Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
--C.S. Lewis--

Friday, January 30, 2009

Conservation For Thee, But Not For Me

Thus sayeth the Obamessiah. "The capital flew into a bit of a tizzy when, on his first full day in the White House, President Obama was photographed in the Oval Office without his suit jacket. There was, however, a logical explanation: Mr. Obama, who hates the cold, had cranked up the thermostat. "He’s from Hawaii, O.K.?" said Mr. Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, who occupies the small but strategically located office next door to his boss. 'He likes it warm. You could grow orchids in there.'"

Two things:
1. He hasn't lived in Hawaii full-time since high school. His previous home, Chicago, isn't called "The Windy City" for nothing. Wuss.
2. "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times . . . and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK."

A Defense Of Using "Literally" Figuratively

My pedantry over the non-literal use of "literally" seems to annoy this author just as much as the phrase, "I literally DIED" annoys me. Fair enough, her charge of inconsistency is a just one. I shudder to think what would happen if a professional grammarian gave my blog more than a cursory glance. But can't we draw the line somewhere? If we lose our ground on "literal", who knows where we might end up. Can "calm" now be used synonymously with "agitated"? There is always something to be said for the organic development of language, but without anyone being a stickler for the rules, what's next? Dogs and cats living together? Massive hysteria? Oh wait, wrong crisis.

Will The Large Hadron Collider Destroy The Earth?

For those who don't know, the LHC is essentially a big atom-smashing device called a particle accelerator. It's a circular, underground facility about 17 miles in circumference. Using magnets for propulsion and guidance, the facility runs streams of protons through giant super-cooled tubes until they get them to a high enough speed, and then send two streams flying at each other from opposite directions. Some of the protons will invariably run into each other, smashing each other apart. The purpose is to allow scientists to study what exactly breaks off when we smash apart these tiny objects, to determine what the smallest building blocks of the universe are, and how they behave.

Of course, it only ran successfully for 9 days, none of the time at full capacity, before they broke it. The failure, along with the resulting repairs needed, are expected to keep it out of commission until next July. Depending on your perspective, that's either a huge disappointment, or the earth's stay of execution.

So what's their problem? Well, I won't even begin to try to explain the physics involved (mainly because I'm far too dumb), but the main worry is that there's an outside possibility that these collisions will produce a micro black hole. You know, black hole as in "that-thing-that-eats-everything-in-it's-path-like-the-blob-and-can't-be-escaped-by-anything-within-the-event-horizon". Worried yet? Here's why you shouldn't be. In a nutshell, while it is true that a black hole has such gravitational strength that nothing inside the event horizon can escape, black holes DO release Hawking radiation. Hawking radiation is a phenomenon in which a matter and anti-matter particle pop into existence (particles are cool like that) right on the edge of the event horizon of a black hole. One lands just inside of the horizon, the other lands just outside. The exterior particle escapes, and the interior one doesn't.

So how does this save us? Well, the particle falling in to the black hole must have a negative charge. This means that the black hole loses a tiny smidgen of energy every time this occurs. To a full-sized black hole, this isn't a problem. It eats far more debris and energy than it loses. But a micro black hole doesn't have any energy to spare. Because it is so tiny, and it's gravitational effects are so localized, it can lose more energy through Hawking radiation than it gains through eating other particles. That means that the holes will dissipate almost too quickly for us to know they were ever there. Unless of course, you believe these guys...

P.S. On a related note, wouldn't it be ironic if the Swiss were the ones to end up destroying the earth?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

That's Not A Door

Apparently the new president can't tell the difference between a French door and a window. But the best part is that the paper compares this to a time George Bush tugged on a locked door. 'Cuz, you know, not having the x-ray vision necessary to tell if a door is locked prior to trying it is exactly the same kind of embarassing gaffe as not knowing a door from a window. Stop laughing. Bush is the stupid one, Obama's smart. Seriously, STOP LAUGHING!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thank You Congressman Waxman

This just in on the Bankrupt-Future-Generations...er, I mean the stimulus bill. Apparently, there's a section of the bill that requires states to ensure that energy companies make up any revenue lost if consumers conserve energy. In other words, go ahead and buy that new energy-efficient hot water heater. They'll just raise your rate proportionally to how much less energy you use.

