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Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you, and you sold me...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

9:42PM - Little voices from the refrigerator

    I'm sitting in my room at my computer now, but it's getting harder to concentrate what with the quiet yet insistent voices calling me from my refrigerator.

    This afternoon I made a trip to the store, and got, among other things, a half case of beer. For the weekend. Not gonna bust into 'em til tomorrow night.

    Only, the beers, every little frosty cold one of them, are beginning to call to me with tiny carbonated voices. They are telling me to drink them, drink them.

    They are like eager young children, these beers. They are not to be drunk until the weekend, but they do not understand that, the innocent things. They want me to drink them NOW. They cannot be reasoned with. There is only one purpose to their existence, and that is to get cold and get into my belly, into my blood. And these soft bubbly voices are so compelling, so persuasive. Though small, their calls are strong, like infant animals hungrily calling to their mother from the nest, and they tug at my heart. Lonely little beers, shivering in the fridge, while my stomach is so warm. Have I no compassion? They will not wait. They will not cease to cry out to me until every one of them is safely snuggled in my abdominal beer nest, their purpose fulfilled. I hear their cries. I....I am weakening. Their resolve is unshakable. I must go to them, now.

    I'm a-gone git fucked up, to-nite!

    Hang in there, lil' fellers! Daddy's coming!


Current mood: enthralled

Thursday, December 18, 2008

12:09AM - What's in a name?

Allow me to go all 'Andy Rooney' on you for a minute.

     Know what really burns my biscuits? Purposely misleading euphemisms. Specifically, when people refer to American Indians--you know, like Navajo or Cherokee--as "Native Americans". Why did this term come into use? Because politically correct people felt that the term "Indian" was inappropriate and misleading, since the Sioux and such are not from India. True enough. The term "Indian" came into use because the early European explorers who discovered North and South America had in fact been looking for a western shipping passage to India, an important trade destination. So when they landed in the Caribbean islands, they thought that was India, so they referred to the inhabitants as "Indians". A mistake, but an honest mistake, and the name stuck.

     So now you're not supposed to call them Indians anymore, you're supposed to call them "Native Americans". An old honest mistake is replaced with a deliberately misleading name.

     If I tell you that somebody's an American, what comes to mind? Do you ask "North America or South America?" Probably not. Ask 100 people, and 99 or 100 of them will think of The United States of America, not the continent of North America. America is a country, not a continent. North America is a continent. The country America did not exist before Europeans came over and made it. So why call a Sioux or Cheyenne a 'Native American'? They're only 'Native Americans' in the same sense that I am. I'm an American, and I was born here. That makes me a Native American. Calling the people formerly known as Indians "Native Americans" makes them sound somehow more legitimate than the rest of us, more "American". Really? I don't recall any Iroquois or Seminoles signing the Declaration of Independence. This isn't an honest mistake. This serves as propaganda designed to make those Americans of European, or any other, descent seem somehow less 'American'. A Sioux in this country is no less an American than I am--but no more either. Why make it sound that way? I see where the term "Indian" is incorrect, though I don't see the harm in it. But if the term really inflames your hemorrhoids, then fine, replace it. But replace it with something factually correct and NOT misleading. A correct name would be "North American Aborigine". No misleading, no ambiguity. Kind of a mouthful, but then so is "Native American". If you're going that way, do it right.

      Sometimes it's useful to differentiate Americans based on ethnicity or culture or geography, like "Southerners" or "New Englanders", or "Flatlanders" or "FIBS" (just kidding Illinois people!)  If you really want to use differentiating terms for the artists formerly known as "Indians" in some context or other, which is sometimes useful, then...why not call them by their own names ? Every tribe considers themselves a distinct nation, and every one has their own name. If someone's from the Navajo tribe, just call them a Navajo. That's what they call themselves. Is that so hard?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

4:57PM - The Two Americas

"There's no left vs right, there's only freedom vs control."- Dr. Katherine Albrecht

There is a small but growing awareness that the classic 'left vs right/liberal vs conservative' paradigm is outmoded, and more and more people feel this old, incomplete dichotomy does not describe their values and beliefs. The majority who still cling to this old left/right paradigm find these newer dissenters puzzling; they try to fit these newer views into the classic dichotomy, and it just doesn't fit. They are confounded, and try to cram square pegs into round holes. If they ask you if you're a Democrat or Republican, or liberal or conservative, and you tell them 'neither', they react as if you're just being evasive, like you've given them a non-answer. The phrase "we are two Americas" is popular lately, but the dichotomy is not left vs right anymore, and maybe never has been. The classic left vs right paradigm may have always been a surface illusion of secondary issues, a deceptive facade, like a sheet of ice covering a fast-moving river.

