Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Freedom? Who needs it

An excellent, if somewhat difficult-to-read article that follows up on my previous post on surrendered freedoms. The article compares the laws enacted by the Bush Administration to early laws enacted by Hitler, which allowed him to disband parliament, consolidate executive power, and eventually exterminate Jews, homosexuals, and political dissidents - legally.

The key point is not to compare Bush to Hitler, but to highlight the banal ordinariness of the citizens who perpetrated [the Holocaust]. Faced with economic uncertainty, political chaos, and a powerful foreign enemy...the German people gave up their freedoms in small increments, much like we've done here in the U.S.A.

While we may prefer to believe that the Good German institutions capitulated to Hitler under the black boot of the SS, current scholarship confirms that Nazification, like segregation in America, was largely voluntary, even in the free press.

This shouldn't be stunning at all...Bush has signed a law that allows him to declare anyone, U.S. citizen or not as a terrorist, suspend their habeus corpus rights, torture them, and inter them indefinitely. And it was greeted with a collective yawn - even from the "liberal media".

The lesson here is crucial: never willingly surrender your freedom, even a tiny amount. The process is always incremental, and the ramifications of each surrender is never fully explored or understood at the time. You allow the NSA to monitor your phone conversations, because you're not saying anything seditionist anyway. You allow your bank records to be snooped, because you're not writing checks to terrorists. You allow your president to torture people, because they're bad people, and it's ok to torture a few bad people to save a lot of good people, right?

And you never imagine that someday, you could be classified as one of those "bad people". Your neighbor, or your friend, your wife, your the whim of a man who gives no reasons for his actions other than discussion with a mythical god...could strip them of the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, bypass the due process afforded in the Constitution, and interrogate them with techniques they aren't allowed to discuss with their lawyers. And he could do this all within the law, a law that when signed, was greeted with a collective yawn.

Think really, really hard the next time some politician asks you to forfeit a small freedom for the sake of your security. Think really, really hard about voting for a politician who thinks that your Constitutional rights aren't very important. We aren't standing on the edge of the abyss of fascism, we're already tumbling down the sides. The bottom isn't nearly as far away as it looks.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Liberty and Death

More suggested reading: an article about democracy in Iraq.

Here's the short version, for those who read nothing but Cliff Notes in college:
Democracy doesn't just happen overnight. Human nature doesn't default to democracy. You can't simply remove an oppressive government and expect democracy to grow like weeds in the compost heap that remains.

Yet, as we all now know, that's precisely what Bush expected to happen in Iraq.

Democracy requires a government with checks and balances. It requires not just the tolerance of free expression, but the power and will to protect those who would express themselves. It requires a respect for rule of law, a forum to debate those laws, and the might to enforce those laws.

Just about all of those things are missing from Iraq.

Instead, Iraq has a culture that celebrates vengeance. If, as a Shiite, you are unwilling to kill three or four random Sunnis (whether that's lighting them on fire, drilling them with holes, burning them with acid, whatever strikes you as appropriate) as retribution for the death of your son, then you are considered a coward. Add a massive power vacuum, radical Islamic terrorists, and meddling foreign countries to this flammable pastiche, and you're unlikely to end up with anything resembling democracy.

So what to do?

It's time to give up on democracy in Iraq, at least temporarily. That country needs order and security more than anything, and the people of Iraq will eagerly trade a few measly freedoms to protect themselves. We need to install a lesser-of-many-evils strongman to restore order. One who will, if nothing else, be fiercely Iraqi, and prevent Iran from turning them into a satellite nation. If he has to oppress the common man a little bit, I guarantee you that's a trade the Iraqi people are willing to make.

Find someone in Iraq who is powerful, someone who will protect American interests in the region as long as we keep sending him money, and put him in power. Nudge him gently to encourage the organic growth of democracy - imposing it externally has never and will never work.

That's why Vladimir Putin has a 70% approval rate, despite the fact that he suppresses political dissent, manipulates the press, and poisons anyone who gets in his way. With the strongman, there is stability and security, and human nature will trade freedom for stability and security every time. He tamed the chaos of post-communist Russia, and the people are more than willing to turn a blind eye to a little oppression in exchange.

Think I'm being condescending towards Iraqis or Russians? Not so fast - I'm painting with a brush much wider. Why do we Americans allow our government to illegally detain accused terrorists, and hold them outside of the Geneva conventions? Why did you vote for a president who legalized torture and authorized warrantless searches of your phone conversations and bank records? How did the architect of the Patriot Act get re-elected?

