that could be fixed as well. Imagine, if for every round of entitlement checks there was, broadcast on prime-time TV, a clip of some boring middle-class white family being forced to sell their home in the suburbs -- you know, the one with the two-car garage, built-in barbeque, swimming pool, etc. -- and move into public housing because their taxes had gotten so high they couldn't afford to live there anymore. That would add a little pizzazz to things now, wouldn't it? I guess I'd better write the IRS about this -- if they like my idea they might shave a bit off my next tax bill.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Summers of Their Discontent

Somewhere Larry Summers is... well, maybe not smiling exactly. But he's gotta be wondering what all the fuss was about. He was, as you'll recall, kicked out of Harvard a couple years back for merely "suggesting... the possibility that many factors outside of socialization could explain why there were more men than women in high-end science and engineering positions", and "suggest[ing] one such possible reason could be men's higher variance in relevant innate abilities or innate preference." This, of course, set off a conflagration among all of the various frauds, charlatans, hacks, "activists", and various hangers-on that Harvard seems so blessed with these days. Well, now it turns out, according to an article in Science, that "girls in the United States perform just as well as boys on standardized tests in math". This finding could, in fact, be the only good thing to come out of the No Child Left Behind Act, since it was the testing mandated by that act that contributed to the conclusion.

Now, I admit, the first thing that occurred to me on reading this was, "Sure, that's because the boys have gotten worse and the girls have stayed the same. And that's because the guys spend all their time in the basement playing video games." Unfortunately, the findings did not include data that speak to this point. But in any case, the researcher said that "there is no difference in innate ability that can explain why women are so under-represented in math and science careers." In other words, Summers' speculation was without foundation, and they were right to ride him out of Cambridge on a rail. But at the time he made his suggestion, these data were not available -- or if they were, they were submerged somewhere in the quicksand of peer review.

So then the question arises, if it's not a matter of innate ability, and it's not manifested in test scores or high school courses taken, or undergraduate degrees earned, where does this parting of the ways occur? Clearly, in selection of graduate school programs which lead to careers. Now, the last time I checked, graduate program selection and career choice were matters generally left up to the individual -- i.e. by the time you're at that point, you're no longer treated as a ward of the state, the way you are up through high school and, to a significant degree, in college. So if it's a matter of free choice, and the results we get are the result of free choice and not "discrimination"... and if innate ability has been taken off the board as a contributing factor (but too late to save Larry Summers' job), why is anybody worried about it? Well, because the fairest, most non-discriminatory outcome in the world, if merely based on the free choices of individuals, still constitutes rank "unfairness" if it does not properly reflect "diversity" -- as defined, needless to say, by the various Ministries of Diversity now found at all levels of government. It's like the contest that is waged morning, noon, and night between consumer choice and the FDA: The FDA wins every time. Ask someone who's perfectly willing to take a job that OSHA says is too dangerous. Ask a farmer who wants to plant a non-DA-approved crop. Ask someone who wants to start a radio or TV station! The government works tirelessly to limit, squelch, and cramp the free choices of entrepreneurs, workers, consumers, and -- yes -- students and teachers, all for their own good, of course. And the Summers flap was no exception. He gave his talk at a confab of something called a "Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce sponsored by the National Bureau of Economic Research". Well, right away, whenever you see that word "diversifying" you know you're in trouble. What it means is that some social worker with a pistol hanging from their belt is going to march in and tell you you'd better start diversifying damn fast, or suffer the consequences. And of course their mission is not to give anyone what they want, but to accrue power and feather their own nest. And of course they have allies all over academics and the media, i.e. in the halls of power of the "agents of change" who couldn't care less what people really want. So Larry Summers had his day with these people, but the new study does seem to (read: ought to) take the wind out of the sails of the diversity mongers to some extent. At least they'll have to come up with some new arguments for the next round of coercion.

No Round Trip Tickets Available -- Yet

According to an item in yesterday's paper, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki "asked Pope Benedict XIV... to encourage Iraq's persecuted Christian minority to return to Iraq, citing the country's improved security situation." Well yeah, it's a fine idea, but aren't we rushing things a bit? That would be like Rudy Giuliani, ten days into his term as mayor of New York City, telling corporations they could move back into the city because "it's safe now". To begin with, the "security situation" in Iraq is not up to al-Maliki -- it's up to the various insurgent groups and, to some extent, up to the occupying forces (that's us, for those of you in Rio Linda). If those parties want war, violence, conflict, bloodshed, and fighting in the streets, that's what's going to happen, no matter what al-Maliki wants. And the fact that our invasion has made things worse for Christians in Iraq than they've been in... well maybe ever, makes me think that he ought to at least wait until the door slams on the butt of the last American to leave Iraq before he starts inviting anyone back, or asking the Pope to. Not only that, but let's say his friend Obama gets elected. Then it's going to be, "Whaddaya want all those Christians around for anyway?" Our Evangelical neocons would certainly agree, since they have been totally silent about the impact of the war on Christians in Iraq, just as they have been silent about the exodus (I use the word with full ironic intent) of Christians from Israel -- not all Christians, mind, just those old fuddy-duddy outfits like the Catholics and the Orthodox.

And yet -- there is a certain, um, audacity of hope in al-Maliki's courting of the Pope, immediately following his love-in with Obama. He really does seem to be lining up support for the idea of getting American troops off Iraqi soil, anticipating the point when push is going to come to shove, either while Bush is still in office, or under McCain, just in case Obama doesn't win. So in this sense he's hedging his bets. Of course, the biggest surprise would come if Obama did, in fact, win, got into office, then mysteriously developed a strange new respect for the war and for our occupation of Iraq. Does al-Maliki know enough about American politics, and foreign policy, and who's really in charge, to have thought of this? Of course, if he has he would be foolish to acknowledge it. And yet, it has to be in the back of his mind, it seems to me. So he's not working in a clear black-and-white (so to speak) situation, just working with best bets -- and if you're a leader of a place like Iraq that is occupied by a country like ours, that's about all you can do.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Rat Pack Revisionism

Scooby-dooby-do. That’s amore. Mister Bojangles. Yeah baby, the Rat Pack is back. We went to the show of that title last evening and it really was good. But it wasn’t exactly “nostalgic”, at least not for me, because I never was into the whole Rat Pack ethos, scene, image, in its heyday, i.e. back in the early 60s. I was one of those “sensitive” types who clung to Renaissance music and the less muscular Baroque music (Vivaldi but not Handel, e.g.), the fading remnants of the Beatnik era, and the early manifestations of the “folk” era (think: Bob Dylan, pre-plugged). These slick, Las Vegas Rat Pack types – you know, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop, all of whom were impersonated in the show, and I suppose Peter Lawford as a sort of peripheral character, although I suspect his main value was that he provided a link to the Kennedys – seemed just too brash, too self-confident, too aggressive… oh hell, I’ll say it – too much like “men”. And yes, that is, IMHO, the basis for much of their nostalgic appeal at this time – they were, arguably, the last unapologetic men in America. Did they subscribe to the “Playboy philosophy”? Hell, they _were_ the Playboy philosophy. Did they eat nothing but thick, juicy, rare steaks, with maybe the occasional lobster? Damn straight. Did they drink? Hey – the only solid food Dean Martin ever consumed was whatever happened to fall into his cocktails. Did they smoke? Like chimneys. Did they exploit women? Hey, women are ornaments, don’t you know? “Women’s rights?” What are you, some kind of homo? Hey, but they were slick – large and in charge – schoolyard bullies in tuxedos. Sinatra, the leader of the pack, was, of course, the dominant male of his generation, compared to whom JFK was a bimbo and Elvis a shitkicker. Are there any Sinatras around today? Fuhgeddaboutit. That’s the kind of thing that can only happen in a society where maleness – for good or ill – is given some sort of respect and deference. What do we have now in popular music? A bunch of whining crybabies. What do we have in film? A bunch of aging boys, with very few exceptions – and even those are expected to defer to the “youth cult”. Look at the male film stars of yesteryear. Guys who were 30 look like guys who are 50 now. That was the era when fathers were not only still in charge in most households, but when this was considered a good and proper thing. It was an era before the courts had declared fathers to be the root of all evil, and fatherhood totally irrelevant.

So yeah, I had an experience of nostalgia at the “Rat Pack” show – not so much musical or cultural, but social. The notion that there was a time when some men – call them playboys, degenerates, heels, what have you – were allowed to run amok calls to mind the fact that, among normal people, masculinity was still a valued and cherished commodity. Now that society has morphed into an amalgamation of women who worship Hillary Clinton, and men who offer their testicles up to the gods of political correctness, it kind of makes me long for that previous era, for all its faults and offenses. If the price we have to pay for male normalcy is a few rogue males, I say it’s worth it. What we have now is a tribe of eunuchs and, on the other hand, a handful of double-Y-chromosome sociopaths, with no one in between to provide an anchor and a respectable image for maleness. I see this as not only a loss for society, but a precursor to the loss _of_ society.