The words 'freedom' and 'liberty' still have universally positive connotations in our culture, and this clouds the issue. Ask anyone, and they'll say that they're 'for' "freedom" and "liberty". But listening to the way they use these words in context, it's clear that a whole lot of people have no idea what they mean, besides synonyms for "good". They've forgotten what the words mean.
 I honestly believe that if everyone in this country could be made to understand exactly what 'freedom' and 'liberty' mean, and what these ideas would mean in their lives and life in general, then a large number of Americans today--maybe even a majority--wouldn't want it. I don't mean this in any kind of good way. This is a pretty damning indictment of our country. We're accustomed to prosperity, safety, comfort. We've come to think of it as our birthright. But prosperity is not a right. In a sense, we are all victims of our grandparents' and great-grandparents' success. Now, we want guarantees in our lives. But liberty and freedom provide no guarantees.

One litmus test of where you stand on this is the question of paternalistic laws; for example, mandatory motorcycle helmet laws. Do you think that motorcycle riders should be compelled by law to wear helmets? Almost everyone agrees that wearing a motorcycle helmet reduces a rider's chances of serious head injury. Those who say yes usually argue that with state compulsion, more riders will wear helmets, with a net effect that more lives and serious injuries will be spared, the classic utilitarian argument for the greater good. Those who say no argue that, while helmets may be safer, it's my head, after all, and since my head belongs to me, so should the choice of whether or not to wear a helmet. If I splatter my bare head on the pavement, it's my problem, not yours; I ought to be the judge of what's in my best interest. Until recently, the paternalists argued along utilitarian lines--whatever results in the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people is what ought to be done, and that this was the overriding principle, whereas the individualists' overriding principle was freedom of choice, that people ought to decide their everyday matters for themselves as long as their choices did not directly interfere with the right of others. The paternalist believes that a certain degree of control over the actions and decisions of others is necessary, for their own good and for the good of society, that if people are left free to decide for themselves their choices may not result in the greatest good for the greatest number, that individual rights ought to be subordinate to the good of society. The individualist believes that individual rights themselves are the greatest good, that if your life, limbs, and property belong to you, then so should the decisions you make with them. It was this last sentiment that thinkers of the past few centuries, including America's founders, defined as 'liberty'.

    Lately many who endorse paternalistic laws put a new twist on their justification. They try to justify paternalistic laws with the primary principles of individual liberty, in a convoluted roundabout way. You've probably heard a number of these. In the example of helmet or seat belt laws, the argument is that when you suffer severe injuries, you need expensive health care, medical professionals must attend to you, insurance claims are made, a chain of events is set in motion affecting many people down the chain, all caused by your decision not to wear a helmet--so, you see, your decision does interfere with the lives of others. You hear this sort of thing from anti-smoking campaigners too. First, the argument was that smoking should be banned because it's been proven that smoking is bad for you. Individuals should not be free to hurt themselves; the safety and health of society takes precedence. This was the classic paternalist argument of utility, the greater good. But lately their campaign has switched to targeting second-hand smoke. The new argument is that second-hand smoke infringes on the rights of non-smokers by increasing their chances of developing cancer and other diseases. But here's where we get into grey areas: it's been reasonably well established by medical research that regular, prolonged exposure to second-hand smoke, living in the same house as or working in the same small office with a regular smoker for example, significantly increases your chances of cancer. But is occasionally catching a little whiff of someone's smoke from across the bar, or better yet, outside, really increasing your health risks in any meaningful way? That breathing in someone's second hand smoke from a few feet away all day, every day, could have a real effect on your health, and therefore your rights, is clear (though one can still dispute the evidence); however, that catching a few molecules of someone's puff from across the street is a significant threat to your health is anything but clear. "I smell cigarette smoke!! You just increased my chance of getting cancer by 0.0000009 percent! You are violating my rights!" This is taking the principle of individual rights and stretching it very very thinly into strange shapes. It's less like a legitimate justification and more like a dishonest reaching for an excuse. Their lips say "protecting our rights", but their eyes say "paternalism". Let's ban all public smoking and mandate helmets so as to not infringe the rights of others...and, oh yeah, that happens to force us to act for the Greater Good, doesn't it? Well how about that. What a bonus!

