Archive for February, 2010

Friday VC

February 26, 2010 - 11:26 pm Comments Off

You Don’t Lose Your Mule, You Just Lose Your Turn

Me, Jay, Alan, Old NFO, Wee’rd Beard, and Stingray, ostensibly talking about Brady campaign scores, mostly talking about everything else.

I Wanna Be Am The Minority, And So Are You

February 25, 2010 - 5:17 pm Comments Off

Not addressed at any of the comments I got to my last post, but to a certain strain of argument I’ve seen come up repeatedly in issues related to civil rights of all kinds that’s still itching at me. To wit, in response to some variant of “we should grant Annoying Minority Group X this thing because they actually have legitimate point Y”, the following logic:

“We should fight against (thing) because if they get that right they’ll only push further and ask for (series of unreasonable things).”

Which… is true, but that’s not the point. Yes, any minority group will take any victory as a stepping stone to push for more, and that “more” might be completely reasonable or it might be completely unreasonable. That’s human nature; the only reason a given interest group ceases to push for its interests is if it suffers defeat so thorough that all members of that group come down with a collective case of learned helplessness. Even then it has to be really thorough or they’ll bounce back- just ask the Israelis.

The point is that not only is pushing for whatever goals they think are in their interest their right even if they’re wrong about the legitimacy of those goals, this is the fucking American way. This is the way politics in a representative democracy is conducted; people form coalitions based around their interests, no matter what you or me or anyone thinks about whether those interests are good or bad things, and they push those interests and do their best to make sure their point of view is represented. Not only do various squeaky minority groups that annoy me and I disagree with, like the whiny Christian fundamentalists from the last post, have a right to exist and do what they do, I’m a member of squeaky minority groups that other people wish would shut up too. In terms of, say, gun rights, I’m way the hell over on a tail of the bell curve when it comes to what I think should be legal and what restrictions on second Amendment rights I think are legitimate. The Brady Gang, who I wish would shut up and stop trying, really wishes people like me and other 2A advocates would shut up and stop trying. Not gonna happen in either case, and both of us have goals a randomly selected centrist American would probably regard as completely unreasonable. I personally think my goals and principles are completely grounded in reason and can explain why at boring length- but until I can get enough or the right people to agree with me, we’re probably not going to see Alaska-style gun laws in Chicago.

More than that, there’s something fundamentally unsound about basing your civil-rights argument on what an annoying minority might try for rather than whether or not they have a legitimate point. A society in which we have serious political debates about affirmative action, racial profiling, and Ebonics is a far healthier society than one in which we have serious political debates about segregation and Jim Crow laws precisely BECAUSE the former arguments are more trivial and ridiculous than the latter, which represented a serious abuse and violation of the political ideals outlined in our founding. I’m sure Al Sharpton would never have had his career as a race-baiting profiteer if we’d never desegregated- but it doesn’t follow that that was therefore a bad thing.

If you would put aside values like individual liberties and equality before the law aside in favor of political strategy, you don’t really have values at all so much as you’re playing a team sport with national consequences. It’s one thing if you think collective benefit trumps individual liberties and equality of outcome should be favored over equality of opportunity- that is at least a conflict of values rather than an opportunistic discarding of values in order to make sure the “right” people win or lose. If you find yourself doing this, I suggest you either examine your conscience or switch your focus to the inconsequential team sport of your choice in order to spare the rest of us from serious consequence.

In any case, I find the easiest way to marginalize the more outlandish goals of annoying squeaky minorities is to ruthlessly starve them of legitimate grievances.

They're Coming To Get You, Barbara!

February 23, 2010 - 9:52 pm Comments Off

Seems some folks are really upset that some people are getting gay into their conservative cake, and that it’s all the fault of those nasty libertarians. To wit:

California Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chairman Ryan Sorba generated a media controversy when he was shown at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) denouncing the organizers for inviting a homosexual Republican group, GOProud, into the event as an official sponsor. In “controversial” remarks, Sorba said homosexuality was unnatural and that he welcomed more debate and discussion about the subject from his political adversaries.

But what many people don’t realize is that Sorba’s “outburst” was provoked by a speaker who preceded him, Alexander McCobin of Students For Liberty (SFL). McCobin went out of his way to use valuable time from the podium to thank the American Conservative Union, the main CPAC organizer, for making the controversial decision to approve GOProud’s participation.