Space Cadets

What is it about these guys who’ve gone into space? Especially the ones who’ve been to the Moon. They come back, well, more or less the same, but strangely changed in some ways. I mean, what is it? Cosmic rays? Long periods of weightlessness? Diaper rash? In any case, former astronaut (“and moonwalker” – but not in the Michael Jackson sense) Edgar Mitchell has now come up with a statement that flies directly in the face of the Air Force’s decades-long assertion that there are no UFOs, there never were any, and there never will be any. Mitchell claims that he was “in on the fact that we’ve been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomena is real.” (He should have said, “phenomena are”, but let that go for now.) He says the government has been covering up for 60 years – “why” is not discussed. (It’s usually presented as a matter of “national security”, as if we’re somehow more secure if the government doesn’t acknowledge the existence of UFOs than if it does. Gee, they should have tried that with al Qaeda.) Of course, the Air Force’s response to Mitchell’s assertions is to pronounce him “a great American” – with the unstated follow-up phrase, “but a complete nut”.

An amusing side note is that Mitchell says that “sources at NASA who had contact with aliens described the beings as ‘little people who look strange to us’.” Well heck, I can say that about half the kids I run into around here. Does that make them aliens? Mitchell says further that the aliens are, sure enough, “’small gray’ being[s] – short, slight frame, large eyes and large head.” Well, that’s perfect description of Arthur Schlesinger Jr. Has anyone had him DNA tested?

But in any case, Mitchell’s claims and the usual Air Force and NASA denials raise, once again, the perennial question as to the existence of UFOs and aliens. And I’ll bet you think you know what I’m going to say about this – but you’re wrong! I’m convinced that UFOs and aliens don’t exist. Now, I’ve gone into this before at length, but let me summarize my argument – one which, as it turns out, has been independently developed by at least one other writer (whose name escapes me at present). Aside from the overwhelming improbability, as argued by the Intelligent Design researchers, of even one planet in the Universe being able to not only support life, but being able to support intelligent life – yea, life intelligent enough to come up with the means for interplanetary and even interstellar travel – the main question, as the other writer put it, is: If UFOs and aliens exist, where are they? In other words, why do they seem to appear only to tinfoil hat types out in the middle of the desert? Why don’t they land on the White House lawn, like in the old science fiction movies? In other words, what do they have to lose by revealing themselves to more than a handful of nut cases and as unidentified blips on radar? Now, there are some ready answers to these questions. One is based on what I call “cosmic elitism” – namely, they only reveal themselves to those who are considered “worthy” – i.e. who are highly-developed beings who are primed for initial contact with visitors from other planets. OK, fair enough. But most of the people who hold to this point of view are locked up somewhere. That’s not conclusive counterevidence, I admit, but it does carry some weight.

Another argument is that they don’t reveal themselves directly because that would constitute “interference” with the course of human history… and that they have subscribed to some sort of pact, like in Star Trek, that prohibits them from altering the natural course of history for any civilization they encounter. (Would that our State Department felt the same way!) Well, that might actually be the case for some aliens – but for all? Surely there would be a few who would be unable to resist the temptation to get up close and personal (or down and funky) with the human race. They might even want to start using us a laboratory animals, as part of some sort of massive experiment (this has also been argued, mostly by people who don’t think the CIA is quite up to the job). In any case, it’s unlikely that, of all the alien races who have managed to get as far as Earth, there wouldn’t be at least one that would want to strut its stuff in a very obvious manner (which makes me think of Gay Pride parades – do you suppose…?).

But now someone’s going to argue that maybe there really is just one alien race that has succeeded in getting to Earth, and that they, in fact, believe in keeping a low profile. To which I answer, well maybe, but what are the chances? If the Universe contains “millions and billions” (in the immortal words of Carl Sagan) of stars, galaxies, and planets, what are the chances that – assuming a reasonable proportion of them can and do support life, i.e. intelligent, i.e. capable of space travel, etc. – there is, in fact, only one that has made it this far? By all rights, there should be dozens – hundreds – thousands! We should be overrun with aliens the way our national parks are overrun by Japanese. UFOs should darken our skies! We should, by now, all be selling trinkets to little skinny gray men like Arthur Schlesinger – and catering to their, um, sexual needs – assuming they have any (Schlesinger’s case in encouraging in this regard). But guess what – we aren’t! American cities have not been turned into “border towns” on the order of Juarez, for the service of high-tech and highly-intelligent aliens. Instead, we cling to this more or less round rock as it hurtles through space, and feel lonely… so lonely… except, of course, for guys like Mitchell, who are convinced that we are surrounded by a cloud of UFOs and aliens, who are all, for reasons known only to themselves, unanimously hesitant to show themselves in broad daylight.

To sum up my position, I believe that the lack of solid, and public, evidence for UFOs and aliens is the best evidence that they do not exist – not here, not anywhere. The fact that this leaves Earth in a unique place in the Universe as “the” home of intelligent life doesn’t bother me at all, because I see this as being in perfect harmony with salvation history, as it is laid out in the Bible. And this, of course, is why “scientists” are so obsessive about finding “evidence of life on other planets” – or “evidence of the precursors of life on other planets” – or “evidence of the building blocks of… etc.” – or “evidence of conditions that could possibly have led… etc.” The worst news the “scientific community” could ever get is that, sorry guys, but there really is life only on Earth. Because that implies that Earth is someplace special – which is also the last thing they want to hear. And if Earth is special, then maybe life is special, and then maybe mankind is special, and… well, you see where this can lead. So the quest goes on for even the slightest hint of a possibility of life elsewhere, because that will confirm their premise that Earth is second-rate (at best), that the human race is second-rate, and so on. The current scientific community has not changed its primary agenda item since Darwin’s time – namely, to prove, once and for all, that “life sucks then you die”. The fact that they find this notion reassuring – nay, comforting – makes one wonder about their mental stability. But if the science of man is only the science of “nothing but”, then morality is irrelevant, God is irrelevant, and salvation is an illusion – and these, of course, are the conclusions they have already come to, but are still straining to collect data to support. So, to the extent to which Astronaut Mitchell’s program is part of this larger agenda, I have no use for it. To the extent to which he manages to irritate the Air Force and NASA, I say, go for it!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Be Afraid, You Cheese Nibblers!

Now it seems that there is a fair amount of skepticism among European governments as to Obama's level of experience. I wonder if they're comparing with Bush, or with some ideal? The most "experienced" person in this administration is Cheney -- I rest my case. At any rate, Europeans are famous for their level of cynicism regarding government and politicians -- at least compared to Americans, where everyone has to be a rock star and have great hair, perfect teeth, and a wife who's a babe. Of course, Europe has its rock stars too, like Sarkozy (and wife), Blair, and Berlusconi, but none of them has enjoyed the "Teflon effect" that our presidents seem to enjoy. Maybe it's because Europeans assume that the person in charge really is in charge -- whereas over here, especially in Bush's case, we know better. At any rate, the jaded, tired, euro-whipped Europeans seem singularly unimpressed by Obama, which makes me wonder how worried they are that he might actually get in. The day has long since passed when American politics constituted a meritocracy -- now it's all spin, all the time. This somehow doesn't sit quite right with Europe. Not only that, but they don't enjoy the legacy of cordial relations between the races that we do. How can DNA be _the_ determining factor in almost any political question, they ask? Well, we'll show them how, no problem. We talk about how Europe is still under the cloud of the follies of World War I and the brutality of World War II. But they look at our "identity politics" and race-mongering and shake their heads in disbelief. They look at the way we fall on Israel's funeral pyre before _they_ even fall on it, and roll their eyes. And then they look at the way the American economy is being sold off to China and India and wonder, are these people totally insane? So maybe we could use a bit of their Old World skepticism, to replace the utopian delusional system that has served us so well throughout our history. The main point is, the rest of the world -- and Europe in particular -- sees us as the town bully who has developed a brain tumor, and who is therefore even more volatile and unpredictable than usual. So does it matter, really, who's nominally in charge? Perhaps not, but according to their standards it should. Yes, they expect us to conform to their standards of political leadership -- but hey, this is America, and we're above all that.