Two Instructive Stories

for those who want to attack the Bush administration's policies wholesale and applaud Obama for throwing them overboard without any thought as to which might be valuable to keep.

First, there is this story, on American efforts to rehabilitate captured Iraqi terrorists. It illustrates an important point. The Bush administration has been learning on the fly. That's completely unavoidable, because there has never been a war like this one before. In previous wars, we knew who the enemy were and simply jailed them until the fighting stopped. In this war, we are hard-pressed to differentiate between hardened terrorists and the gullible fool grabbed off of a street corner. Further, in this war, the fighting may never stop. All the lessons learned about POW's in previous wars have to be adapted to the new situation. The president's critics have the ability of leisure and hindsight to in criticizing decisions made in the moment.

And secondly, this story.
In the summer of 2006, I was asked to prepare a speech revealing the details of the CIA program. I sat down with the people who actually ran the program—the people responsible for breaking up the plots—and, over the course of several months, we painstakingly reconstructed how the questioning of these terrorists led to the disruption of plots. Let me give some details on just one example—the West Coast plot.
A few months after 9/11, a terrorist named Abu Zubaydah was captured. He was a close associate of Osama bin Laden, and ran a camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers had trained. And he helped al Qaeda leaders escape from Afghanistan after the start of Operation Enduring Freedom, including the future leader of al Qaeda's Iraqi branch, Abu Mussab al Zarqawi.
Zubaydah was captured in a gun battle and severely injured. The CIA arranged medical care, saving his life. After he recovered, Zubaydah provided what he thought was nominal information—including that KSM's alias was "Muktar," something our intelligence community did not know. But he soon ceased all cooperation. It was clear to his interrogators that he had received interrogation resistance training, and the traditional methods were not working. So the CIA employed alternative interrogation techniques. And Zubaydah started talking.
He provided information that led to the capture of Ramzi bin al Shibh—one of the key plotters of the 9/11 attacks and a close associated of KSM. Bin al Shibh was the mastermind behind a plot for a follow-on attack to hijack airplanes in Europe, and fly them into Heathrow airport. Now he was off the street and the Heathrow plot was setback.
Together, bin al Shibh and Zubaydah provided information that led to the capture of KSM.
Once in custody, KSM refused to cooperate, until enhanced interrogation techniques—including waterboarding—were used. Then he began to talk.
He gave us information about another terrorist in CIA custody named Majid Khan. KSM told us that Khan had been tasked to deliver $50,000 to a Southeast Asian terrorist named Zubair—an operative with the terrorist network Jemmah Islamiyah, or JI.
Confronted with this information, Khan confirmed KSM's account and gave us information that led to the capture of Zubair.
Zubair then provided information that led to the capture of a JI terrorist leader named HambaliKSM's partner in developing the West Coast plot. Their strategy was to used Southeast Asian operatives, since KSM knew we would be on the lookout for Arab men.
Told of Hambali's capture, KSM identified Hambali's brother "Gun Gun" as his successor and provided information that led to his capture.
Hambali's brother then gave us information that led us to a cell of 17 JI operatives that were going to carry out the West Coast plot.
First of all, stories like this fly in the face of the silly argument that coercion never works. In some cases it may not. It's definitely a blunt and ugly tool. But in some cases, it is the best tool for getting information. Now, if you want to argue that waterboarding KSM for 2 1/2 minutes is torture, and such an ugly form of torture that not doing so is worth the price that would have been paid had these plots gone forward, fine. Make that case. But the new president isn't waiting to hear it. He's decided to chuck it all overboard without allowing the intelligence community to make a defense for keeping some or all of the programs that have allowed such intelligence successes to occur.