The answer is simple: because Americans, like Iraqis or Russians or anyone else, look down the barrel of a gun and trade freedom for security faster than you can say "9/11". You did it, the Russians did it, and if we only give the Iraqis a chance, they'll fall into line as well.

Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! - Patrick Henry

Monday, November 20, 2006

I hate football

I wish I understood exactly why I care about football, or sports in general. I have no control over the outcomes of the game, and to become emotionally involved with something that I cannot effect (affect? I never get those two right) seems like a losing proposition. The world is full of incompetent people, overflowing with losers who choke under pressure, and it appears that both types have infected my beloved Philadelphia Eagles.

The defense and special teams were unable to make tackles. The offense was unable to catch passes. The Eagles lost by 18 to one of the worst teams in the league. Donovan McNabb was injured and is gone for the year.

So another season that started with tremendous promise is lost to incompetence and injury.

There is a common thread...Andy Reid's playcalling. Since Jon Gruden left, the offensive playcalling has become nightmarish. Even when the Eagles were winning, they were horrible on 3rd-and-short, and horrible in goalline situations. Their offense was spectacular at times, but has always been inconsistent. They've played poorly in bad weather. With the largest offensive line in the league, and a 260 lb QB, the Eagles should not have these problems.

I give Andy Reid a lot of credit for turning the Eagles around, and building the foundation for a consistently competitive team. But his playcalling frankly sucks. I am not exaggerating with my contention that the Eagles would be 8-2 (and have a healthy McNabb) if I was calling the offensive plays instead of Andy.

The Titans came into the game as the worst team in the NFL against the run. The Eagles lead the league in dropped passes. But in spite of this, in the first half, the Eagles called twice as many pass plays as runs, managing to injure their star QB while falling behind on the scoreboard.

A few glaring examples of incompetence:

3rd and goal from the one, down by 7, early in the game...Eagles pass, INT. I would have called a QB sneak, twice if necessary.

2nd and four at the opponent's 20, down by 4...After driving 40 yards in 5 plays (4 were runs), with their backup QB in the game, the Eagles call two passes. Both incomplete.

1st and ten at the opponent's 40, down by 4...Again, after driving down the field with running plays, the Eagles get pass-happy in the opponent's territory. Incomplete, incomplete, incomplete, 10-yard punt. The Titans would score on the next play.

In the Giant game, the Eagles failed to convert a fourth-and-one that would have ended the game. They at least attempted a run, so I can't blame Reid too much, but I'd have tried a QB sneak. Donovan is their biggest and strongest back.

In the Tampa game, the Eagles could have played conservatively and never been threatened by the completely inept offense of the Bucs, but they passed constantly and had two picks returned for TDs.

In the Saint game, the Eagles again had a second-and-four from the Saints' 40-yard line with the score tied in the fourth quarter. Called pass leads to a sack, and the drive is over. Two running plays will almost surely gain a first down and the winning FG attempt.

In the Jacksonville game, despite wind, rain, and a close score, the Eagles continued to call passes instead of runs.

Note that all of this follows a season in which Andy called twice as many pass plays as runs, and got his star QB injured while compiling a .500 record. Sound familiar? Do you think he'll learn from his mistakes the second time?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Prestigious Trap

Well played, JC and Sherry...well played, indeed. You both convinced me that you enjoyed The Prestige, and I fell headlong into your trap.

The high esteem I hold you both in precludes the possibility that you actually enjoyed such a silly, contrived mess of a plot. A plot where the great illusion, central to the movie, is first achieved by having a secret twin brother who fucks your wife every other night (while you occasionally fuck his mistress), and is then duplicated by a machine that is actually capable of cloning people (in the late 19th century, no less).

Perhaps you enjoyed the unwitting comedy, as I did, of one performer intentionally deceiving his rival by choosing a random 5-letter word ('Tesla') as his cipher, which actually leads him to the man who invents the cloning machine. (The clones, of course, are drowned after every performance with the help of blind stagehands.)

Or perhaps you just fell asleep, as I nearly did, bored to death with the flat, stale characters and their completely unmoving obsession with each other. Perhaps your eyes rolled back into your heads when one rival (un?)intentionally kills the other's wife by tying a double windsor knot instead of a slipknot (even though he never actually remembers tying a double windsor knot), and then they both stand around, helpless, as the oldest and weakest man in the room swings an axe 314 times against the glass before it breaks (instead of using the quick-release lock to open the box.)

But surely you didn't actually enjoy this joke of a film. I know it sounds self-absorbed to imagine that you'd pen a blog entry solely to trick me, but I can't envision any other reason you recommended it.