Iraq Alack

It's remarkable, really, when you think about it. A foreign government -- and not even a "sovereign" one, but a kind of Potemkin government set up by the United States -- dares to not only assert itself against American policy, but starts trying to influence American presidential elections. Turnabout is fair play, they say -- and in this case, we have the alleged government of Iraq biting the hand that feeds it, i.e. the Bush administation and its war machine. The anointed successor to Bush, namely McCain, has been left all alone and feeling blue by the love fest between Iraq and Obama, and -- hey -- even the U.S. military has extended to Obama the hand of welcome. He was not treated like a plague carrier the way the Israelis treated Jimmy Carter -- not at all! He was given a helicopter ride! Is this another case of our military hatching secret plans to bust Bush's chops? The interesting thing is that, whereas Obama's troop withdrawal deadline is 16 months, al-Maliki's is 2 1/2 years, or 30 months. Now who's being "realistic"? But notice, both proposed time frames are finite, unlike that of McCain, whose time frame for our occupation of Iraq is "forever". Of course, Iraq's proposal is tempered a bit by the notion that "advisers, some quick-reaction forces and air support forces" could stay behind. Well, I'm sure we can come up with a few hundred thousand troops who fit that description. But hey, words are still important. When they say they would like to have "all U.S. combat troops out of the country" in 30 months, is it stretching the point to assume they mean "everyone in uniform who carries a gun"? That would seem to be true by definition. Of course, "quick-reaction forces" carry guns as well, as do most "advisors". But essentially what the Iraqis are saying is that they want their country back -- even if it hasn't been totally "pacified" or turned into a "model democracy" or a "friend of Israel". Now, if it gets to the point where we say, well thanks anyway but we're staying, do they then appeal to the U.N.? And does the U.N. then send forces to Iraq to kick us out? And are American troops included in those forces? Sounds absurd? Well, how about the fact that Saddam fought us with weapons we had given him to fight the Iranians? Or the fact that al Queda is fighting us with weapons we gave them to fight the Russians? Or the fact that China fought us in Korea with weapons we had given Mao to fight Chiang? Don't underestimate the absurdity factor in American foreign policy, I always say.

In any case, the fact that the Iraqis are already lining up with Obama on this issue raises many questions. One is, are they that sure he will win? 'Cause if he doesn't, it's gonna be payback time. Al-Maliki might find himself on a slow boat to Switzerland on the day after Election Day. Or, are they siding with Obama in order to force concessions from Bush & Co., or even from McCain -- not that those would necessarily be honored once he got in. Are they hoping to actually influence the election by making it seem like electing Obama is the way out of this mess, whereas electing McCain isn't? Plus, how certain are they that Obama will deliver? Don't they realize that he is already sold out to Israel, and half sold out to the American defense establishment? Plus, do they assume that the American voter cares what they think, or want? I'm sure there are some portions of the electorate that would be very happy to vote _against_ anything the Iraqis wanted, just because they wanted it, the ingrates! And there are plenty of people who think our perpetual occupation of Iraq is a perfectly fine idea, because.... well, just because we're the best! So it's a very interesting game they're playing, and it will be interesting to see how it evolves over the next few months.

Naked Savage

It's getting to be a depressingly familiar scenario. Some high-profile person makes a somewhat "edgy" statement. The media and their favored presidential candidates erupt in outrage. The high-profile person is reduced to a mendicant state, crawling and shuffling at the feet of the powers that be (i.e., the media) and begging forgiveness for their sins, which are great and many. Then the storm passes, and said mendicant might actually wind up "rehabilitated" -- in the words of the Cultural Revolution -- even if perpetually included on the media "watch list". Thus does "the freest society on earth" enforce, with brutal effiency and virtual omniscience, the standards of the regime for what is acceptable discourse and what is not.

The most recent personality to venture beyond the pale in this regard -- although at this moment he is hanging tough, unlike Don Imus, who offered his own testicles up on a silver platter -- is Michael Savage, whose business -- like that of Howard Stern and (formerly) Don Imus -- is, explicitly, to offend and "shake up" the establishment. But when they go too far, they have some answering to do, according to our free speech codes. In this case, Savage's offense was to refer to autism as a "fraud" and a "racket". Now, as usual in these cases, the media and various interest groups erupt in indignation. But does it ever occur to anyone to examine the issue and see if there is, just maybe, the slightest bit of truth to the allegation? I've already discussed this phenomenon with regard to Rev. Jeremiah Wright's critique of the American approach to the race issue. Yeah, he's a demagogue and an extremist, but damn, he makes some points that are hard to argue against.

So what is this "autism is a fraud and a racket" business? Well, consider: Autism diagnoses have increased at an astronomical rate over the last few years. Is this because we are experiencing a plague of autism? Some people would say yes, and attribute this to mercury in vaccines, and other environmental toxins. But it's equally possible that the condition has been over-diagnosed, the way AIDS in Africa seems to be. Over-diagnosis is a relatively straightforward phenomenon. What is means is that instead of a fairly narrow band of clinical indicators, someone (in the AMA, or HHS, e.g.) decides that the problem is much more widespread than we think, and that the definition of what constitutes the problem, or syndrome, or disease, has to be broadened to include "gray area" cases or (formerly) subclinical cases. And what, pray tell, is the motive for this? Simply put -- empire building. If your agency is in charge of monitoring, and researching, Disease X, you're going to get a whole lot more money and power if, all of a sudden, the incidence of Disease X increases five to tenfold. So you get a bunch of M.D.'s to sign on to the notion that the condition is grossly underdiagnosed, and that it actually includes a broad "spectrum" of conditions (that word "spectrum" is especially useful in this regard), and shazam, all of sudden you're riding a tiger (budget-wise, at least).

So yes, in this respect _any_ disease, ailment, or condition can easily become a "racket". The "racket" part is simply the degree to which pronouncements as to the incidence, and severity, of the disease exceed the actual facts of the matter, not because of honest errors in diagnosis but because of empire building. But it autism a "fraud"? Well, there is certainly a genuine condition involved -- I've seen cases first-hand. I have no doubt that there is a "thing" -- a condition -- neurological, emotional, what have you -- and that that condition can be objectively defined and, hopefully, treated or at least managed. ("Prevented" is another issue.) Up until recently, this genuine condition was referred to as "autism". But now, because of the ample supply of taxpayer money going to autism as well as many other ailments, many people have jumped on the autism bandwagon who probably shouldn't be there. All of a sudden, any kid who hasn't already been diagnosed as "hyperactive" or "ADHD", or who is not visibly handicapped in some other respect, is labeled "autistic", or at least as belonging on the "autism spectrum". This is not only a scam when it comes to downloading big bucks from the government -- it's also a power play on the part of the medical establishment and, yes, the public schools. And beyond all this, it's a political ploy designed to, ultimately, declare everyone in the U.S. "sick" and thus in need of help -- i.e. collectivism and socialism, run by a liberal elite. (Why do you think Hillary Clinton's "health care" conferences were classified Top Secret? Call it the "sickening of America" -- or, turning us into a nation of hypochondriacs all of whom need help, 24-7, from the liberal health establishment -- which, ultimately, gets to say who lives and who dies -- and don't tell me that wasn't very much on Hillary's mind.)

So yes, the grain of truth in Savage's statement is that "autism" -- the classification, not the disease -- has become, to a significant degree, a fraud, and the autism industry is, by and large, a racket, the same way the AIDS industry, the cancer industry, and the ADHD industry are. If it weren't for the fact that the government suffers a hemorrhage of funds every time someone declares a new health crisis, these things would be approached on a more reasonable, proportionate level. But as it is, there is plenty to be made by declaring a perpetual crisis, so a perpetual crisis is what we have.

Too bad we have to have "shock jocks" and abrasive radio hosts blow the cover on issues like this, since our politicians and public policy wonks are either too sold out or too cowardly to do so. But hey, better this than nothing. As Scripture has it, "If I do not speak, the rocks will cry out."

Monday, July 21, 2008

It'll Serbia Right

In an excellent article in the July issue of Chronicles, Thomas Fleming makes a point that we tend to forget, in our chronic state of provincialism and egotism as to the "importance" of the American political process. It is that "few foreigners seem to realize that the United States is not a unified nation with a common will." Well, part of this, historically, is our own fault since the leading edge of "America" to most people overseas is a division of Marines landing on the nearest beach, with Old Glory flying high and bullets flying every which way. The Marines typically don't bring along a token group of peaceniks and antiwar protesters to balance things out -- although it could be argued that "embedding" members of the press corps amounts to the same thing. But to go on with Fleming's presentation: "In addition to the usual distinctions of race, region, and religion, we are divided ideologicallly between an anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-Western elite class that panders to racial minorities and uses multiculturalism as a weapon to destroy our heritage, and a naive and patriotic majority that would gladly support the Serbs in their struggle with Islamic neighbors, if only they were properly informed. The leadership of the Democratic Party, which entirely belongs to the former group, would like to destroy or at least corrupt Serbia, whose traditions represent everything they hate: patriotism, Christianity, and self-reliance."