Apparently We've Lost On Global Warming

Even if we went back to the stone age today, it would take a milennia for us to recover. Oh well, then I guess there's no reason to keep trying to fight it, is there? If my grandkids and I are hosed anyway, then I'm gonna make darn sure that my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandkids feel the pain. Why should those spoiled little brats get off easy? Back in my day we didn't have all of their fancy flying cars and teleportation devices. We burned oil because THAT'S WHAT WE HAD AND WE LIKED IT!!!! Darn smart-alecky wont-be-born-for-800-years-yet brats...

On a slightly more serious note, at what point will the predictions get so silly and out of proportion to the actual data that people might begin to stop listening?

Hey, wait a second. I just realized something. A thousand years? What a rip! The Obamessiah promised me that THIS was the moment when "the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal."

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Just Something To Keep In Mind

Dick Cheney, regarding the administration's counter-terror policies on January 12th: "Before you start to implement your campaign rhetoric, you need to sit down and find out precisely what it is we did and how we did it. It is going to be vital to keeping the nation safe and secure in the years ahead and it would be a tragedy if they threw over those policies simply because they've campaigned against them."

President Obama, in response on ABC’s This Week: "I think that was pretty good advice, which is I should know what’s going on before we make judgments and that we shouldn’t be making judgments on the basis of incomplete information or campaign rhetoric."

And yet, less than 48 hours after taking office: "President Obama yesterday eliminated the most controversial tools employed by his predecessor against terrorism suspects. With the stroke of his pen, he effectively declared an end to the 'war on terror,' as President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless.
While Obama says he has no plans to diminish counterterrorism operations abroad, the notion that a president can circumvent long-standing U.S. laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.
Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away: The military's Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility, where the rights of habeas corpus and due process had been denied detainees, will close, and the CIA is now prohibited from maintaining its own overseas prisons. And in a broad swipe at the Bush administration's lawyers, Obama nullified every legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch after Sept. 11, 2001."

So ask yourself. Did Obama take the time to make an informed decision about policies that directly affect the safety of millions of Americans? I hope and pray as much as everyone else that this decision never comes back to bite him, because if it bites him, it bites us all. But if the day comes when it happens, hopefully people will look back at this decision, and ask the tough questions.

The Wall Street Journal has more thoughts on the topic here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

John Wilkes Booth's father once threatened president Jackson. Now we know that insanity ran in the Booth family. How else do you explain threatening a former POW, who was known for dueling, once coldly took aim and shot a man to death while bleeding from a bullet the man had fired into his shoulder, and who BEAT his own would-be assassin with his cane until THE ASSASSIN had to be rescued by bystanders?

This Seems To Fit Nicely With The Last Video

Obama Win Causes Obsessive Supporters To Realize How Empty Their Lives Are

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Pledge

not to make creepy, incoherent videos, or to fall victim to the weird personality cult of any individual.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Inaugural Address

Ok, here are my thoughts. Overall, I liked the speech, although I've levied some criticisms below in bold. It was very grown-up, in the sense that he sounds like he's speaking as a president rather than a candidate. That may sound like a trite observation since he IS president, but sometimes it can be hard to switch rhetorical gears. The speech was more plain-spoken than most of his, but that too seems to be indicative of a certain seriousness that candidate Obama didn't have. I obviously have my issues with some of the specifics, and I think he took some unseemly shots at his predecessor, but overall, I actually liked it MORE than his average stump speech.

My fellow citizens:

I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.

Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. Actually 43, but it's an easy error to make. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. Oooh, did anyone else find that imagery clunky? At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers (The word is actually forebears, but it's a common mistake), and true to our founding documents. This line saved the paragraph. I like that Obama pays due respect to tradition throughout the speech. Could it be that he is offering a culture-war olive branch from the left to the right on American history?

So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.

That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.

These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.

Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.

They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.

On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. The preceding paragraphs are the best part of the speech. This is a grown-up telling the American people that things suck, but the sooner we all pull together the sooner we fix them. Again, he pays due respect to America's past. Very much a presidential way of speaking, rather than a candidate's.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.

For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.

This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America. "Remaking" America. Hmm...I could see "repairing" America, but remaking implies far more profound changes. What if we generally like her the way she is?