Actually, what Sorba said specifically was that homosexual sex is not reproductive, which is not natural, therefore gays don’t have natural rights because they’re based on what “natural human behavior” is, and civil rights that conflict with this conception of natural rights shouldn’t exist. In that case I damn well hope he was booed down, because that’s such a tortured construction of natural rights that it should offend any principled conservative. For starters, under such a definition my civil right to use birth control to prevent sequential pregnancy shouldn’t exist either- and a conservative pastor’s right to tell teenagers they shouldn’t be getting it on and popping out babies is also at issue, given that it’s natural in terms of human history to become reproductive at around thirteen.

Sorba said the negative reaction he got from some in the CPAC audience came from those in libertarian and pro-Ron Paul groups whose purpose is “to infiltrate the conservative movement and take it over from within.”

Well, yes. And from where I’m sitting, I sure as hell hope they succeed. But the point that Sparky seems to be missing here, possibly because the whole natural-rights brouhaha reveals he has as much familiarity with the history and philosophical roots of conservatism in America as he does Aboriginal rain rituals, is that his bunch did the exact same thing. The religious right is a relatively young force in conservatism; they became a movement in the eighties, organized groups like Falwell’s moral majority, and did exactly what Sorba’s bleating about here: gained a such a significance in the Republican party and movement conservatism that for decades they could not be ignored. The damn dirty libertarians have a hell of a lot more in common with Barry Goldwater’s conservatism than Mike Huckabee’s. That’s the nature of American politics; the tent is big, contains several factions struggling for influence, and none of them own conservatism, or liberalism for that matter. To Goldwater conservatives, these people aren’t trying to take over conservatism from the inside, they’re trying to take it back. It’s almost like this kind of cycle is somehow natural in movements or something.

“We have our work cut out for us, between the media and the libertarian student movement that supports sodomy. We are going to organize a huge turnout of socially conservative youth next year, to offset the libertarian slide that CPAC has taken.”

Given the demographics, good luck with that, chief. But seriously, they’re perfectly free and within their rights to do so- just like the libertarians are.

In fact, GOProud’s commitment to constitutionally protected homosexual sodomy (i.e., anal intercourse) is not a position that appears on the agenda of any conservative groups. Hence, using the term “gay conservative” to describe these people is either a deliberate deception or an oxymoron that doesn’t stand up under scrutiny.

Only if you define the opinion that it’s none of the government’s or Ryan Sorbo’s goddamn business what consenting adults do with each other- and when it comes to sodomy, that includes a hell of a lot of straight couples- is inherently unconservative. Others of us would assert that the position that a great many things are not the government’s business, with this being merely one issue on a very long list, is an inherently more conservative position.

These “radical regimes,” such as the Christian-dominated government in Uganda, are trying to prevent the spread of AIDS and protect traditional moral values by toughening laws against homosexuality.

Death is a pretty tough sentence, yes. Apparently it is also conservative to approve of targeted genocide in the name of traditional values.

GOProud also says it wants to “defend the Constitution” in the U.S. by “Opposing any anti-gay federal marriage amendment.” It doesn’t explain how protecting the country against out-of-control judges legalizing gay marriage without a vote of the people is unconstitutional.

Oh, those radical judges, going around overturning laws the court thinks are “unconstitutional”. It’s almost like they think that’s their role in government or something. Curse this creeping liberalization! The whole thing started to go to hell at Marbury v. Madison, I tell you.

David Barton of Wallbuilders, whose knowledge about the moral foundations of America has been cited and recognized by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, points out that the founding fathers regarded homosexual sodomy as a crime against nature and believed it should be outlawed and punished severely. Indeed, Barton cites a case in which General George Washington himself authorized the expulsion of a solder from the army for sodomy.

The Founders also were pretty much okay with slavery, being human beings congruent with their times and not moral and philosophical superbeings, after all. Liberals accuse conservatives of wanting to bring this particular bit of old-school back, and reading stuff like this I’m not entirely sure I can accuse them of being totally off the wall.

McCobin’s CPAC remarks consisted of the following: “In the name of freedom, I would like to thank the American Conservative Union for welcoming GOProud as a co-sponsor of this event, not for any political reason but for the message it sends….Students today recognize that freedom does not come in pieces. Freedom is a single thing that applies to the social as well as the economic realms and should be defended at all times.”

That subversive bastard.

Asked to explain where Students For Liberty stands on the major social issues, McCobin told me that his group doesn’t take “policy stances” on such issues as abortion and illegal drug use.