I guess I should have mentioned that Fleming believes we have been on the wrong side in the ex-Yugoslavia conflict all along. And in fact I found it awfully damned funny that, in the midst of "World War IV" against militant Islam, we were busy defending the Moslems of Bosnia against the Serbs and the other Bosnians -- and that bit of foreign-policy wisdom has now morphed into our defense of, and support of, Kosovo, which I challenge any Americans who are not perennial National Geographic readers to even find on a map. But by the esoteric magic -- the smoke and mirrors -- that forms the basis for American foreign policy, it is easy to see how this absurd situation came about. Both Croatia and Serbia were puppet states of the Nazis during World War II, but Serbia at least had the distinction of being the birthplace of World War I, and thus had a certain degree of nostalgic cachet for American foreign-policy buffs. Add to which, Serbia tends to be Serbian Orthodox whereas Croatia tends to be Roman Catholic. You would think that these factors would favor Serbia among our foreign-policy elite. Albania, on the other hand, doesn't really "count", religion-wise, since the Albanian regime for 50-odd years was militantly athiest. But when Christianity is suppressed, Islam can continue to thrive, for some reason (a good lesson for American liberals, in fact). And, according to the topsy-turvy nature of our foreign policy these days, a Christian nation is automatically identified as the "oppressor", even when the conflict involves Islam on the other side. (Say, maybe the way for Iran to get into our good graces is for them to pick a fight with Armenia. Hey, it could work.) Add to which, the Moslems in the Balkans have identified themselves as a quivering, terrorized, persecuted minority, and as we know, nothing melts the hearts of American politicians more than a group that presents this image -- unless they happen to be Palestinians, of course. So clearly the time was ripe to show these Medieval religious nuts a thing or two, and also "support diversity" -- i.e. Islam -- at no cost, just to show the Moslems that we really don't hate their guts all the time, honest.

So Fleming goes on to say that "the anti-American left hates the Serbs as a rooted people who cling to their traditions... The simple equation is that Serbs equal Confederate Southerners who equal Nazis." And then he adds a real bell-ringer: "Whoever is elected president in November will undoubtedly be the worst president in American history." Wow -- does he really mean, worse than Carter, worse than "W"? That's a tall order. That will take more than just random incompetence -- it will take determination, focus, perseverance... but hey, our politicians can handle it, you can be sure of that. So Fleming sees our recent, present, and undoubtedly future policy in the Balkans as part and parcel of the larger folly of American meddling and chronically taking the wrong side, mainly at the behest of liberals or of those contaminated by the liberal "internationalist" mindset, which works against rootedness, sense of place, and sense of ethnic identity every time. To which -- it might be argued -- don't the Kosovars also have roots, a sense of place, and a sense of ethnic identity? Undoubtedly so. They can enjoy those things just as readily -- and more authentically -- in Albania as in Kosovo, I would imagine, but that recommendation will not be coming forth from our foreign policy solons. Their watchword is, always stand up for the "little guy", even when he's dead wrong.

Three for the Road

Jokin’ Jo

The recent death of singer Jo Stafford reminds me that one of the funniest “comedy albums” of all time has to be the one she did with her husband Paul Weston. It’s called “Jonathan and Darlene” and features, as her obituary says, “numbers on which she sang painfully off-key and he played miserable piano.” But there’s more to it than that. Her singing is not totally off-key – just enough to excruciate (and, in my case, infect with a severe case of the giggles). And his piano playing – well, let’s say you have to be awfully good to play that badly. All in all it’s very subtle and hilarious performance.

Der Obama’s Face

Another blogger ( asks why Barack Obama “advocated a ‘civilian national security force’ that is ‘just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded’ as the nation's military.” Yeah, I know it sounds scary – an American Gestapo? But frankly, I don’t think there’s any cause for alarm. Look at the statement again. Obama wants the national security force to be “just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded as the nation’s military.” But under Obama – as under his recent Democratic predecessors, i.e. Carter and Clinton – the military is bound to suffer huge budget cuts and be rendered weak, hollow, and impotent. So a domestic security force that matches that would be no problem.

Just Wondering…

I know I’m not the first one to bring this up, but it bears repeating. If the result of NAFTA has been the flight of all our jobs to Mexico, why are the Mexicans all sneaking up here to find work?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

All Too Quiet on the Western Front

In a series of posts entitled “Me on War”, I pointed out that “There is a subset to the Anti-Pacifist argument that points out the advantages to society of having a way in which young men can establish, and prove, their ‘manhood’, as well as generally blow off steam and engage in the kind of high-risk and reality-testing behavior that might actually _benefit_ society, rather than creating hazards and liabilities. I won't elaborate on this point, except to comment that just because war may _serve_ that function, it doesn't mean that it has to, or that there are no other equally effective, or better, choices.” I also asked, “How many of those small-town heroes would have been doomed to a crushingly boring and far-from-noteworthy existence if they hadn't stormed Mount Suribachi? If it's ‘immortality’ you want, war may be (for most people) your only answer.”

Now, the extent to which heroism, or “proving oneself”, is still a motivator for young (mostly) men to enlist in the armed forces is a topic of ongoing debate among those concerned with meeting enlistment and re-enlistment goals. And you’ll notice that armed forced recruiting ads keep cycling through various “spins” as to the advantages of military service – but jumping on a grenade to save your buddies is not high on the list of “visuals” used in recruiting ads. That sort of motivation comes – if ever – in the heat of battle, when – for better or worse – all the usual (read: civilian, boring) criteria that add up to “common sense” have long since flown. And yes, maybe wars can only be won if a few people go berserk once in a while and do the Audie Murphy thing. It’s perfectly possible. A military unit that is all-tranquil, all the time, would not be much use in an operation against an enemy unit with even the average degree of determination, to say nothing of the fanaticism that tends to go along with things like Nazism, communism, and jihadism. We don’t have to be as crazy as they are, but at least we have to meet them on something like their own terms. Cleaning out those residual, holdout nests of Japanese soldiers in the Pacific was not accomplished by showing them slide shows of how pleasant life was going to be back home.

With these thoughts in mind, it’s appropriate to consider one of the “missing pieces” in the picture of our folly in Iraq. Yes, we have all the usual suspects in Washington and in the executive suites of the war industries. Yes, we have misguided patriotism on the part of the voters. Yes, we have residual frustration from 9-11 – “Somebody’s gotta pay”, and it doesn’t matter a whole lot who, as long as they can credibly be labeled “terrorists”. But we also have something that is reflected in a recent news article, headlined “Iraq too quiet for some troops.” These guys are bored… underutilized… and craving “action”. They feel that “the real war” is going on in Afghanistan, and can’t understand why they aren’t there instead of boring old peaceful (relatively) Iraq. And, sure enough, according to the article the “younger soldiers” in particular are “looking to prove themselves in battle”. Shades of “The Red Badge of Courage”! Some things never change. And, contrary to my theorizing about lack of “meaning” being an important factor in PTSD, these guys have absolutely no questions in their young heads about the rationale for the war. All they know is they’re over there, they’re fully armed, and they want to start making loud noises and breaking things – and killing “gooks”, or whatever name they have given to Iraqi insurgents – and the sooner the better. And one can say, well, after their first firefight they’ll find out it’s not a bed of roses – a lot of those “Combat-happy Joes of Easy Company” in the old war comics never came back – or if they did they came back in more pieces than a side of beef prepped for your home freezer. But that’s not what counts at this point – it does not determine their motivation, or lack thereof, and it certainly did not determine their desire to enlist. Once again, testosterone saves the day – and the dried-up old men of Washington know they can always count on it to yield up plenty of willing cannon fodder.

So, if you’re a genuine pacifist, this has to be your biggest challenge – not to just change the social perception of war, or the economics, or the politics, but the whole psychology of the individual – the “universal soldier”, as the song went. The Soviets thought they could produce a new species of humanity that would value collectivism more highly than anything else. Are the pacifists any more realistic when they want to produce a new species of humanity that will value peace more highly than anything else? My suspicion is – no.