For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place (A cheap and unnecessary shot at George Bush that was unbecoming of a new president), and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Really? There are people saying that your changes are wrong because America can't handle big change? Here I thought it was because America doesn't NEED big change or because some of your changes are unrealistic. My mistake, I'm sure. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works (This is a false choice. Whether it is big or small has a direct bearing on whether it works.) - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Can anyone name a government spending program Obama has ever advocated ending? Anyone? Ever? And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more. (Another petty shot at Bush, a man who did more good for the third world in Africa than any president in history and cemented and developed solid relationships with Asia while fighting two wars.)

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint. Hmm...really? 'Cuz I seem to remember us forcibly silencing internal dissidents, interning the Japanese, and nuking the crap out of two cities, all while arming and aiding totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union and Vietnam.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you. That last sentence was very good. Sounded almost Bushlike. =)

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist. These three paragraphs are also very good. I especially like the line about being judged on what you build, rather than destroy.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it. How does this tally with not apologizing for our way of life?

As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.

We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all. Two more excellent paragraphs.

For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate. I like the thought, but does anyone actually know a worker who volunteered to cut hours so a co-worker isn't fired? California state employees are currently screaming bloody murder over a proposed furlough program.

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.

This is the price and the promise of citizenship.

This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.

This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath. Excellent line. He takes his own example as an opportunity to praise America rather than Obama.

So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.

The Inauguration

No, I'm not ignoring it due to sour grapes. I've been flat on my back and sick the past couple of days (really sick, not just sick-of-Obama sick or something like that). I've been reading a lot of conservative commentators (Peggy Noonan, Kathryn Lopez, and Fred Sanders for example) who have all said something along the lines of, "Aren't inaugurations great, even if your guy doesn't win?" They go on to extol the virtues of a system that has a 200+ year unbroken tradition of non-violent transitions in power. In the abstract, I agree with all of that. But somehow I find it hard to really believe them. Maybe they're just trying too hard to show that they can be non-partisan. Then again, maybe I just have a diametrically different personality. Whatever the reason, I can't imagine enjoying an inauguration, irrespective of the candidate being inaugurated. I've never been one to elevate pomp and circumstance over content, and an inauguration, like a party convention, is really a meaningless display of content-free pageantry. I will give Obama credit for one thing though. For a guy so obviously enamored with himself, and with a reputation for soaring rhetoric, he kept the speech short and simple. So much so, in fact, that people on both ends of the spectrum are reporting it as something of a disappointment. I can respect short and simple far more easily than lengthy and grandiose. As anyone who has ever written an academic paper, or even argued a complex issue at any length knows, keeping it simple is far more complicated than bloviating ad nauseam. I'll have actual commentary on the content of the speech up later, if my illness allows.

P.S. If the Obamessiah is going to heal the planet and lower the oceans, is it too much to ask that he takes a few minutes out of his day to cure the freakin' flu?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Liberals Remain Classy

Seriously, was disrespect like this ever shown to Clinton on his way out? I don't remember it, though I'll stand corrected if anyone can supply evidence. Unfortunately, the grownups have long since been forced into the hinterlands of the Democratic party. I also seriously doubt that the Obama team will find vandalized offices or missing goodies upon occupying the White House.

Pet Peeve

Ok, I know this is trivial, but since we're going to have to spend the next 4-8 years hearing people gush about Obama's eloquence and overall speechy goodness, can his writers at least teach him the meaning of the word "enormity"? Here's a hint. It is NOT, I repeat, NOT a synonym for "enormous". He's even got reporters doing it now. You'd think an editor might catch that...

Friday, January 16, 2009

Random Political Thought

Barack Obama has been making noise about fixing entitlement programs in recent days. It makes sense, given his dedication to "social justice" and the current economic climate. Given that he's still enjoying superstar level popularity and has sizeable majorities in both houses of Congress, this might be his best chance to do so. If he comes up with a grown-up proposal, how the legislature reacts will be a major test of exactly how effective Obama can be. If he gets a grown-up proposal passed, heck, I might even vote for him next time around...