After days of ruminating over possibilities - turning the trap back on you two, or simply pretending I never saw the movie - I decided to instead go public and give credit where it's due. You laid the trap perfectly, and I stepped right into it. Well played. The fact that Deppen got caught in the collateral damage is surely just a bonus.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Good timing, Mr. Dumbass

Rummy's out. Just in time, Mr. President.

After six years of insisting that he's never been wrong, the Cowboy President finally admitted it today - after his party was kicked in the teeth.

Imagine this: You're the most powerful person in the world, asked on a daily basis to make decisions that affect the future of billions of people, and you don't even realize how hated your pet war has become. How resentful the country, along with the rest of the world, has become of your arrogance. At your disposal is all the money and intelligence of the Republican Party and the U.S. government, and you can't even read a poll. The people around you are so afraid of being cast aside for disloyalty, that they've become a bunch of mindless yes-men who tell you what you want to hear (Republicans will pull off another surprise victory!) instead of the truth.

If Rumsfeld steps down a month ago, and Bush says "We made a lot of mistakes in Iraq, and I hold Rummy accountable for those mistakes, so we're gonna get someone new in there who can fix this thang", or something to that effect, then we still have a Republican Senate today. Instead, the guy torches his own party, and only then does he throw Rumsfeld under the bus.

That's really horrible timing. It's plain stupid. Does he believe he's buying some sort of political goodwill with the Democrats? As if they won't smell even more blood in the water now. I can't think of any logical explanation for it, other than Bush was genuinely surprised by how the election went. That he's been genuinely clueless that his own nation believes he's a liar and a failure. And there is no excuse - none - for the most powerful man in the world to ever be that ignorant and misinformed.

Careful what you wish for

The Democrats took the House last night, and are ever-so-slightly favored to prevail in the Senate as well. I have mixed feelings about the results, as I would have probably preferred split control (I'm all about government gridlock.) If there was any doubt that I'd vote for John McCain in 2008, a fully Democratic congress will remove the last vestige of uncertainty.

The big positive, I hope, is that Bush and Republicans take a message from this election. Stop being the party of corrupt knuckle-draggers, and get back to being the party of small government and lower taxes. Stop focusing on a spiteful right-wing social agenda and start focusing on a right-wing fiscal agenda. While I have little faith in the Democrats to actually accomplish anything with their newfound power, I am (perhaps naively) hoping that this loss will cause the GOP to have a "come to Jesus" moment, where they re-examine their hateful, uncompromising, and miserably failing social platform of the last six years.

But anyway, Dems, while you're in office, let's try to undo some of the damage caused by the Bushies. Here are some ideas for your first 100 days in power:

  • Reinstate the ban on assault weapons, now. I know that deer can be pretty tricky to shoot with high-powered, merely semi-automatic rifles, but a small increase in the deer population is a risk I'm willing to take if it means that criminals won't have AK-47s.
  • Pass a balanced budget bill. Government needs to be smaller.
  • Fund stem cell research. Science > mysticism.
  • Extend (or make permanent) the Bush tax cuts. In six years, he did a single thing right. Let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater.
  • Come up with a new plan for Iraq. I'm not expert enough to know what the right path should be, but I'm smart enough to know that the current path we're on is leading to disaster. Nuke the place, set a timetable to pull out our troops, divide it into three countries...I don't know, but do something different.

Most of all, try to remember this: You got elected because the Bushies strayed too far from the center. You have a chance to claim the center for yourselves now and keep the Republicans on the margins. If you reject that opportunity, and fall back on your liberal leftist leanings, you're going to be on the sidelines, again, in two short years.

Speaking of leftists, Vermont elected a socialist to the Senate. Nice work, idiots. There's a place for intellectual midgets like you, but it's not in this country. Go join the rest of your socialist buddies in the unemployment lines in France. But quit living in my country, the one that's given you the wealth and free time to sip latte in your BMW as you rail against the horrible injustices of free markets.

California voters, at least, did the right thing and rejected both communist propositions on their ballot. Maybe I'll stop referring to them as a communist state now, and welcome them back into the U.S.A. (in place of Vermont, of course.)

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Case Against Faith

Take some time out at work today, or for some of you, time between soap-operas, and read this article about the damage caused by religion.