One Iraq, One Vote

Obama’s magical mystery tour of world hotspots may not gain him a critical number of votes stateside, but it’s certainly making him look a bit more “presidential” – i.e. a bit more reassuring as far as our “allies” are concerned. They seem slightly relieved that he’s not about to turn the entire country into Oakland, California under the Black Panthers – or New York under David Dinkins – or Washington, DC under just about anybody. Yeah, so the radical edge is off. He’s even rumored, by Robert Novak, to be huddling with corporate CEOs in late-night confabs, and not just in order to extort funds in the Jesse Jackson mode… more likely to reassure them that nationalization of their respective businesses is low – way low and getting lower – on his “to do” list once he is inaugurated. I’ll say it again – by the time he takes office, he’s going to be so pathetically co-opted out that dictionaries will start substituting the term “Obama’d” for “sold out”. The main point of contention may in fact be the issue of getting our troops out of Iraq, with the military-industrial complex, American politicians, the Evangelicals, and the Israeli lobby on one side and the Iraqis themselves on the other. And, you might ask, what are a few Iraqis against the might of America? Well, people asked the same question about the Viet Cong, and we all know what happened in that case. So now we have al-Maliki agreeing with Obama that 16 months to withdrawal is “the right timeframe”. He’s certainly not going to get an agreement of that sort with the Busheviks or with McCain – so yes, he’s pinning his hopes on Obama (1) winning the election; and (2) actually meaning it when he talks about a 16-month timeframe. Needless to say, this is quite a chance for the “prime minister” of a country we occupy to take. He’s saying, in effect, the candidate from the party currently running the country – and hence the war – is not the one we want to win. The one we want to win is the one who sees things our way. Now, this is the very kind of thing that has caused foreign leaders to meet an untimely demise in the past, at the hands of “person or persons unknown” – AKA the CIA. So the question is, are we still in the “tough love” business when it comes to dealing with foreign governments? Or are Bush & Co. going to sit back and relax, and let al-Maliki rave on, knowing damn well that Obama doesn’t have a chance because “we” won’t let him have one… or knowing that Obama will, by that point, be as sold out on the war issue as on everything else? An interesting, and telling, remark was made by The McCain on his campaign bus the other day, to the effect that al-Maliki “has exceeded a lot of the expectations”. Well, that’s crystal clear, I must say. Whose expectations? McCain’s? Clearly he expects that al-Maliki – like all Iraqis if they know what’s good for them – should remain in a perpetual bowing, scraping, and kowtowing mode in the face of overwhelming American power and ability, and willingness, to do harm. And who are these pipsqueaks, anyway? Their country didn’t even exist until after World War I. But here they are telling us where to get off… and when. Self-determination is a fine thing, but only when the “self” that is determined is totally subservient to American empire-building – otherwise it’s a mistake that needs to be corrected through means such as name-calling, boycotts, sanctions, blockades, and armed invasions. Funny thing is, it takes the Arabs – quite recently the most despised and rejected people on the world stage – to finally stand up and say, “Hell no!” So does Obama come to respect their rights in this matter… or is he going to don the same Yankee Doodle hat that Bush has been wearing all this time and continue the crusade? Time will tell…

Toon Town

The current flap concerning the New Yorker’s “Obamas in the Oval Office” cover has caused the magazine’s management to offer up some pretty esoteric theories about humor and satire – theories that have failed to satisfy anyone (including themselves, I imagine). What they would like to say, but can’t, is that the New Yorker – and especially its cartoons – are so sophisticated that no one west of the Hudson River can possibly be expected to “get” them. This is, in fact, a fair statement… and they would certainly not lose any of their elite readership by making it clear that this has been their premise all along. To gain entrance to some sort of high priesthood of the cultural intelligentsia, it has always been required that one be able to comprehend New Yorker cartoons. In fact, when one tries to visualize one of the “effete elite”, the image that comes to mind always includes them holding the latest issue of the New Yorker and chuckling quietly over the cartoons. C’mon, let’s admit it! An effete intellectual snob without his New Yorker would be like a redneck without his Caterpillar cap – it just ain’t done. But neither side in the current controversy is willing to admit to the basic facts of the matter, which include: (1) The New Yorker was never meant for the “unwashed”, which means for just about anybody outside of Manhattan; and (2) Its concept of humor is way too rarefied for the average slob; and (3) Ne’er the twain shall meet; and (4) Why should they? It’s a free country, and the “New Yorker types” should be able to enjoy their exclusivity without being harassed by the hoi polloi or the media who serve them, don’t you think?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Odd Balls

Have You Seen This Fashion Plate?

I love the fact that, whenever the search is on for someone who committed a crime, the clothes they were wearing are described in great detail – like, are they assumed to only have one set of clothing? Or maybe unable to get back to where they live and change? And another thing – what’s up with those “police sketches” of alleged “perps”? They all look alike, basically – sort of like Mongol warriors with no foreheads. You know -- they have eyebrows, and then the hairline starts about 1mm above the eyebrows, and the top of their head is flatter than a Frisbee. Now, no one actually looks like that – or if they do, they’re too brain-damaged to commit any crime. And yet police departments all over the country continue to churn out these ridiculous sketches.

A Spoonful of Light, Sweet

I notice that something called “light, sweet crude” – oil, that is – has stabilized a bit, price-wise. Now, “light” I can understand… but “sweet”? What can possibly make crude oil sweet? Aspartame, maybe? And who’s the poor chump who has to taste it to decide whether it’s sweet or not? Now there’s a job I definitely do not want.

Five Foot Two, Eyes TBD

I guess there are some foot fetishists somewhere who experience a certain frisson whenever they read about another unaccompanied foot being washed up on the shores of British Columbia. What’s more intriguing is that these feet are well-shod, being found in Reeboks, New Balances, and so on. In other words, they are not the feet of lazy, do-nothing couch potatoes. Of course one did turn out to be an animal paw – and it took the BC police a few days to make that determination, which kind of makes you wonder about the extent of their anatomical training, but nonetheless, the phenomenon does raise the question as to where all the bodies are that go (or went) along with these feet? Are we dealing with a serial killer here, or more specifically a disgruntled ex-employee of DSW? In any case, it seems like it’s going to be a while until the authorities get a toehold on this case and bring it to heel.

Ah, Che Bella Stinko!

The Italian government, once again, stands by helpless while mountains of uncollected garbage pile up in Naples. And why is this? Why, it’s because garbage collection in Naples is a solely-owned subsidiary of the Mafia, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days. And in Italy, the Mafia wields power unmatched by any organization in the U.S. save the NEA and AIPAC. And I guess it’s not possible to send out the national guard the way we might be tempted to do in a case like this. So it continues to pile up. And why the Mafia is holding out on this is never explained – must have something to do with money, don’tcha think? But not to worry – the Italian government has bigger fish to fry, namely the attempt to bring the burgeoning population of Gypsies (many who are from Romania, I’m told) to heel. Now… hey, I’m no FDR, but what would be wrong with shipping the Gypsies down to Naples and telling them to start collecting garbage? But that would make way too much sense…

Oil Be Seeing You

Today’s “boxing glove on a spring” headline is “N.H. will accept free oil from Chavez”. So it has come to this – we’re getting foreign aid from a communist country. Hey, it’s more useful than all the Ivy League parasites the communists started supporting back in the 1930s. But New Hampshire is still a tad shy of Vermont, which has applied to become a province of Venezuela. “This way we get not only free heating oil, but cheap gas and killer weed”, a spokesman said. Back in New Hampshire, a petition is circulating to change the state’s motto to “Free Oil or Die”.

People of the Book(s)

“The Texas State Board of Education gave final approval Friday to establishing Bible classes in public high schools”. Well, this idea is going to be DOA if the NEA and the ACLU have anything to do with it. But there is a compromise that might ease the pain. Every “Bible” class would have to be matched, on an equal time basis, with a “Darwinism” class. Each one can be presented as an example of a major world religion, each with its prophets and saints and holy texts. That way students, if they are so inclined, can choose one or the other for further study, without any prejudice based on which is more “scientific” since no claims will have been made on that score.

Show Him the Gate

Obama has decided not to give a speech at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate – undoubtedly based on the notion that the site represents a shameful failure of the United States to properly recognize the enlightened and humanitarian world view and policies of Soviet communism during the Cold War. “Why, if it hadn’t been for American hard-headedness, there would have been no need for the Brandenburg Gate”, a spokesman said. “The Soviets would have taken over all of Berlin, and all of Germany as well, for that matter. It was only our short-sighted 'Cold War' mentality that prevented the people of West Germany – an American puppet state – from enjoying the same blessings of socialism that the people of East Germany enjoyed. With reunification, the issues are academic at this point, but the scars remain.”