Ricardo Montalbán

passed away Wednesday at 88. He was a practicing Roman Catholic, a reader of National Review, and stayed married to the same woman for 63 years. He played every type of role, from Khan Noonian Singh, to Mr. Roarke, to Senior Senior Sr. Best of all, he didn't seem to ever have taken himself or his career too seriously, as many in Hollywood do. He was quoted describing the 5 Stages of Acting as:
1. Who is Ricardo Montalbán?
2. Get me Ricardo Montalbán.
3. Get me a Ricardo Montalbán type.
4. Get me a young Ricardo Montalbán.
5. Who is Ricardo Montalbán?

Once more, with feeling!

The Dark Knight

Yes, I finally saw it. Yes, I realize I'm about the only person left in America who hasn't. So what, it's my blog, I get to talk about it anyway.

Maybe it was all the positive reviews getting my hopes built up. Maybe it was articles like this one, speaking seriously about the ideas being explored through the plot. Or maybe, it was the Heath Ledger hype. Anyway, for whatever reason, I expected more from the film.

Don't misunderstand me, please. It was a great and gripping action film. Heath Ledger's Joker, though he didn't quite live up to the hype, walked a fine line between comical and dark brilliantly. He's probably ruined that character for anyone else.

The rest of the cast held up their end as well. Maggie Gyllenhaal is a much better Rachael Dawes than Katie Holmes, and her reaction to the realization that Batman was saving Dent instead of her hit exactly the right note. Bale, Oldman, and Eckhart all managed to keep pace, though I didn't think any of them were particularly exceptional.

So what is my problem exactly? Well, it's this. In most superhero movies, it doesn't matter how over-the-top the action gets. We've already consciously agreed to suspend our disbelief just by accepting a character that flies/reads minds/dodges bullets/climbs walls, or has an adamantium skeleton. Either that, or we get "normal" humans in a cartoonish reality (see Sin City or 300) that clearly lets us know we're not in for a normal day. That's not the case in the Batman movies. Batman is a regular guy...sort of, who simply gets the maximum mileage out of what a regular guy is capable of. When the dogs bite him, it ruins his armor and hurts. The whole reason we see his scars early in the film is to remind us that this isn't another Superman knockoff. This reality meshes well with the gritty moral dilemma facing Batman. He's got to wrestle with the morality of hurting people who are trying to hurt him. He knows he's a pariah, but a necessary one. He longs to be able to retire, while ultimately knowing he probably never will.

And then there are the exploding cars. This man whose conscience is torn by people executed because of him drives down a street blowing up a bunch of parked cars, potentially endangering countless civilians because, I guess, it would be too much of a bother to drive up on the sidewalk. He IS on a motorcycle after all. When he crashes, the same man who was hurt by dogs is able to walk off a high-speed impact against a steel vehicle coupled with a brutal beating with no apparent lasting effects. Meanwhile, a Gotham police helicopter is flying betwixt the skyscrapers, making it an easy target for Joker's men. While I'm not a pilot, I know enough about aerodynamics and the vagaries of air currents in the middle of a large city to surmise that such a maneuver wouldn't be bright even if it was performing a non-combat role.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe others don't see the simultaneous attempts at reality and caricatured violence as being in conflict. Perhaps the two are meant as some symbolic statement about the inherent dichotomy of the role Batman has to play. To me though, the interaction between the two was jarring, alternately begging me to take this seriously and then asking me to accept cartoonish excess.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Squirrel Wars

I have two observations about this article, neither of which has much to do with the thesis. The first is this. How quintessentially British this picture accompanying the story is! Where else but in her majesty's realm would a gamekeeper pose with his dogs and a string of dead squirrels in a THREE-PIECE SUIT?

And the second point is how animal happenings seem to follow the human world. The proud red squirrel, with its lengthy history and tradition, is eclipsed by a larger American rival who eats more and is more aggressive. I can just picture a grumpy old British red squirrel angrily describing the greys with the phrase, "Overpaid, oversexed, and OVER HERE!"