       Everyone who values liberty and freedom agrees that individual rights should be abridged when one's actions clearly infringe on the rights of others. My right to the pursuit of happiness ends if what makes me happy is robbery, rape, theft, or murder. But legislating controls on our behavior when our actions have a negative effect on others has an obvious grey area: how clear and direct do the effects of your actions have to be on the rights of others to warrant government control? Where do we draw the line, and why?

      My opinions on this matter are not ambiguous. Robbing you at gunpoint or dumping toxic waste into your yard or refusing to pay back money borrowed from you affects you in a direct, clear, obvious way which no serious person would debate. But stretching this argument of cause and effect can be taken to what some consider a ridiculous extreme. And this is where it becomes a matter of differing opinions based on differing values. Where you draw the line is not simply a matter of establishing facts, but of how each of us interpret the facts--based on what you value. Those who value individual liberty agree that control is needed only when the effect of one's actions interferes with another's rights in a clear and direct way. Utilitarian paternalists--those who believe state control over our decisions is necessary for the common good--stretch this criterion to include the most vague, indirect webs of cause and effect.  You decide not to wear a helmet, you have an accident resulting in serious head injury, an ambulance has to take you to the hospital, health care is applied to you, resulting ultimately in higher health care costs for everyone, and so on down a lengthy chain of causation. Sure, reply the individualists, and a butterfly sneezes in India, setting in motion a chain of events resulting in a hurricane hitting Florida--is this something to make laws about? This sort of vague universal determinism can be misapplied to justify control over almost every conceivable decision you make. Be aware of the can of worms you're opening. It's chilly out, and you're not wearing a coat! This increases your chances of getting sick, ultimately resulting in higher healthcare costs for us all, you might miss days of work, 'affecting' the whole economy--clearly, you can't be trusted with your own clothing decisions. There oughta be a law!!!  We should be compelled by law to wear coats on chilly days, because your choice ultimately affects everyone else, and besides...it's for your own good, right? You can make this argument to justify controls on almost any behavior. Outlaw fatty foods--they're bad for you, and you eating them affects me too--somewhere down the road, somehow.

     I believe that the true dichotomy among us--the Two Americas--is this: the belief that people need a strong government to restrain them, since people left free to act as they choose will usually abuse and oppress each other, vs the belief that government itself needs restraint, because those individuals who desire dominion over others--power--will naturally gravitate to where the power is. If you build it, they will come... There are always individuals with the urge to misuse power. In a society with powerful government at many levels, this concentrated power serves as a lure or magnet to these people who crave power and control. Even if safeguards are in place, sooner or later, these people will find ways around them. Where there's a will there's a way, it's often said, and among those who crave control, there is a powerful will...A government with limited power will be less of a lure, and opportunities to acquire and misuse power are always limited in a limited constitutional republic. But in a system where control is endemic, think of the opportunities for people who crave domination of others...

    Ultimately, it comes down to values. Is safety and security the most important thing, or is liberty and freedom the highest goal? We know what Benjamin Franklin considered the highest value, when he told us that those who are willing to give up liberties for perceived safety usually end up with neither...America was founded as a constitutional Republic, and the Founders were crystal-clear on what they valued: they valued liberty over security. That was the fundamental principle this country was founded on, and if you genuinely believe that we all need to be largely controlled for our own good and that if people are allowed a large degree of liberty they will mostly misuse it--and a lot of people believe this--then you have to acknowledge that your beliefs are completely at odds with the values of our country's founders. If you don't believe that most people are qualified to make many of the decisions affecting their own lives, like whether to wear a seat belt or how their children are educated or what to wear or eat or spend their money on, then who does make those decisions? A handful of people who "know better"--an elite. Although most of them won't admit it, all paternalists, collectivists, utilitarians, socialists are elitists. And all such governments become oligarchies (rule of a small elite). That's what we're becoming, and that's NOT what our country's founders had in mind. Who ought to be the judge of your best interests--you, or a government bureaucracy?

      Values are very difficult to change, once established, and those with paternalist values have as much right to their opinions based on their values as the individualists do. But if you have paternalist, "control"-based values, at least make an honest argument.  Argue for the greater good, and leave out dishonest "your-actions-always-affect-me-somehow" excuses. The American values of liberty and freedom only condone control explicitly in cases where one's actions adversely infringe on another's rights directly, not in some complicated, six-degrees-of-separation, butterfly-effect kind of way. If you have to invoke chaos theory to justify making laws forbidding us from doing things or forcing us to do things, then protecting our rights and liberties is NOT what you have in mind. Be honest. Utilitarian paternalism and liberty are not compatible. Don't pretend they are.  