The Home of the Fat and the Fatuous

There is a strange American ritual that every candidate for national office is absolutely, positively required to partake in, regardless of their state of physical health or the strength of their digestive system, and that is to sample "the most typical local food" of each and every place they go to campaign. This is an unavoidable duty. Kissing babies is passe (plus, it might be thought of as a "pro-life" gesture, and we can't have that) -- wearing a hard hat is a bit of a reach, and wearing an Indian war bonnet is totally un-PC. And Dukakis put an end to the tank-riding thing once and for all. But the food thing -- you gotta do it. You know the drill -- it's beans in Boston, knishes in Manhattan, Coney Island hot dogs, Kansas City steaks, tacos in El Paso, kielbasa in Buffalo, "Pacific rim fusion" in San Francisco (yes, that's a cuisine, not an "unnatural act")... and a Primanti's sandwich in Pittsburgh. Now... the Primanti's sandwich is the one thing you can order where no one will ever ask you, "Do you want a fries with that?" -- because it already _has_ "a fries" -- _in the sandwich_, along with cole slaw. Do I have to add that this monstrosity of heartrending (literally) cuisine is about 8 inches tall, and you need the jaws of a boa constrictor to eat one? And yet it's considered in the poorest possible taste to "deconstruct" a Primanti's sandwich -- I know 'cause I did that once, and almost got thrown out of the joint. No, you can only pick the whole thing up all at once and try to chip away at it, they way the guy who carved Mount Rushmore had to do -- and believe me, it takes just about as long. And yet, any candidate who comes to town has to take time out of their busy schedule to eat -- or try to -- one of these things. It's a kind of initiation rite, I guess, like those rituals the early African explorers were expected to go through. "Oh yes bwana, it is a great honor to be offered the eye of the monkey (heh heh)." Now, to all the above I should add that, with the possible exception of San Francisco, all "typical local foods" in America don't even appear on the "food pyramid" -- or if they do they have a skull and crossbones printed nearby. So yes, the typical local food of any locality in America is the food the big, fat slobs eat. So why is it required of our presidential candidates? And how can Obama not have gained any weight since his campaign started? Is he bulimic? And what kind of statement is it that a candidate has to eat the "food of the people" while at the same time the government has declared a jihad on all forms of fat and carbohydrates? Are we just a little bit ambivalent on this issue? Could be...

When "Out" Means "Out"

"A general time horizon for meeting aspirational goals." That doesn't sound like a whole lot -- and in fact it isn't, but it's a damn sight better than the digging in of heels that the Bush administration has displayed up until now when it came to the question of when we would ever get out of Iraq. The Iraqis want us to leave, and we haven't said no -- at least not in so many words. Isn't this because, if they ask us to leave and we refuse, it will call into question one or more of our current justifications for having gone over there in the first place? And of course we can never publicly admit the real reasons we're over there, so that's no help either -- if you fall back on "special pleading" you at least have to have a plea, otherwise it's a non-starter. But it is interesting -- although it may be purely coincidental -- that the Iraqis have chosen our election season as the time to take a stand. Maybe they think that a refusal by the Bushites would endanger the Republicans in the November elections... and that is something that, obviously, cannot be permitted to occur. Or maybe they've decided that Obama is going to win, and they are paving the way for him to -- with great relief! -- withdraw American troops with the full consent and cooperation of the natives. Or maybe it is, indeed, just a coincidence... but it's funny how many "coincidences" in the foreign policy arena happen to coincide with American elections. It's almost as if foreign governments and other entitites see our elections as windows of opportunity -- or as our Achilles heel -- or a bit of both... in any case, times at which their pleas are likely to fall on somewhat more receptive (or desperate) ears. Well, we already know how they play our State Department like a violin at every opportunity -- so why not the American electorate? American voters are known, world-wide, for their impulsiveness, foolishness, gullibility, and misplaced patriotism -- and a foreign government or entity with an agenda would be silly not to take advantage of this fact. Plus, let's face it, the fine hand of America has left its greasy fingerprints on any number of foreign elections, coups, revolutions, etc. over the years -- so maybe it's payback time. Maybe it's "karma". In any case, it's good to see someone standing up for their right of self-determination.

And to the above I might add that "White House spokesman Scott Stanzel denied that the agreement with al-Maliki represents a concession by the Bush administration". When you hear that you know that that is precisely what it _does_ represent. It's like the best evidence for UFOs being the fact that the Air Force has always denied they exist. But that raises a question -- what do the Bushites do now? Do they pretend to go along with this idea, figuring that will give McCain the best chance in November? Or do they trash the idea and go back to business as usual, figuring _that_ will give McCain the best chance in November? Or... if they don't care any more about McCain than they do about their own reputations, well...

The Paper-Chaste

An article in yesterday's business section points out that the much-ballyhooed "paperless office" and "paperless society" of 30 years ago has turned out to be a pipe dream. I'm amazed it took them that long to figure this out, since I knew right away, i.e. 30 years ago, that it was a crock. To begin with -- and those of you who were around back then, and using computers -- i.e. mainframes -- will remember, the computers of that era, far from using less paper than more traditional techniques, used more -- many times more, in fact. Remember how, for every computing job you frantically thrust into the hands of the geeks who ran the mainframe in the basement (it was always in the basement for some reason, and it was cooled down to cryogenic levels -- but even so, the geeks always wore short-sleeved shirts) you would get a "printout" back on paper wider than a queen-sized bed, with maybe one page actually devoted to your results and about 20 pages devoted to gobbledegook that only the geeks could understand? Not to mention the endless "Snoopy" pictures the geeks would turn out by the score in their spare time. Truly, the mainframe was the best friend the paper companies ever had. Now, with the advent of the PC, things improved a bit. Now one could get printouts on normal, letter-sized paper. But a lot of those printouts had to do with things that were... um... not exactly "job-related", and at the same time the copying machines had morphed from little, slow, pathetic things that sat on a table (remember the "Thermofax" when all it was was a copier?) into things the size of... well, of the old mainframes, filling an entire room and using the paper from an entire forest every fortnight.

But there was more to it than all this, and it's what ultimately killed the "paperless" movement. The fact is, people simply do not trust electrons. Are you really going to trust your data, and your text files, and spreadsheets, or anything else, to a bunch of scurrying little electronic charges that no one has ever actually seen? -- especially when we know how easy it is for them to get sidetracked, and distorted, and swallowed up in hyperspace. No, there is something warm and secure about paper. You can see it, touch it, smell it. When we used to get power outages in my agency -- a common occurrence in the summer especially -- the lucky ones were the people who not only had "backup", i.e. duplicate files on floppies or in a stand-alone (non-network) PC, but who had actual "paper" for many of their files. They could keep working! The anguished screams echoing through the corridors of the building were all coming from the poor chumps who had believed the "IT" people -- that, well of course, you can always retrieve your files, and they will never die or be destroyed, and they will always be there when you need them. So when the electronic monolith -- mainframe or "distributed system" -- turned into the god that failed, paper always saved the day. And it was good old human instinct and common sense that was behind it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Whine Not Take a Gramm of Truth?

In "disowning political supporters" news, the latest casualty is Phil Gramm, who was given his walking papers by John McCain because he (Gramm) described the United States as "a nation of whiners". And of course the PC response to this is to recite an endless laundry list of "real problems", like the declining dollar, the limp stock market, the subprime mortgage crisis, retirement fund meltdowns, the Social Security time bomb, Medicare, unemployment or under-employment owing to offshoring of industry and "free trade".... etc. etc. Of course, the fact that the vast bulk of these problems was caused by government meddling in the economy is less often mentioned. So yes, there are "real problems", from whatever cause. But, at the same time, it is demonstrably true that we have become a nation of whiners, crybabies, thumbsuckers, and spoiled brats -- and this is not an economic phenomenon, it's a "mental" one, as Gramm pointed out. It's the same old story of rising expectations -- when things improve, expectations as to how things _ought_ to be go up as well, usually at a rate about twice that of actual improvements. Now, the best predictor of happiness is not actual level of prosperity or "quality of life" on an absolute scale, but the relationship of outcomes to expectations. Paradoxically, in times of actual improvements in quality of life expectations rise as well, and outpace the improvements. So what happens? Net "happiness", i.e. the ratio of improvement over expectations, goes down! So yes, in many respects overall improvements result in more _subjective_ (vs. actual) misery. History tends to support this idea. For example, many of the more prominent revolutions over the past centuries have followed an _improvement_ in conditions, the French and Russian revolutions being examples. In our own country, the race riots of the late 60s _followed_ the Civil Rights Act, rather than preceding it. And now we have another example, and I can trace it to the fact that my generation, i.e. the postwar or "baby boom" generation, came of age in what is arguably the peak of American prosperity and social/political dominance on the world scene. So we inherited, and perfected, the postwar concepts of endless prosperity, endless "growth", and endless dominance of America, and of the "American way". We may, in addition, have passed some of these ideas on to our kids. But now we have a situation where all sorts of chickens (economic, social, political) are coming home to roost. America's dominance of the world economic scene has been badly eroded of late, with no end in sight. We are politically part of a minority of two -- us and Israel. Socially, we are seen as "the" problem by the entire Moslem world. And our Achilles heel -- dependence on the oil which is dispensed by medieval sheiks in burnooses -- is causing us more pain each day. So yes, America is being put in its place, at long last... we are suffering "setbacks"... we are finally on the receiving end of more equitable world-wide market forces, now that our dominance is declining. But what do the folks on the home front want? Why, they want the America they and their parents grew up in, when we were "large and in charge". But that ship has sailed. Hence, the whining -- and hence the coverup by McCain and Obama. Their model is similar to that of social workers -- nothing is ever anyone's "fault", it's just a matter of environment -- of circumstances beyond anyone's control. Well, it's true enough that governmental incompetence is beyond most people's control, and that's what's behind most of the problems in question. But having admitted that, it's also true that Americans are having a collective tantrum, anxiety attack, and emotional meltdown, and neither McCain nor Obama has anything in their political medicine chest to treat it.