But it does apparently believe that government should protect and promote the right to practice homosexuality.

This guy has a serious issue with conflating government not banning something with actively promoting it. He reminds me of the leftist nanny-staters that want to ban trans-fats and punish smoking with forty lashes. I demand he and everyone who agrees with him be kicked out of conservatism immediately.

He’s right. The libertarians are coming to get conservatism, and if a majority of other conservatives agree that fiscal conservatism and individual liberty are mayhap more important, more coherent values, and more crucial to defining acceptable alliances than writing into law who can fuck whom and why, then maybe they deserve to get it. I certainly think so.

We are coming to get you, Ryan, and Cliff. And we’re bringing our friends. But I really wouldn’t flatter yourself they’re interested in doing more with your ass than kicking it.

What She Said

February 23, 2010 - 8:26 pm Comments Off

Holly Pervocracy has an excellent post shredding a misogynist douchebag blogging at Psychology Today’s site. I started to write “mysteriously” blogging at Psychology Today, but they’ve been pretty much completely taken over by the status-quo just-so’s for awhile now, and cannot fairly be called science journalism anymore. Money quote from Holly’s post:

I agree that human behavior is evolved, but I believe that we evolved into humans. If we still had the hierarchies and behaviors of apes on the savannah, we’d be apes on the savannah. (Also, even apes are often more complex than Kanazawa assumes.) It’s like saying “dolphins are descended from land creatures with legs, therefore dolphins have legs.” And the idea that men are harem-keeping sperm machines and women are antler-contest-judging baby machines is some serious dolphin legs.

I am totally stealing “dolphin legs” as a metaphor when I rant about this brand of bullshit in the future. Read the whole thing.

Good Fences Make Livable Dogs

February 22, 2010 - 7:05 pm Comments Off

Sorry I don’t have much clever or interesting or just splenetic to say. Last week the dogs broke out of the fence, which they accomplished by reaching under the fence at a rabbit scrape and physically yanking the planks off. This was not the first time, but it will be the last, which means that until we fix the fence up right, they cannot be outside unless supervised. “Right” has yet to be defined, since we’re trying to figure out how to make this specific point of exit more difficult without a major construction project or constant maintenance problem.

This is a problem because the dogs love being outside. Kodos would be entirely happy LIVING outside if it weren’t that the best vantage points were here in the office and his occasional desire for affection. I do not love being outside when it’s winter and the yard is a mix of mud, slush, and solid sheets of ice, but they do. Today, it is snowing, and they both LOVE snow and thus want to be outside all day. There is a period of roughly twenty minutes to half an hour after a spell outside (with me sourly watching them eat snow and hump each other’s heads) in which they sleep, after which they revert to sighing heavily, desultorily orbiting from the office to the kitchen to the living room to the dining room and back through the office, and generally leaping up and reminding me how awesome it would be to be outside right now every time I move. Actually, strike that, it’s been ten minutes since their last trip outside, and Kodos took five minutes to meditate on his bed before returning to ownersynchronous orbit.

Hanging around with cold wet feet (my boots are disintegrating, and while proper new ones are on the way, no doubt they will not arrive until the final storm of the year has passed) while snow accumulates in my hair is not an inspiring experience for me. It might have been just toe-curlingly awesome for Robert Frost, but I have concluded I am a warm-weather and indoor sort of writer.

In conclusion that is why there is no meaningful content today.

Friday VC

February 19, 2010 - 2:29 pm Comments Off

Hey look, it’s a bunch of idiots of questionable sobriety shooting their mouths off! And we’re two of them again!

Vicious Circle 39

Don’t click those links at work. Seriously consider if you want to click on them at all.

Look There, Not Here

February 18, 2010 - 6:43 pm Comments Off

New stuff on Paladin Pants that has a fair amount of relevance outside the context of the game. Preparing for a Vicious Circle now.

Here? Um…. come back tomorrow.

Because I Really *Don't* Have Something Better To Think About

February 17, 2010 - 3:01 pm Comments Off

So, by now the internet has reacted in its usual frenzy of contradictory action after director Kevin Smith (of whom I am mostly a fan) was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for allegedly violating their “customer of size” policy, which is no doubt known to employees under some variant of the “flying whale” policy.

Southwest apologized. Smith wants more than that, he wants them to admit they were in the wrong. He says he had the armrests down and his seatbelt buckled and was therefore fine, but the policy actually says:

Customers who are unable to lower both armrests and/or who compromise any portion of adjacent seating should proactively book the number of seats needed prior to travel.

