Friday, January 8, 2010

News 'n' Notes

My problem is that I notice things. I just can't help it. Things jump out at me. Like, every other newspaper article I read has, buried somewhere in it, what I call a “kicker”. It's that thing – a sentence, a phrase, or even just one word – that makes you go “Whaaaa?!?” But, in fact, there is often more truth in the “kicker” than in the entire rest of the article. So we don't always have to read between the lines – sometimes it's right there in plain sight (which, as Sherlock Holmes pointed out, is often the best hiding place). Some examples follow.

One Felon, One Vote

A ruling in Washington state holds that “incarcerated felons should be allowed to vote”. This reverses a long-standing tradition by which people who are deemed sufficiently anti-social should be denied the right to participate in this iconic democratic process. But here's the kicker. “The two appellate judges ruled that disparities in the state's justice system 'cannot be explained in race-neutral ways'”. Translation: Because blacks are more likely to be in jail for felonies than whites, the voting prohibition constitutes what we used to call “adverse impact”. What this means is that, while the voting prohibition does not constitute racial bias per se, the fact that it impacts blacks significantly more than whites makes it the _equivalent_ of racial bias. Now, this concept has been around for quite a while, and has caused more mischief than the ADA and Title IX combined. And, in fact, I'm surprised it hasn't been applied to incarceration in general – i.e., why hasn't a “quota system” already been imposed on our nation's prison system, whereby no higher a percentage of blacks can be incarcerated than the percentage of blacks in the population, no matter what crimes have been committed? This has actually been proposed by some of the more radical black activists. Hey, don't laugh – it could happen. No one would have believed affirmation action either, until it became the law of the land.

A Slip of the ID

Wow, is this guy ever gonna get in trouble. A “cosmologist at Arizona State University”, commenting on the new data from the Hubble telescope having to do with the origins of the Universe, said, “We don't know who pulled the trigger” -- i.e. we don't know “who” took the Universe from a formless void to a dynamic array of galaxies, stars, and planets. Gee, it almost sounds as if Intelligent Design (ID) ideas are starting to penetrate cosmology – the way they have already penetrated non-mainstream biology. Well... I'm sure this unfortunate gent has already been called on the carpet not only by his own faculty committee, but the cosmological community, the scientific community, the ACLU, the ADL, the Episcopalians, Americans United, and all of the other inhabitants of the gigantic beehive of political correctness. And I'm sure he has recanted and made reparations for all of his sins against “reason” -- unless, of course, he really meant it, in which case he's a martyr (and unemployed).

Weapons of Sweet Destruction

“The suspicious material found inside luggage that prompted the shutdown of a California airport Tuesday morning turned out to be five bottles of honey, authorities said.” Well, aside from the usual Keystone Kops aspect of this story when it comes to the TSA, it turns out that “when TSA agents opened one of the bottles and tested the contents, the resulting fumes nauseated them”, and they had to be taken to the hospital. OK, so... when's the last time you got nauseated by sniffing a jar of honey? I mean, yeah, it's sweet, but... nausea? Hospital? I think these guys are high on the hysteria scale. It just shows the power of expectations, and not a small bit of paranoia. Maybe TSA should start screening applicants for honey sensitivity... or just plain idiocy.

Kim Il-Cheapo

It seems that North Korea has banned the use of foreign currency by either its own citizens or foreign visitors. There was particular mention of the prohibition of “dollars and euros”. Now, dollars I can understand... but euros too? Wow, you'd almost think North Korea was getting paranoid about monetary issues, exchange rates, and the value of its currency. Kind of like what's happening over here, in fact. One of these days, it might not be “Buy American”, but also “Spend American” -- or else. (Maybe stashing all those Swiss francs wasn't such a good idea after all.) (And if I'm being paranoid, how come FDR made possession of gold illegal, hmmmm?)

Jesus Saves... and So Do I

A woman left “a collection of gold and silver coins worth an estimated $40,000” near a shrine on the campus of Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg, MD. She was going out of town and “said she wanted the Virgin Mary to watch over her treasure” while she was gone. So – was this woman the victim of some foolish, old-world peasant superstition? What I imagine is that she considered the alternatives. A bank? No. The stock market? Forget about it. A “hedge fund”? Don't make me laugh. Real estate? I told you, don't make me laugh. OK then, how about a T-bill? Stop, you're killing me! No, I imagine that, in this day and age, a shrine on a Catholic university campus really is the best place to preserve one's wealth.

King Rat is Dethroned

OK, so... now it's illegal to kill and cook a rat as part of a “survivor” TV show. It's considered “animal cruelty”, in fact. Now... would someone please tell me the difference, animal cruelty-wise, between killing and cooking a rat and killing and cooking, for example, a steer... or a hog... or a chicken... or – well, you get the point. Is this just a matter of “species-ism”, where some species are more equal than others? But we are talking about rats here after all, not puppy dogs and kitty cats. Ah, but... I neglected to mention that this occurred in Australia, which is apparently vowing for the title of the most terminally politically correct nation on Earth. Still, I'd love to know what the defense will be – “If you convict me, then you also have to close down all the McDonald's”, or something like that.