The Plot that Plotst

I was surprised to find out that -- according to a recent news article -- 30 percent of Americans are still not receiving fluoridated water from public water systems. And here I had assumed that fluoridation had long since become universal! But then I remembered -- vaguely, because it was only a burning issue when I was a kid -- that at one time fluoridation was considered a Communist Plot. Now, what precisely this "plot" involved was never made clear -- I mean, what benefit would accrue to the world-wide communist conspiracy from American children having fewer cavities? Unless the dental benefits were only a cover for something much more sinister -- like, for instance, making people "soft" on communism... or causing them to elect public officials who were... or decreasing their resistance (spiritual, moral, cultural) to the inroads of collectivism and socialism. Well, the funny thing is, all of those things actually happened -- but I have yet to see conclusive evidence that fluoridation was the primary factor. When a culture, or a society, decides to get "soft", nothing can stop it -- and yes, societal softness can, in fact, coexist with hard enamel.

The fluoridation "craze" started, according to the article, right after World War II. And to add to the insult, not only were municipal water supplies all jam-packed with fluorine, but all of us kids got to receive fluoride "treatments" twice a year at the hands of school dental hygienists. I can still remember that tart-tasting blue stuff and those icky cotton "worms" that were soaked in the stuff, and dutifully applied to our teeth. Of course, they were no match for the Jujubes, Good 'n' Plentys, Mars bars, Almond Joys, etc., etc., dispensed with equal fervor at the local movie theater and at all the gas stations and news stands in town. In the long run, cane sugar won out, and I have more "phoney baloney" in my mouth than Barack Obama, although, admittedly, it might have been worse sans fluoride. I know that the next generation -- my own kids, and those of my sister -- by and large avoided all the blessings of tooth decay, so something obviously changed in the intervening years, and it was not, I assure you, the availability of refined carbohydrates.

So -- in any case -- the fight against creeping socialism that reached a crescendo of sorts in the 1950s would certainly have been lost if fluoridation had been the only criterion of success. As it is, the war was lost on other battlegrounds, and fluoridation became, basically, business as usual -- except for the few holdouts reflected in the article. Do you suppose they still see a communist plot in every glass of tap water? If so, they have a much better imagination than I do.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Listen to the Warm

Is it possible that Pittsburgh is an island of tranquillity in a sea of global warming hysteria? So it would seem, according to an article in today's paper concerning the so-called "hot spell" that we are experiencing this week. A "hot spell" in Pittsburgh involves "high temperatures of 89 degrees today, 90 on Friday and daily highs in the upper 80s through Sunday." Now, to someone who lived in the Washington, DC area for 33 years this is a joke. Weather like that just described in Washington, in July, would be considered brisk and refreshing... bracing... a bit on the cool side, even. But wait, there's more! The same article provides gory details as to "past scorchers" -- and see if these data scream "global warming!" to you:

Longest heat wave -- July 4 to 16, 1988

Most intense heat wave -- July 8 to 15, 1936 (yes, that's 72 years ago)

Highest temperature -- a three-way tie between July 16, 1988; Aug. 6, 1918; and July 10, 1881. Yeah, that's right -- 20 years ago, 90 years ago, and 127 years ago.

Warmest month on record -- July 1887, a mere 121 years ago.

Warmest year on record -- 1921.

So when I say -- as I just did in a post yesterday -- that I challenge anyone to swear that they have experienced global warming based on personal, direct experience... well, I was talking about individuals and not cities. But now I can toss out the same challenge to Pittsburgh. Sorry, but this global warming dog just don't hunt.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Odds and Ends III

I Pity the Pool…

The recent marriage of one of George Bush’s daughters reminds me that the Bush gene pool seems to be getting shallower with each succeeding generation. Another effect of global warming, I suppose…

The Beast With Two Heads Sleeps Tonight

Among the missing: Bill and Hillary Clinton. Word has it that they are ensconced in a remote mountain cabin in the Ozarks, owned by one of the many “Friends of Bill”, in order to cook up a strategy for their next attempt at taking over the U.S. An intruder – later apprehended by the Arkansas State Police – claimed to have overheard Bill Clinton say, “Now you pretend to be Trotsky, and I’ll pretend to be Lenin.”

In a related story, rumors that Hillary is about to kick Bill’s sorry ass out of the house, based on his ill-fated attempts to aid her presidential bid, and many other offenses, have been contradicted by a spokesman from her campaign. “You have to understand that Mr. and Mrs. Clinton are two sides of the same personality – kind of like Romulus and Remus, or Itchy and Scratchy. It’s literally true that neither one would know what to do without the other. Call it what you will – codependency, mutual facilitation, a bizarre mutation – it’s true nonetheless.” An analyst commented that this was, in fact, the basis for the Clintons’ strength, and also for their vulnerability: “What they share in common is an inordinate lust for power. In Bill’s case, it’s power for its own sake, and in Hillary’s it’s power for the sake of remaking the world in her own image. These two agendas come into conflict now and then, but more often than not form a kind of symbiosis. What it basically comes down to is them against the world, and they agree on one thing, if nothing else – that the world, and especially the American electorate, is made up of fools who deserve whatever they get.” He added, “Anyone who expects Hillary to go quietly back to the Senate to serve out her term has another think coming. If McCain wins, she’ll be plotting his downfall from the first day he’s in office. If Obama wins, well… it’ll be the same thing, basically. Party loyalty has never been the Clintons’ strong suit; it’s always been ‘their way or the highway’, as the saying goes.”

Make Lob, Not War

Ever heard of a “lob bomb”? No, it’s not something invented by John McEnroe. It’s another one of those home-spun, but very nasty, weapons that our enemies in Iraq (that means, basically, anyone who’s not on our payroll plus most of the people who are) have come up with. It’s also termed an “improvised rocket-assisted mortar”, or IRAM, and is rumored to come from Iran. In other words, it's an Iran IRAM. And when fitted with a cowbell it's an Iran IRAM-a ding dong. Um... OK, I'm alright now. In any case, it's also said to involve, depending on the specific model in question, the use of a cell phone to set it off, or even a washing machine timer. (Who knew they even had washing machines over there?) Now, it’s grimly amusing to contemplate what would have been involved if our own military had sponsored, and paid for the development of, a similar weapon. To begin with, according to the “acquisition cycle”, which is treated like holy writ in the defense community, the thing would still be years away from actual deployment. Once deployed, it would cost tens of thousands per copy, and the spare parts would be even costlier, assuming they were even available. We would be paying some crooked shipping outfit a fortune to get them from the factory in the U.S. (or China) over to Iraq, and then paying someone else a fortune in “in-country” shipping and storage fees. And upon deployment, it would turn out that they were never tested in an “Iraq-like environment” – you know, with things like heat, sand, and dust. “Well, who knew those things made a difference? Get off our case, wouldja?” Then, of course, the manufacturer would promptly come up with various “enhancements”, and “improved models”, that would cause a quantum leap in total system costs. In the meantime, the troops would be busy coming up with “workarounds” to get the damn things to actually function in a combat situation. But no matter – the vendor would continue to receive a series of fat “no bid” contracts until such time as the system was declared obsolete… at which time, the entire cycle would begin anew.