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

9:54PM - Kool-aid..and delicious cake!

Last night I listened as my college-kid neighbors whooped and hollered in celebration of the outcome of the election. Be careful what you wish for, kids. Almost none of us have the slightest idea of what he'll do as president. I have a feeling that a McCain win would have led us down a similar path to the one we're about to go on, but we'll never know, just like we'll never know if Gore would have been better..or worse. I understand a lot of people hated the Bush regime, and I'm one of them. Hate to be Debbie Downer here, but...never make the mistake of assuming that things must improve, that we've hit rock bottom. Obama might just hand us all shovels. Never assume things can't get worse. They can always get worse. If you can't imagine a worse president than Bush, then I'm afraid you lack imagination.

I'm not going to go into a detailed discussion of how beholden Obama is to much of the same industrial/financial/political/military/foreign interests that controlled the Bush administration (and surround McCain). You can look that up yourself, and besides, in this atmosphere of messianic hero-worship and ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead ecstasy, that would go over about as well as walking into the Evangelical Church of Reverend Billy-Bob the TV Evangelist and telling all his bright-eyed excited worshippers that the guy with the $500 haircut on stage is a huge fraud. No, the Bush years were bad enough, and you're all entitled to a little celebration at the repudiation of that beady-eyed Texas douchebag. But forgive me if I don't join the party. Obama? McRage? We're like a cheap Bankok whore who has a fat American john approaching from one side, and an oily Pakistani approaching from the other: they look different, but either way, we're gonna get fucked, and we ain't gonna like it.

After Bush was elected (sort of) in 2000 based on reasonable-sounding campaign promises (he basically campaigned against Future President Bush), a lot of people on the Right were so happy that the Clinton regime was over that they enthusiastically got on board with whatever Bush did, even as Bush betrayed almost every principle that conservatives supposedly stood for. All his campaign promises turned out to be bald-faced lies, but hey, he's not Clinton! Woo-hoo! Meanwhile most Bush critics were from the left, but for the same reason most Clinton critics were from the right: they were now the out-group. I predict that at least some rightists will suddenly rediscover their concern for civil liberties and government power that they had conveniently forgotten for the last 8 years, but unfortunately a lot of the people who have been watching Bush like hawks during that same time will let down their guard now that one of their precious Democrats is in power. Many leftists who viewed government with suspicion (with good reason!) the last 8 years will uncritically drink any Kool-aid Obama might hand them now.

So, ding dong, the witch is dead: be happy, Bush and Cheney are melting. But too many of you have a dangerously blind faith in Obama. His campaign was a series of vague, pleasant-sounding catch-phrases and buzzwords: Change, Hope, Audacity of Hope, Yes We Can. What does that mean? Whatever you want it to mean. He got you to project all your hopes and dreams onto him, but does that mean he'll do what you wish he'll do? That's not much to go on, and a dangerous personality cult has already arisen around him that Bush never had (Bush has no personality). Being a bit of a student of recent history, I find things like "Obama Brigades" creepy and disturbing. The masses who anoint him The One are like 8-year-olds, Obama's promising them candy, and they're following him into his van. Hey, maybe that turns out alright, maybe we'll all get candy. But you can see how that might not turn out so well. People are already comparing him to Roosevelt, that he'll enact a New New Deal. Nevermind that maybe the first one wasn't such a good idea. Know what else FDR gave us that no other president has? Concentration camps. Ask some older Japanese Americans. I'm just sayin'.

Don't let your guard down just because Bush is gone. Don't get into Obama's van just because he's offered you delicious cake, kids. He's a stranger. You don't know this guy yet. That's all I'm saying. Just watch this guy. He's probably just another lying manipulative politician who will not follow through on his campaign promises; and what if he does? Not all change is good. He's got the entire non-FOX lapdog media eating out of his hand like no president has ever had, a personality cult, a friendly majority in Congress, a terrible president immediately before him for favorable comparisons, and...a powerful military and police state apparatus inherited from his predecessor. Watch this guy.