Hi There, Picture Picture

George Will, who can always be counted on to dig a little deeper – and with more erudition – than the average commentator, recently discussed an expose of sorts. It turns out that the iconic photograph coming out of the Spanish Civil War – that of a Republican solider being shot on the battlefield – was faked. And it was faked by, as you might guess, the usual gang of useful idiots, starting with the photographer himself, namely Robert Capa. You know... in a situation like that, there should have been no need to create propaganda out of whole cloth, since there was plenty of raw material to work with. And yet, so great is the liberal need for iconography and symbolism that the actual facts are never enough – one has to have a perfect image, or a perfect event (like Rosa Parks getting arrested for not sitting in the back of the bus -- which was a thoroughly-planned event, by the way). It's because it's all about persuasion, and conviction – and nothing persuades or convicts more than the perfect image. We saw this in Vietnam, with the photo of the naked children running away from a napalm attack (and apparently that photo was at least authentic). (The iconic photo of the Chinese baby sitting crying amidst the smoking ruins of Nanking was, on the other hand, apparently faked – as was the film of Hitler doing a jig after the Nazis overran France.) Whether one is on the right or the wrong side of any given conflict, it really is too bad when one's main weapon has to be fraudulent. And yes, I know, “truth is the first casualty of war” -- but doesn't this say more about war, or most wars, than about truth?

The Peaceable Kingdom

“Lions break into cage, kill rare white tiger.” This is from the Czech Republic, and proves once again that, despite all the sentimentality poured into “animal rights” causes, nature in the natural state is still “red in tooth and claw”. This notion that the world would be a peaceful place if only it weren't for man... well, it would be free of wars and strife, but “peaceful”? Didn't you ever see the dinosaur segment of “Fantasia”? It's the same mind set that leads some “vegans” to try and feed their dogs a vegetarian diet – serve 'em right if the dog took a chunk out of their arm once in a while. The last thing liberals, and starry-eyed delusional idealists, want to do is see nature for what it really is – a highly competitive and, yes, merciless place (at least “merciless” by human standards – while humans are merciless by nature's standards). And this is despite the fact that they are all dues-paying members of the Church of Darwinism. Consistency is just not their strong suit, I guess...

The New New Deal

Apparently, there has been a recent surge in the population of Washington, DC, and while the causes are not yet proven, high on the list is that “more newcomers are moving to the nation's capital to join the Obama administration”. Oh yeah – this is the old spoils system, and it's bigger and better than ever. Did you think there were enough “government workers” already in place when George W. Bush was president? Think again. If they had only been replaced, why would the population of DC now be going up? This is a whole new added layer of bureaucrats, paper-pushers, opportunists, political hacks, freeloaders, and parasites – kind of like the one that comes in on the coattails of every new president, but – in this case, I suspect – greatly enlarged in numbers (and greatly diminished in quality and qualifications – assuming those factors had not already reached a nadir under Bush). It reminds me of nothing so much as the New Deal, which turned DC from a tidal backwater into a boom town – and things have never been the same since. Now, I do have to grant Obama's Army one thing – at least they are settling in the city and not in the mostly-white 'burbs, the way Bush's people would have done. In this sense, they are expressing solidarity with the indigenous population, and that could be a good thing – unless they get mugged, that is.

Right... Wrong... Does Not Compute...

The latest “enhancement” idea when it comes to the “battlefield of the future” (which really means the battlefield of the present, since military planners are always fighting the last war in their pea brains) is that of robots who are not only equipped with the most lethal weapon systems, but are also programmed for “ethics” -- “even a sense of guilt”, according to the article. They would “adhere to international law” (rather than U.S. law, I assume) “and rules of engagement” -- you know, the same rules that allow us to keep blowing up wedding parties with drone missiles. And they are already being referred to as – isn't this cute! -- “humane-oids”. And rather than possessing the human emotions that only cause trouble in conflict situations – things like anger and frustration – they will be capable of “constructive” feelings like remorse, compassion, and guilt. All well and good, I say – we definitely need less negative emotion on the battlefield. But here's my question. If a fighting robot can be programmed this way, and thus replace many if not all of the emotion-laden flesh and blood soldiers, why couldn't the same technology be adapted for politicians, public officials, and businessmen? Can you imagine a world where all of those people would be replaced by calm, reasonable, and – above all – ethical robots? This, to my way of thinking, is the most exciting potential for this technology... not that winning battles isn't important, but if we could replace our leaders and the businessmen whom they serve with robots, those battles might not have to be fought at all.

The Night the Lights Went Out in Lithuania

Ah, the blessings of membership in the EU! Lithuania, as I commented in my “Baltic Diary”, is still holding on to its currency – but in other respects it's already thoroughly under the cold, dead hand, and hob-nailed boot, of the EU. The latest example is a nuclear power plant which has supplied a good deal of Lithuania's power up to now, making it almost self-sufficient, energy-wise. But no longer! It seems the plant is a holdover from the Soviet days, and bears an uneasy resemblance to the Chernobyl plant of unfond memory. So, shut down it must be... and Lithuania is on the way to expensive energy dependence on... well, it doesn't say, but “Russia” might be a good bet. And do you think they're happy about this? Do the Palestinians enjoy buying electricity from Israel? But Big Brother in the EU says “let it be done”, and it is done. Wow, I thought the dark days of oppression of one European country by another were over.