So – when we’re dealing with an “enemy” that has, basically, none of the above problems, and can basically put a weapon together with the materials to be found in the average suburban garage in America, and our weapon system acquisition process is designed primarily to enrich the arms makers – is it any wonder we occasionally get into these embarrassing situations where their jerry-built weaponry is more effective than ours? It is long past time for our weapon acquisition process to expire from its own weight, like the dinosaurs… except it won’t, because it is being kept on life support by its advocates in Congress, the administration, and the fabled military-industrial complex. So it will remain an Achilles heel whenever we are fighting an “unconventional war” overseas – i.e. whenever we are fighting _any_ war we are likely to be fighting in the foreseeable future.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Off the Planet

One fear resulting from the precipitous rise in oil prices is that heating oil bills will be at a record high next winter. So people are starting to complain about this to their elected representatives. But hey – isn’t it those same representatives who are signing onto all sorts of blockheaded “anti-global warming” legislation? I think the voters should tell them to butt out and let global warming do its thing. It makes perfect sense – more global warming means warmer winters, which means lower heating requirements, which means we can tell OPEC to blow it out its shorts.

And why am I the only one who ever makes these connections?

No More Teen Angels

It appears that one unintended consequence of the steep rise in gasoline prices is a decline in fatalities among teen-agers due to automobile accidents. In this respect, we see that expensive gasoline does more for teenage survival on the highways than all the decades of “driver ed” that they’ve been exposed to. (In my experience, it was only the “good” kids who took driver ed anyway. The “hoods” thought it was for wimps – and they were right.) And who knows, as gas prices climb ever higher we could see even more improvement in this area. It may ultimately turn out to be a good investment. I have often remarked that we know gasoline is still too cheap when teen-aged drivers prowl the streets and highways at all hours of the day and night in non-economy cars, and driving in such a way as to maximize gas usage – you know, the “laying rubber” every time a light turns green, and drag racing between lights? Would the quality of life in America be greatly enhanced by a decline in the number of teen-aged drivers and the amount of time they spend behind the wheel? Absolutely. And yes, I’m perfectly willing to pay more for my own gasoline if that is the likely consequence.

Odds and Ends II

The Big Not So Easy

According to a recent news story, “New Orleans was the fastest-growing large city in the nation last year”. Yeah – what it means is that people who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina are still drifting back into town. That’s like being called “the world’s tallest midget”. And to add to the absurdity, no one actually knows how many people live there, it’s only a guess. I suppose when one of the largest demographics in a city is composed of indigents and drifters, it’s hard to come up with good numbers. One is tempted to say, that hurricane couldn’t have hit in a worse place. But it could also be argued that it couldn’t have hit in a better place, i.e. a place more ripe for “outing” as a massive, festering sore of corruption and governmental incompetence which was always suspected, but it took a disaster on that scale to confirm it beyond any doubt.

The same study, BTW, showed significant population declines in such exemplars of socialism and urban renewal as Cleveland , Philadelphia, and Baltimore. It’s funny how, when you create mini-North Koreas in a relatively free country, people tend to leave. Texas, on the other hand, where free enterprise is still the love that dares speak its name, shows marked growth in a number of cities. What, they aren’t afraid of global warming? Those places are hot enough as it is. I guess if things get too bad they can always move back to Detroit.

Too Big Love

“Polygamist sect leader Warren Jeffs was taken from jail in Arizona to a Las Vegas hospital for what the sheriff described as a serious medical problem.” Well… if I had as many wives as that guy has, and at his age, I might have a – ahem – “serious medical problem” myself. I understand there are some herbal supplements that can help with this…

“Never Mind”

I refuse to descend, in this blog, to the level of the supermarket tabloids by even mentioning the JonBenet case, which is no less bizarre in retrospect than it was at the time. Oops, too late! Well, at least one thing has been settled, namely that no one in her immediate family had anything to do with her demise. And in fact, prosecutors have even apologized to the family for the years of harassment and defamation. This is certainly an improvement on the abysmal record of the various child sexual abuse witch hunts around the country, for which, as far as I know, no governmental body or individual official has ever apologized. So who, or what, killed JonBenet anyway? An “unexplained third party”, according to authorities – well, that’s a big help, I must say. But at least the family is off the hook, and only 11 ½ years after the incident. So much for “a prompt and speedy trial” being one of the pillars of our legal system. These people would have been better off as terrorists… or as members of the armed services. But no, they had the ill fortune to be regular American citizens, and rich ones at that, albeit infected with the bizarre “kiddie beauty contest” virus that has attacked so many families over the past few years. Well, simply being tacky is not a crime… but being rich and tacky? Seems like that’s good for a misdemeanor rap at least.

Grin and Bear It

And speaking of non-trashy people who do weird things anyway, a recent Internet story involved a 14 year old girl who was mauled by a bear during a mountain bike race in Alaska. According to the article, “the attack occurred along a trail in a 24-hour race put on by the Arctic Bicycle Club in Bicentennial Park. Rescuers had to hike in more than two miles to reach the girl.” OK – now let’s do a bit of our parsing routine on this one. She’s 14 years old. Her parents let her enter a 24-hour race through a park that includes areas so remote that a two-mile hike is involved to get to where she was attacked. Now honestly, isn’t this good for some sort of Darwin Award? Not the kind that we usually see – you know, the sort that is awarded to some guy named Randy who rides a grocery cart down a ski jump into a pool of quicksand. No, this would be reserved for the sorts of yuppified, pretentious types who believe that, because they’re “in tune with nature”, they’re somehow indestructible – and not only them, but their kids as well. It’s not unlike that story a few years back about the seven-year-old girl who was allowed to fly an airplane into a storm. It goes way beyond “what were they thinking?” – all the way to “what in the hell planet are they from, and how can we get them to go back there?” I mean…well, I feel sorry for the kid. How was she to know her parents were looney tunes? But hey, someone organized this event and someone let her sign up. Where can they be located, I wonder?

Not Too Shahabby

So -- once again -- what's going on with Iran and this Keystone Kops missile test? What's their freakin' deal, anyway? 'Cause if they're trying to irritate the Bush administration like unto a case of the crabs, they're succeeding mightily. And if they're trying to keep Israel with it's finger on "the button", they're succeeding as well. The way things usually go in the Near East, it's hard to tell insanity from cold calculation. We know that Ahmadinejad likes nothing more than to dance around and provoke the U.S., as if it were the dim-witted giant from "Jack and the Beanstalk". The Israelis, for their part, are far from dim-witted, but they fancy themselves more reasonable than, and somewhat aloof from, their more emotional Islamic neighbors. So neither can be "called down" by the slightest provocation -- and yet there has to be a point at which their patience runs out, and that brings up the question, what does Iran want? Do they want to just keep "mooning" the U.S. and Israel, assuming that neither will deem it sufficient cause to start a war? So the net effect would be to show up the impotence of the U.S. and the ambivalence of Israel -- and in this, they have already succeeded to some extent. Nothing can put a scowl on Condi Rice's face -- or an even bigger sneer on Cheney's -- or a look of even more puzzlement on Bush's -- than some sort of antic on the part of the Iranians. In this, they (the Iranians) resemble nothing so much as that one hyperactive kid in the class who succeeds in dominating everything, and in driving the teacher to drink or worse.

On the other hand -- they may be actually trying to provoke an attack, with a war to follow. And what would the purpose of that be? One could say, to justify a counterattack on Israel, but based on the evidence from their spectacular -- ahem -- missile test, that doesn't seem very likely. A war between Israel and Iran would result in Iran turning into a sea of glass and Israel getting a hangnail at worst. I mean, where do they think all our "disarmed" nukes wind up, in some salt mine? Please. Another possibility -- it would finally stimulate the Islamic world to act as one and retaliate against Israel en masse. This could do a bit more than give Israel a hangnail, but I wouldn't count on it having much long-term impact. What, then? Make Israel and the U.S. even more shunned and isolated by the world community? It would be hard to beat what's already been accomplished by our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we were any more of a pariah they'd have to ship us into outer space on an asteroid, like in the old sci-fi books I used to read as a kid. OK then, how about a simple death wish? Iran gets trashed and becomes a perpetual martyr to the cause of Islam, jihad, anti-Zionism, etc. Could be. Remember that in the Islamic world, delusions of grandeur go far beyond the grave.

Bottom line -- I honestly don't know. (Now there's a shocker!) I don't know what they're up to, and I doubt we'll ever know, because events will soon put all speculation to rest. The clouds of war are accumulating, and it strikes me that the last, great gesture of defiance on the part of the Bush administration might just be to start a war with Iran then dump it in Obama's, or McCain's lap. (McCain will thank them, by the way -- Obama will be sorry he was ever born.) Israel will of course be glad to see one more major piece taken off the chess board. But how long can the game go on?

(BTW, according to the paper, the Shahab missile is modeled after the one the North Koreans call the "Nodong". Now... what kind of country would name a missile -- the ultimate phallic symbol -- the "Nodong"? I rest my case.)