The flight attendant responsible says it was a “judgement call”. I would bet money that the part of the policy he supposedly violated fell under that second and/or rather than the armrests and seatbelts thing. Smith’s a big guy, but he’s not anywhere near morbidly obese- but on the other hand *I’m* not obese, I’m much shorter than him, and on some airliners I’m pretty near the boundaries of that comfortable part.

I sympathize with Smith. Those seats really are on the tiny side, and that had to have been epically humiliating, as I’m sure it would be to anyone at all on the wrong side of the policy- especially when you don’t really need to be all that fat to cross the lines as dictated by the standard. I’ve seen a fair amount of opinionating that the policy itself should be scrapped as inhumane.

At the same time, though, space on a passenger jet is incredibly valuable per square inch. It’s why the seats are so tiny to begin with- profit margins are getting thinner and thinner for airline corporations, and it’s an easy place to try and ride the razor edge. Not only is it very much a nontrivial cost for that airliner to absorb to give an extra seat for the price of a single seat to someone large enough to need it, the passengers adjacent to one overflowing into other seats paid for their space too. I know before the introduction of policies like this, I was sometimes forced to share up to a third of my seat with someone else because they were too physically large for their own. Aside from being a horrid experience for someone with as much sense of personal space as I have, it was also, effectively, being cheated out of something I had paid for.

Airlines are not public transportation, and no one has a right to cheap air travel. It really sucks for those affected by the policy, but I can’t see a good solution here.

As for Southwest, they have made the fatal mistake of pissing off a man with a massive audience. I wish them and the hapless flight attendant, who regardless of her rightness or wrongness was simply doing her job, luck.

Starbucks Support Day? Really?

February 16, 2010 - 11:16 am Comments Off

I’m all down with showing the love to companies who don’t treat gun owners like pariahs (and how sad is it that simple civility is the gold standard?), but this “chat up the barista about your heater” notion is the stupidest thing I’ve heard outside an Obama press conference. Breda covers it nicely. Ignoring the fact that by going to Starbucks you’re buying what is either the worst coffee in the world, just made standardized, or the most embarrassing caffeine delivery system ever, I wonder how often the conversation is going to go more like this than whatever “Baristas make policy” version went through the heads of whoever came up with this….

Customer McHeatertoter: “Please know I’m here because firearm owners across the country want to show Starbucks our appreciation for your decision not to ostracize customers who own and carry guns.”

Minimum Wage Counterjockey: “Ohmigod! You have a gun! Are you robbing me!?”

CMcH: “What? No, I just wanted you to know that gun owners– ”

MWC: “Don’t hurt me! I can’t open the safe! Brad is the manager because he showed up on time for three weeks straight but he’s out back taking the trash out and I can give you a pastry if you don’t hurt me and ohmigodidontwanttodie!”

CMcH: “You don’t understand, I’m thanking Starbucks on behalf of gun owners who carry”

MWC: “*blubbering* And I only got this job because my parents said a music major didn’t mean they’d keep refilling my iTunes card every week and I don’t have the keys to the safe but Brad forgets them a lot too please don’t hurt me mister why isn’t anyone helping me oh god I don’t want to die please mister!”

CMcH: “But I’m here because I like your policies about–”

MWC: “I DON’T MAKE POLICY I MAKE SHITTY COFFEE PLEASE DON’T KILL ME I CAN’T OPEN THE REGISTER!”

CMcH: “…I’ll just go now.”

MWC: “Oh thank God! Thank you for not hurting me oh thank God I swear I won’t call the police oh thank you I don’t want to die!”
….
….
Brad: “Hello, Police?”

Mayhaps a letter to the regional offices might be more effective?

Job Interview vs. Job

February 15, 2010 - 5:04 pm Comments Off

So it seems the White House response to lions and plummeting polls and ship-jumping Democrats, oh my, is going to be to revamp communications. In general I think their taking a look at how they communicate with the public would be a good idea, especially when it comes to replacing the smarmy little wormsucker currently communicating via making childish jokes ripped off from others in order to take potshots at political opponents that aren’t even holding any kind of office, but it turns out that’s not what they have in mind. What they have in mind is having Obama talk even more, because Christ knows he doesn’t do enough speeches.

The messaging adjustments are the result of an end-of-the-year analysis in which White House advisers said the president’s communications team had not taken the initiative often enough and had allowed drawn-out debates in Congress, and relentless criticism by Republicans, to drown out his message.