This Kid's Life is a Drag

In Tennessee recently, “a 4-year-old boy was found... drinking beer and wearing a little girl's dress.” And no, he hadn't just joined a fraternity at the local state university. It seems that he wanted to see his father, who is in jail, and decided that that lethal beer/dress combo was the best way to get himself arrested to he could join his dad behind bars. Well... I don't know whether to pity this kids' naivete as to how the system works, or admire his sophistication as to how the system works. There are elements of both in the story. The beer part is obvious – but who told him you could be arrested for cross-dressing? Well, we are talking about Tennessee, after all. But still, wouldn't you like to know how he got that idea?

Prison Nation

The U.S. “locks up more people than any other”, according to a recent article... and I have already explained why. The first reason is that we have more laws than any other – i.e. we criminalize more of what would be considered normal, ordinary human activities in most other countries. But the “biggie” is, as always, the insane War on Drugs, which has provided a full employment program for the law enforcement community for decades now. And yet, even this madness apparently has its limits. Despite the fact that prisons = jobs, and jobs = re-election for incumbents, state budgets have gotten so tight that they are actually thinking about ways of reducing the prison population. One is to lower the threshold for parole, and another is to reduce the minimum percentage of actual time served out of sentences. But these measures are still working at the margins. What is needed – and what will never happen – is a radical overhaul of the legal system, to create one that actually treats American citizens as adults rather than as juvenile delinquents.

Obama Leads the Charge

Was it a sign of the times? A while back, Nancy Pelosi decided that it was Obama's job “to persuade reluctant Democrats to fund his Afghanistan troop buildup”, and she wasn't going to go to bat for the idea – not that she wouldn't support it, mind you, but that someone else was going to have to play the part of “whip”. Can it be that even someone as block-headed as Pelosi is starting to see the handwriting on the wall? Can it be that some Democrats outside the liberal left wing are starting to feel duped and betrayed by Obama's war presidency? Can it be that they actually – gulp! -- fear the voters? Well, this would be a fine thing to see, no doubt... although it would not be for the first time, and certainly not the last. A lot of liberals and/or Democrats felt betrayed when LBJ escalated the war in Vietnam beyond anyone's wildest dreams... and a few, I'm sure, even looked askance at Clinton's bombing of Belgrade. No one who claims to be anti-war can remain totally at peace with themselves while their party is crawling up on foreign shores with daggers in their teeth. Sooner or later even liberals have to recognize inconsistency and absurdity to some degree. Not that it will matter... but it is a sign that the Obama honeymoon has a shorter half life than anyone expected.

The Misuse of Abuse

It's not the child abuse witch hunts of the 1980s, but the mechanisms are still in place, and are being kept oiled and highly polished. Pennsylvania law, for example, mandates that “everyone who regularly comes into contact with children on the job” -- which, I guess, includes crossing guards and 7-11 clerks -- “must report suspected cases of child abuse to authorities”. Which means, in turn, that this army of people is assumed to have expertise as to what does or does not constitute child abuse. And they had better have this expertise, because once they “hot line” someone, the wheels of “justice” start grinding away, and it can be years – if ever – before the family's, or individual's, name is cleared (even assuming the accusation had no valid basis). “But mandated reporters are not required to receive training on how to recognize signs of child abuse” -- which puts them in about the same position as the village gossip or busybody. But help is on the way, in the form of a new bill that “would require all school employees to receive at least three hours of training every five years”. Well, that should be enough to insure that, if you ruin someone's life, it's for a good reason. I imagine that McDonald's employees get more training than that on how to operate the Frostee Freeze machine – and we're talking about an, in effect, army of snitches who can have any number of neuroses, hang-ups, agenda items, envy issues, hostility, or just plain power cravings. And, in fact, they often do, since people who work with children often have the desire to “fix” whatever went terribly wrong in their own childhood, and tend to project their experience onto other people's children, and therefore are apt to imagine all sorts of abuses and offenses that never occurred. They see what they want to see, in other words... what they "need" to see, rather than what is actually there. So – citizens turning each other in, in the best Soviet tradition, will now be validated by the fact that they've received “training”. Right. And what will they say when the system turns against them and starts to show its fangs? Because it very easily could. So they might think twice before they join the Hitler Youth or the Young Pioneers.

A Religious Body

The moral high ground that is eternally claimed for Israel, and Jews in general, underwent a bit of a shift recently when it was revealed that the Israeli government “harvested” organs from dead Palestinians without permission of their families. (No mention was made of whom those organs were intended for, but one can guess, given the recent indictments of American Jews for illegal organ trading.) I wonder if they realize that somewhere Josef Mengele is laughing?

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