Monday, January 12, 2009

Roland Burris

Am I the only one who really looks forward to seeing him in the Senate? From the accounts I'm reading, he seems like a relatively honest and competent (judging by Illinois standards at least) egomaniac with little to no verbal filter. Given what we usually get in the Senate, I'd say we could do a lot worse than a man who will probably pursue his job conscientiously, with minimal corruption, while spicing up Senate proceedings a little in the process.

Bono's New NYT Column

It's a surprisingly effective mix of pretentious and pointless; a first-year journalism student trying to impress his professor, with overtones of "look at the cool people I've met". Not that I'm in any position to throw stones. I'm no more a professional writer than Bono is, and at least he can brag about being a millionaire superstar because of his writing (albeit of a completely different genre of writing). I guess we should just look at the bright side. If the Times is going to give away columns to every celebrity with delusions of depth and eloquence, Maureen Dowd is going to start to sound a lot more thoughtful and sophisticated by comparison.

Another Reason To Load Up On Guns And Ammo

We're all doomed in 2012.

Come On Dude

I was getting coffee the other morning on my way to do man stuff. (It involved tearing things apart and breaking mortar. All very technical and complicated.) The guy in line behind me ordered the same thing that I did, and yet we used a completely different language.

Josh: "Could I have a large, black coffee please?"

Other guy: "Yes, I'd like a venti drip with no room."

Come on, have a little dignity! I know the poor folks who work at Starbucks have to use all the fake words like "venti" (it means "large") and "drip" (it means regular coffee). It's one of the indignities of the job, like wearing a goofy outfit if you work at Hot Dog on a Stick. But for a customer to embrace the silly and pretentious terminology like it makes your coffee just a little more special is just sad. You're like a guy who VOLUNTEERS to wear the Hot Dog on a Stick outfit for fun. Seriously, don't be that guy. Please?

Friday, January 9, 2009

It's Almost Enough To Make Me Like The Guy

Senator Steinburg wants to limit the number of bills that can be introduced this session.

Blah, Blah, Blah

Dan Walters, Mac Taylor, and anyone else who wants to can talk and write as much as they want to about why it's a good idea to let voters decide the budget. The bottom line is that they are wrong, and all the arguments come down to is putting lipstick on a pig. Here's a free civics lesson guys. We live in a representative republic. The entire purpose of having elected officials is that they make tough decisions that the average voter has neither the time, experience, nor frankly the wisdom to make. Giving up and passing it off to the voters to handle because it's too tough or too hot an issue is simply not acceptable, unless those politicians plan on resigning their seats as well. Would a company accept a CEO or manager who said, "It's too hard, I'll let the shareholders make the tough executive decisions"? Of course not. Why should politicians be treated differently from any other job holder?

In fact, one of the reasons our budget problems are so bad is because politicians enlisted the voters in the past. Can't get the funding levels you want for schools? Pass a voter-approved constitutional amendment guranteeing the schools a certain level of funding! Voters have already locked in far too much spending, while pols stood off to the side and said, "At least it ain't me doing it." If they'd have the intestinal fortitude to stand up to their constituents and say, "I can't do my job if you're continually cutting off all of my options", we might be in less of a pickle today.

As for the argument that the voters are putting politicians in an impossible position by demanding services and eschewing tax increases, well, guess what. I know this may be difficult to accept, but THAT'S WHAT VOTERS DO. They want a perfect world. They never get it, but they want it. Leaders accept that, and they deal with it by LEADING. Engaging the public, arguing with their opponents, and moving forward despite their inability to please everyone. Come on, you're all from gerrymandered districts, so you don't even have to worry about voter backlash, just some nasty letters. It's a tough job, but that's why you get paid the big bucks. If you don't like it, no one forced you to run for public office, did they?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Obama's New Watchdog