Friday, November 30, 2007

11:25PM - Everything I need to know about dealing with people, I learned from our foreign policy

As I see it, our rationale for invading Iraq as well as the coming attack on Iran is as follows: these are necessary preventative strikes. They were about to attack us, leaving us no choice but to attack first. With what weapons, you ask? Well, we're not positive they actually have them yet, but we're pretty sure they're going to have them sometime fairly soon, and then they could attack us in the future with those weapons of mass destruction that they don't have yet. They've already said they hate us. We've got to get them before they get us. What, should we just sit back and wait for them to attack us first? Are you batshit crazy?

This is such great reasoning that I've decided to adopt this policy in my everyday life. As I'm standing in line somewhere or walking down the street, I'm going to suddenly jump on someone in front of me or just passing by, and start beating the dogshit out of him. As he's on his back receiving the beating, he'll probably yell something like 'what the fuck are you doing, you asshole?' After I'm arrested, I'll tell the cops and the judge that it was in self-defence, a preventative strike. He was about to attack me with his knife or shoot me with his gun. What gun, what knife, you ask? Well, I though he might have one. Sure, he turned out to NOT have any, but he COULD have gotten one, and then he could kill me in the future with that weapon he doesn't have yet. He's already said he hates me--he called me an asshole! I had to get him before he got me. What, you think I should have just sat back and waited for him to attack me first? Don't forget your tinfoil hat, Mister Moonbat!

I figure if I do this enough, it's only a matter of time before I'm appointed Secretary of State or Defence Secretary.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

2:08AM - What if someone accurately predicted the future, and no one cared?

I've seen articles lately describing how British cities, particularly London, have security cameras on virtually every street corner to, you know, catch criminals and make the people safe.  Terrorists, ya know.

Back in 1948 an Englishman, George Orwell, wrote "1984", in which he described a future London with cameras on every street corner. Thought criminals, ya know.

Apparently today's British have lost their famous sense of irony.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

4:58PM - Thank you, media polls, for telling me who to vote for!

    Well golly gee whiz, thank you ever so much, Media, for telling me who to vote for, and who not to vote for. Yes!!--I want fewer choices. Guide me!! Cull the herd, so I'm left to vote between the lesser of two douchebags.
    Notice how certain candidates are referred to as "frontrunners", and other are called "longshots" or  "fringe candidates". ...."Frontrunners"? Uh...the elections are about a year-and-a-half away, right? Little early to be calling the races,eh? Oh no. Never too early for party bosses and media powers to start guiding our choices.
Some politician whom no-one outside his own state has heard of before now...is now a Frontrunner!  Be honest now...show of hands...how many of you had ever heard of Mitt Romney or Barack Saddam Hussein Obama bin Baden before April?
    I remember the year leading up to the Clinton/Bush election in '92. Early in the campaigns, I started hearing about "Democratic frontrunner Bill Clinton". I thought: "who?" How many people outside Arkansas had even heard of the guy, much less what kind of candidate he was?  Pick some obscure senator or governor, label him a "contender", and watch his poll numbers climb. Ah, those wonderful polls. What would we do without polls to tell us which candidates not to 'waste our vote' on? 
    We hear it every election, from both Democrats and Republicans: "Don't waste your vote on (insert candidate here), he can't win! A vote for him is a vote for (insert evil opposition party frontrunner here)!" But...how do we know that this or that candidate 'can't win'?
    That's where these nifty polls come in. The numbers are always produced as evidence that certain candidates can't win. And then the media and the parties con you with the line about 'wasting your vote' . Because in a democratic system, voting for the candidate you think is best is wasting your vote. You need to vote for the one other people want you to vote for. Right?
    We need to remind ourselves-- political polls are not there to gauge public opinion. They're there to create it, to guide your opinions. What would we do without all these official polls? What if the media covered the debates, interviewed candidates, discussed them, but were not allowed to take percentage polls or call anyone 'frontrunners' or 'fringe candidates'? Why we'd all be totally lost, wouldn't we? We'd be forced to.....vote for the candidate each of us thinks is best.  Chaos!!--chaos I tell ya. How could those in power control the elections?
    As of now there are quite a few candidates out there. Even a few who don't completely suck!! But come election time next year, what will our "two choices" be? Probably Hillary Clinton and Rudy Guliani. Gag on that one.
    See you in Switzerland.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

4:34PM - about damn time

Finally, I'm graduating from Myspace (eats blogs like fat people eat french fries) to LJ,  where the more intelligent people seem to be.  And now that I'm here, I suppose I'd best get off my ass and write something.  And here it is! 

I assure you there will be more. Uh, later.