“It was clear that too often we didn’t have the ball — Congress had the ball in terms of driving the message,” communications director Dan Pfeiffer said. “In 2010, the president will constantly be doing high-profile things to be the person driving the narrative.”

Here’s a narrative: having debates is part of the function of Congress, and being the opposition to things they are opposed to is the function of minority parties. The Republicans are ALLOWED to vocally disagree with Democrats, and with the administration. They wouldn’t be doing their jobs properly if they weren’t. The same thing was true of Democrats from 2000-2008, however convenient it would have been for Bush and the Republicans if they’d just rolled over and gone along with things.

Here’s something they’re desperately trying to leave out of the narrative, which is that there’s a Democrat in the White House and a huge majority of Democrats in Congress. If nothing is getting done, it’s not because of Republicans, it’s because of Democrats. And if they’re spending all this time debating rather than delivering a nice tied up package of hopefully changed health care and job stimulus and budget reform, it’s because they’re having a really hard time coming up with something that a sufficient number of them can vote for without getting booted the hell out of their jobs this fall- which is the fault of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and if he wanted “his” Congress to deliver “his” agenda, Barack Obama. If you want to lead, you have to lead, not just stand at the head of the parade.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that they understand that.

First, they said, is a return to the disciplined messaging that was a hallmark of the 2008 campaign, in which unhelpful themes were filtered out in favor of topics that advanced the candidate’s goals. In the White House, they said, that will mean a tighter focus on Obama’s commitment to the economy and jobs for average Americans. “The threshold for things he will go out and talk about is higher,” one senior aide said.

EARTH TO OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: THE CAMPAIGN IS OVER. THE CAMPAIGN IS WHAT YOU DID TO GET THE JOB, NOT THE JOB ITSELF. WHAT WORKED FOR CAMPAIGNING WILL NOT WORK FOR GOVERNING.

In order to accomplish a policy agenda, you have to legislate, not message. It is IMPOSSIBLE to turn to Congress and go, “Deliver for me comprehensive health care reform that eases the burden on the American taxpayer and creates a stronger safety net for the people currently falling through the cracks, and do not let the special interests have a say.”, and have that actually occur. In order for Congress to legislate policy, they have to come up with a big passel of specific little laws written in boring language, and they have to get a whole bunch of people to agree to it, even a bunch of the people wearing the same initial on their team letter jackets. Negotiating is part of the legislative branch of our system, and like it or not, lobbyists are a huge part of the negotiation system. You can’t just say “let’s not do that anymore”, you have to actually wade in and provide a more convincing alternative, as well as convincing consequences for falling into old bad habits.

This is something that Lyndon Johnson, a Democratic president that actually DID accomplish a lot of sweeping social legislation, understood- he was a veteran of twisting arms and scratching backs on the floors of Congress and understood on a deep level how to get his priorities accomplished come hell or high water. So, for that matter, did George W. Bush- who accomplished a lot more with a much smaller majority during a similar period in office. I don’t approve of much of what either man did, but the fact remains they knew how to do it, and it wasn’t “give more speeches”.

What I think the administration doesn’t understand is that even with the abysmal state of the public education system, the American people understand that there’s a big difference between what the President says and what Congress actually does- and that it’s Congress’s job to actually do the doing when it comes to domestic policy and the President’s to attempt to lead the agenda. It’s not as though we don’t have a long-established cultural tradition of ingrained skepticism of politicians- or that we haven’t been through coming up on ten years of a deep-seated contempt for Congress, as reflected in the polls. It wasn’t just George W. Bush that caused that skepticism, and being not-Bush won’t change it.

All the news that comes in from reporting on the actual bills, and the results of them, suggests ugly legislative sausage-making on a grand scale, which feeds very strongly into that pre-existing suspicion. If the public- and for that matter Congressional Democrats- are disagreeing with the message, it’s not because of Republicans and it’s not because of the length of the debate. It’s because the message doesn’t match observable reality. Reiterating the message more and more often in ever more querulous tones won’t restore credibility, just continue to reinforce the impression of an administration not truly in control and not understanding that it’s not.

Campaigns are about convincing that you will do, and do well, enough to get a chance to do it. Governing is about doing. Talking about what you want to do counts for just as much as wishing on a star if there’s never any do, and being the head of state of the United States of America contains no tasks other than press conferences that don’t require a lot of effort. This is the difference, and the public understands it well.