Ok, I'll try to stay away from the obvious jokes about creating new bureaucracies in order to slow the growth of existing bureaucracies. I like the idea of an efficiency czar, but I'm not sure how much good it can really do, even with the best of intentions. The whole civil service system is designed to reward things other than efficiency. Some of these things (longevity, risk aversion) run in direct opposition to the practices of an efficient organization. A new advisor may help a little around the periphery by highlighting really egregious examples of waste or bad judgement, but I don't see how they can do anything more substantive without the president making a conscious decision to really roll up his sleeves and overhaul government. Since that would involve ticking off a lot of entrenched interests, something the president-elect has never before done, I won't hold my breath. I really hope I'm wrong.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


Here's a guy who took the question to the extreme. While I think that the idea of immersing ourselves in the life and ministry of Christ, even to the point of consciously weighing what Christ would have done throughout our daily encounters is an excellent one, I'm a little disappointed. By all accounts, this is a man who knows Christ and the Scriptures more intimately than I ever will, and yet he seems to have gone about this in a very mistaken way (if the article portrays him correctly).

Christ's power was not the way in which he lived. In fact, if you've read anything at all on the "scandal of particularity", you know that one of the theological arguments people have engaged in over the centuries is the question of how one God-man, living in a single specific time and place, can adequately represent the human experience. I don't mean to delve into that question here, but just to point it out in passing to illustrate that Christ's humanity is, if anything, a "stumbling block to Jews and folly to gentiles" (I Cor 1:23). It is not the specific nature of his lifestyle or location that Christianity clings to, nor even the morality he espoused. Please don't mistake me here, these issues do have significance (some more so than others), but they are the mechanisms of something much larger. Christianity is about more than just creating nice and moral people. It is the radical idea that God loved his creation so much that he intervened personally and powerfully in human history in order to draw us closer to him. Being Christ-like is only a goal in that it helps draw us into a better relationship with our creator.

Unfortunately, that all seems to have gotten lost in the incidentals like shaving and kosher-keeping. By reducing Christ's meaning to his component actions, we may find ways to live a more "Christlike" life in a one-dimensional sense, but are we drawing near to his throne in the way he intended? I think not.

-----------------Entirely new, tangentially related topic--------------------

As for the comment about who he decided to vote for, while I have a funny feeling that such a statement is all that is keeping him from being dismissed as a complete kook, it was an unfortunate thing to say. I think I've made it pretty clear where I stand on the political spectrum, and while I can argue for hours about why my religious faith puts me there, it's unwise to make such claims about who Jesus would vote for. (And while you may not believe me, I'd feel the same way about the statement if he'd said McCain)

To the extent that the two can be disentangled in a theocratic society, Christ's mission was entirely religious rather than political. It had to be, living as he was in a culture that had so politicized the idea of the Messiah that they were just waiting for an excuse to rebel. (John 6:15) With one or two exceptions (such as "pay your taxes" and "don't fight back when the legally constituted authorities wrongly sentence you to death"...or maybe we should just call the one "submission to legitimate authority", hmm...) we can't even extrapolate his views on Palestinian and Roman politics. The idea that we can extrapolate his views on the proper marginal tax rate or the complexities of effective health care delivery in a 21st-century economy is pretty laughable. Therefore, the only way one can presume to know who he would choose to vote for is by reducing the views to one-dimensional caricatures. "John McCain doesn't believe in universal health care. He must hate sick kids!" "Barack Obama doesn't support Prop 8. He wants state-sanctioned gay orgies to be mandatory for first graders!" That doesn't mean that I won't vote based on my religious values. It just means that I'll do it based on those values coupled with my understanding of the practical complexities of living in 21st century America, rather than on the dubious recruitment of historical figures to my particular time and context.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Remember how, back when McCain named Palin as his veep, a bunch of "unanswered questions" surfaced that all turned out to be...what's the word...oh, yeah, not true. Things like forcing victims to pay for rape kits, belonging to the Alaska Independence Party, asking about banning books, etc. All of the accusations turned out to have a less solid basis in fact than the Dennis Kucinich's run-in with a UFO. Yet it didn't stop people in the press from mindlessly repeating the mantra that Palin "wasn't properly vetted" and pondering what this meant about McCain. Now that Obama's nominee for Commerce Secretary is stepping down amidst a grand-jury investigation, think any of those folks will suggest the same things about him? Yeah, didn't think so...