A couple of teaser quotes for those who aren't motivated enough by my recommendation:

  • It is, of course, taboo to criticize a person's religious beliefs. The problem, however, is that much of what people believe in the name of religion is intrinsically divisive, unreasonable and incompatible with genuine morality.
  • The truth is that President Bush's unjustified religious beliefs about the human soul are, at this very moment, prolonging the scarcely endurable misery of tens of millions of human beings.
  • (and my favorite)We are living in a world in which millions of Christians hope to soon be raptured into the stratosphere by Jesus so that they can safely enjoy a sacred genocide that will inaugurate the end of human history.

Definitely worth a read.

In non-religious news, the new Borat movie is enjoying both critical acclaim and box office success. And although I haven't seen it, so my opinion could change after I actually watch it, I just can't figure out why this joke is so funny. It's the same joke from Candid Camera, and Punk'd, and Ali G, ad nauseum...the let's-pretend-we're-something-we're-not-to-make-some-knucklehead-look-foolish joke. Borat heads South, to our beloved red-state Bible belt, to expose the racism, sexism, religious intolerance, and general stupidity of rodeo attendees and gun-store owners. Maybe I'm in the minority of people who aren't actually shocked by these 'revelations', but I have a hard time imagining an original and witty treatment of this tired material that would keep me entertained for (a refreshingly short) 84-minute running time. There are certain to be some memorable quotes (Borat: What is best gun for killing Jews? Gun store owner: [without missing a beat] That would be a 9mm or .45), but I'm more likely to be embarrassed for humanity in general, and sickened that these slack-jaws can legally vote and carry weapons. And I don't need to pay $8 to feel that way.

And finally, a great Simpsons moment from last night's Halloween episode:

Kang, speaking to Kodos, with a landscape of destruction behind him: "It's been three years since our invasion, and the humans still resent our occupation. You told me that we'd be welcomed as liberators!"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Decision 2006: Kang vs. Kodos

Another election nears, and my level of depression rises as we draw closer. What awaits us on Tuesday? One more farcical exercise in a series of ostentatious failures.

Republicans - the party of fiscal conservatives - have enjoyed control of both houses of Congress and the White House for years, so what rewards have we reaped from their fiscal conservation?

Well, we did get a tax cut, and for that I'll give the Repubs credit. Tax receipts increased, even as tax rates decreased, as predicted by the Laffer Curve.

But federal spending is out of control. This document, while somewhat dated, shows exactly how much of a mess this government has created. And don't use the 9/11 excuse - less than half of all new federal spending goes toward increased defense and homeland security budgets (which would both be lower if we hadn't invaded Iraq under false pretenses, but let's ignore that for now.) 600% increases in dairy subsidies and 500% increases in soybean subsidies aren't supposed to happen under the watchful eye of a conservative president.

So now what is a voter to do? Am I supposed to vote for liberals to solve the government spending crisis? Although the specter of national health care looms with Democratic control, can they really do any worse than the Republicans have done with the Medicare drug plan disaster? Will they more than double the rate of government spending, like Republicans did? Will they continue to increase the spending per household, and spending as a % of GDP?

It feels so helpless to have the answers - let's face it, everyone knows the answers - while knowing that they can never be implemented. Government does not exist to help people, no matter how much they may need it. Government exists to protect personal and property rights. Every entitlement program oversteps the bounds of government and should be eradicated. As children of big government, it's difficult to even fathom the economic benefits we would enjoy from a small, efficient government that focused on its key responsibilities and left everything else alone. Everyone who contributes to society in some way would benefit more from a smaller government than they do from the host of federal handouts they receive - unemployment, social security, Medicare, etc. The economic impact over a lifetime of lower interest rates and a booming economy far outweighs anything a semi-productive person will ever receive from the government.

But looking beyond the assistance check in front of you is a lot to ask of voters. That would require foresight, imagination, perhaps even some research. And God forbid that you'd submit yourself to that frightening array of mental rigors when you could simply check out and vote for something important, like banning gay marriage.

Meanwhile, our neighbor to the west, the Communist State of California, is on the brink of enacting two more Robin Hood taxes, one against tobacco companies and one against oil drillers. Any chance those taxes would get passed on to the consumer, in the form of higher prices? Any chance that businesses would actually cut production rather than pay absurd taxes? That jobs would be lost and tax receipts would eventually drop below current levels as business made less money and fewer people were actually working? (No doubt the businesses will relocate to avoid taxes, like U2.) Californians seem to be moving in the direction of France and its 21% unemployment rate. But don't ask the voters to make intelligent choices about their own futures, they see a big bag of money in someone else's hands and can't wait to get their own grubby mitts on it, consequences be damned.

So get out and vote, and add your powerless voice to mine! Then we'll at least have the right to complain as the dark waters engulf our doomed ship: Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos.