Friday, October 31, 2008

Treason vs. patriotic dissent

1. Violation of allegiance toward one's country or sovereign, especially the betrayal of one's country by waging war against it or by consciously and purposely acting to aid its enemies.
2. A betrayal of trust or confidence

1. To differ in opinion or feeling; disagree.
2. To withhold assent or approval.
1. Difference of opinion or feeling; disagreement.
2. The refusal to conform to the authority or doctrine of an established church; nonconformity.
3. Law A justice's refusal to concur with the opinion of a majority, as on a higher court. Also called dissenting opinion.

--The American Heritage Dictionary

There is a rather large difference between treason and dissent, a difference that has been ignored for the past forty years or so; basically, since the conflict in Vietnam, the two have been treated the same. Neither dissent, which must not be punished, nor treason which should be, has been punished since World War II.

Granted, war has not been formally declared since WWII; however, treason is not just aiding and abetting enemies during a time of war. Treason is also aiding and abetting enemies during any time, because we never know when a relatively quiet tension will erupt into full fledged war.

So, what is the difference?

Dissent is when patriotic, conscientious objectors hold peaceful demonstrations to protest the actions of the government. Dissent is when artists, singers, actors, and directors use their craft to demonstrate why they think the actions of the government are wrong. We see this all the time in the United States, and while some wish these protestors would shut up, we all agree that (and are thankful for) these people have the right to express their opinions.

A notable example of dissent through art is the war protest songs of the 1960s. Dylan and others built careers on their disagreement with the government regarding Vietnam. Another notable example, one that’s less acceptable since the opinion was expressed overseas, was the Dixie Chicks’ statement that they were ashamed of being from the same state as the sitting president with whom they disagreed.

The right to dissent without fear of official reprisal is one of the foundations that the United States was built on. Dissent isn’t, should not be, and must never be punished by law…individual choices not to purchase the goods produced by dissenters, however, is its own form of dissent, and should never be forced (as in, the Dixie Chicks’ complaints about their listeners getting so upset that they’ve quit buying albums).

Treason, on the other hand, is something far different. Where dissent is disagreement, treason is betrayal. Betrayal of nation, betrayal of Commander in Chief. Betrayal must be punished, both to prevent the individual from committing treason again, and to deter others from treasonous acts.

There are several notable acts of treason that have been committed, both during Vietnam and during the intervening years. One of the more famous acts of treason that was committed during Vietnam is the photo op with Jane Fonda sitting on a Viet Cong anti-aircraft gun. Or Fonda visiting POW camps, and handing letters home the soldiers passed to her to their Viet Cong jailors—which, by the way, brought about more beatings and torture.

Fonda has never been punished, despite the fact that she clearly gave aid and comfort to the enemy killing our soldiers.

During the Cold War, certain members of our United States senate approached the Soviet Union and offered to sell them intelligence.

More recently, Sean Penn visited Hussein’s Iraq, following in Fonda’s footsteps with regards to spreading enemy propaganda and helping to put our troops in harm’s way.

While actors and senators aiding and abetting the enemies of the United States is bad, actively putting soldiers and civilians alike in harm’s way, the above treasonous acts put the individuals committing them into the category of “useful idiots.” While they have committed the crime, it is, with the exception of Fonda’s involvement with the Viet Cong, on the misdemeanor level. There have been far more serious instances, even more recently, of treasonous acts—the undermining of a sitting president’s international negotiations—committed by a presidential candidate.

Earlier this month, news stories detailing a meeting between one of the presidential candidates and the Iraqi foreign minister alleged that the candidate urged the foreign minister to put off making any sort of deal until the next administration took over.

On the surface, this seems like fairly sound advice: after all, no one knows yet who is going to head the next administration, or what their policies will entail. However, if one reads between the lines, the candidate was implying that he would definitely be the next president, and that his administration would not honor any deals or treaties negotiated by the sitting president.

Clearly, this is an attempt to undermine the sitting Commander in Chief. Clearly, this falls under both definitions of “treason.” This should not—must not—be tolerated.

And that man, Barack Hussein Obama, should be disbarred from the presidential race, removed from the senate, and punished for his crime to the fullest extent of the law.

However, it’s certain that he will not be held accountable for his treasonous act.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

About time.

The Vatican is instituting further psychological screening during seminary to attempt to weed out possible pedophiles before they reach the priesthood.

It's about time. Why hadn't they added more earlier?

Wow. Just--wow.

A woman in Texas bought a home at a foreclosure auction. Then she gave it back to the woman who'd lost it in the foreclosure.

Wow. That's definitely a hero, right there. This is what we should all aspire to be like.

Just another effect of "global warming."

Upstate New York is still digging out from under the foot of snow that fell on them earlier in the week. According to the power company up there, there's some 40,000 that still don't have power.

Florida's experiencing record lows, as well.

Ironically, London had a snowstorm during a parliamentary debate over global warming legislation--the first October snowstorm since 1922.

Switzerland had a record snowstorm that briefly delayed the trains. According to their records, which stretch back to 1931, this snowstorm dumped the most of any October snowstorm, beating out the previous record of 14 cm, set in 1939, by 6 cm. To those of us that still use the old systems of measurements, they received 8 inches of snow.

The next time someone, other than one of my students who don't know any better, suggests that we need to "stop global warming before the flooding from rising ocean levels kills us all," I am going to slap the snot out of them.

I hate winter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Federal court fails to protect children once again.

A Missouri federal court has ruled against the law Governor Matt Blunt signed into law in June to prevent sex offenders from having contact with children on Halloween.

Somehow, an order to remain inside the home with exterior lights off and a "No Candy Here" sign posted is too vague to be enforceable. And the judge in question who so ruled really had to stretch to find anything to rule against, too.

Of course, Missouri is appealing the decision, but Halloween is only a few days away. There may not be time to get it overturned.

Watch for little kids getting hurt as a result of that judge's decision to treat the offender as a victim, and the potential victims as meaningless.


Prince Charles has gone on record saying that climate change is a bigger crisis than the economic problems the whole world is facing.

By climate change, he means human caused global warming.

Unless he's defining "warming" as "temperatures dropping" in a case of Orwellian double-think, he's way out of touch.

I don't think we're looking at warming. I don't think that's what's causing near record cold and early snow in the Carolinas, and early nor'easters combining with the lake effect to put snow on the ground from Pennsylvania to New York.

However, while the global warming comment undeniably makes him an idiot, it's claiming that it's a bigger crisis than the economic problems that puts him past idiot into "Oh God, how can he breathe on his own with a brain that tiny?" territory.

Granted, I know I'm a bit nation-centric where global policy is concerned, but the world's economies really are linked with ours. And when our consumer confidence is in a flat dive to the point that oil prices are falling on projected demand despite OPEC's continuous threats to cut production, and experts are saying that the worst may be yet to come--for the whole world--Prince Charles looks like an even bigger idiot.

What do they think causes the guilt?

Scientists doing research have posited that it's not religion but guilt that makes people "good." They've come to the conclusion that it's the idea of a higher authority watching us that keeps us from doing wrong.

Well, duh. Religion gives us a set of rules, of moral absolutes of right and wrong. It's when we abandon the absolutes--when we turn toward moral relativism--that we have events like this.

Occasionally, one religion's moral absolutes are in opposition to another's. For example, the Christian bible says "But whoever is a cause of trouble to one of these little ones who have faith in me, it would be better for him to have a great stone fixed to his neck, and to come to his end in the deep sea." I can think of nothing that causes more trouble to children than sexual abuse; however, Muslims see things differently, often marrying prepubescent or barely pubescent girls, and consummating by force.

The Christian religion says "Thou shalt not kill;" Islam justifies killing unbelievers in the name of Allah, and promises paradise for any who die in jihad.

However. Despite these clashes, both Christians and Muslims are directed to care for the poor. The devout of both religions do--there is no one more charitable than a truly faithful Muslim or Christian, because such is the way to heaven, and their God is watching. No one is less likely to commit a crime than one who believes his or her God is watching and judging their actions.

No one feels guilt more intensely than someone who's done wrong while their God is watching. Thus, while guilt avoidance is the motivator for good works, nothing prompts individuals to feel it more than a strong belief in religion. After all, when moral absolutes are what the individual feels bound by, there is no higher authority than one's God.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why not? It worked--and works--for Russia.

Iran is arming "liberation armies" in the Middle East. In other words, they're pursuing the same type of proxy wars, with us and with Israel, as Russia used to, and is beginning to again, pursue with us.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sociocultural mores and codes of conduct

"Thou shalt not kill." --Exodus 20:13

Levitican law, for the most part, is directly related to hygiene and health; however, there are some odd laws that, when compared with others, don't seem to make as much sense. For instance, it dictates to the Jews that they are not to boil the flesh of a lamb in the milk of its mother.

Yes, it seems a bit out of place amongst laws such as the one forbidding individuals from touching corpses without elaborate cleansing rituals that, upon modern analysis, are nothing more than elaborate isolation and decontamination. If one only looks at the practical.

In fact, the God of the Hebrews was setting up something entirely new: a culture that valued life. This culture of life is what shaped all Judeo-Christian cultures in general, and Western cultures in specific.

I can think of one major illustration of the effects of the Judeo-Christian/Western culture of life: modern health care. The health care system in the United States, in specific, is a major illustration of the difference between the culture of life, and what I will term the culture of death: basically, a culture that doesn't value life--the opposite of what the odder laws in Leviticus were trying to set up.

Modern American health care systems are dedicated to preserving life, and the quality of life. It's here that research is done that permits new cancer-fighting treatments to be developed, that permits new life-extending therapeutic drugs (such as cholesterol medications, high blood pressure medications, anti-senility medications, etc.) to be developed, that permits treatments for terminal illnesses (such as HIV/AIDS) to be developed. Our doctors and hospitals, though expensive, are some of the best in the world. Our Intensive Care Units have an extremely high survival rate. Our Neo-natal Intensive Care Units have developed resources to save the lives of infants that certainly would have died as few as ten years ago--infants born with heart defects, lung problems, or simply too early to have survived. In fact, our NICUs can offer babies born as early as 23 weeks--that's a little less than six months' gestation--a 50% chance of survival.

It's here, in the United States, and in modern health care and hospitals, that we can see the sharpest differentiation between the culture of life and the culture of death.

Some states have passed assisted suicide laws: laws permitting doctors to euthanize terminally ill patients that request it. Many doctors refuse to perform such a "service," but are required to refer their patients to a doctor that will in the name of "quality of life." In other words, since the terminally ill patient has no chance at survival (at least, in their opinion, and with current medical technology), and they're in pain, their life is no longer worth living. They prefer to "die with dignity."

Those states illustrate one aspect of the culture of death. In fact, they lag behind some countries in Europe, where the terminally ill patient and their families are not consulted before the doctor euthanizes the patient. Typically, these nations have "single-payer health care" systems, where the more expensive to treat patients seldom get the treatment they need because of the expense.

In 1973, a law was passed that permitted a woman to have an abortion at her discretion--basically, infanticide before the baby is even outside of the womb. Of course, most of the time, the baby is perfectly healthy. The "quality of life" that matters in this case is that of the woman who chose to have sex, and doesn't want to live with the consequences.

Sometimes, the baby survives the procedure. In those cases, depending on the state, the hospital or clinic, the doctors, and (sometimes) the woman, the living baby is left to die, even though it's entirely possible that the baby could survive with prompt, or even not-so-prompt, NICU medical assistance. Sometimes, the baby is left exposed on cold tile floors until he or she simply freezes to death. Sometimes they're deliberately murdered by the doctor performing the abortion.

Some states have passed laws that ensure that if a baby does survive, and could survive with treatment, that treatment must not be withheld. The federal government has passed similar laws, despite the opposition of those that don't want to burden the woman who carried the baby with a child. Some of the opposition believe that, since the woman paid for a dead baby, she should get the dead baby she paid for.

The states that permit the unwanted babies to be left to die still lag behind many countries in Europe which refuse treatment to premature infants born earlier than 27-30 weeks, wanted or unwanted, because they're too expensive to treat.

The differences between the culture of life and the culture of death are nowhere so starkly illustrated as between the United States and Europe, and between the Western cultures and the rest of the world. The sharpest, most poignant illustration is in how we care for our sick, and our helpless. The most rewarding illustration is heroic efforts of the NICU staffs to ensure survival of as many babies as they can, and to improve the survival rate in the United States for infants born so very early.

I'm thankful to live in the United States, and in a Christian conservative area in the Midwest. Though I've been thankful for that all of my life, my gratitude increased with the premature birth of my son, and his subsequent excellent care in our local hospital's NICU. If he'd been born in certain parts of the world, he wouldn't have survived the nearly three weeks he's been alive outside the womb, much less thrived as much as he has. I have the Judeo-Christian culture of life to thank for that, and God to thank for setting it up nearly four thousand years ago.


Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has admitted that he made a mistake. When I first read the headline, my initial response was "Finally!"

Until I read the article. Then I found out that he doesn't see what he did wrong--he's only parroting leftist talking points that he'd assumed the market would work, and wrongly opposed regulatng it.

At least he also said that "onerous regulation" would have stifled the unprecedented growth we've seen over the past couple of decades.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

FBI screw ups and abuses

I ran across two rather unflattering stories about the FBI today.  

In a blatant case of PC bending over backwards to a) avoid offending a minority, and probably b) to avoid making Americans suspect Muslims of being unenlightened, the FBI removed the term "honor killing" at the request of "some Muslims [who] have objected to the term ... because they say it attaches a religious motive to a crime, which could lead to discrimination against Muslims."

According to the girls' own family, it was a murder done on a religious motive: Papa killed his daughters for dating non-Muslim boys, and acting "too Western."

Officials stated that the term hadn't been removed for political considerations, but because the term hadn't been legally defined.

The PC Police strike again: as the girls' aunt noted, the FBI will label a suspected hate crime, but not a crime based on different cultural mores.

I have no complaints about FBI agents going undercover to investigate criminal organizations.  I have no sympathy with drug dealers and thieves.  However.  They did, in one instance related to this case, go too far.

They've asked for an injunction to "seize the Mongols' trademarked name ... If the order is approved, any Mongol would no longer be able to wear a jacket or ride a bike with the gang's name. ... 'It would allow law enforcement to seize the leather jackets right off their back.'"

This strikes me as a distinct abuse of the First Amendment: this is denying these individuals their freedoms of speech and free association.  Not only that, but the government seizure of a trademarked name also strikes me as a distinct abuse of property rights, even if that property is intellectual rather than actual.  

In all actuality, the RICO laws used to bust this gang go much farther, and are more prone to abuses, than the Patriot Act.  If a good ACLU lawyer (as in skilled, not character) gets involved, the FBI and government will likely lose their case.

Another disgustingly short sentence...

A mother is given only 18 months in prison for prostituting her daughter.

Granted, the daugher is 17 years old, but I'd bet that this was the first time she got caught, not the first time it happened.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I don't know how people come up with this stuff. First they say calling Obama "skinny" is a code word for "black." Now, they say "socialist" is.

Last time I checked, neither word was a code for "black." All calling Obama "skinny" meant is that, in a nation where the majority is overweight or obese, he stands out because he's, well, skinny. Socialist is a bit more negative, though: a socialist is a communist is an anti-capitalist. Calling Obama socialist is naming his policies, not his color, despite the examples cited in the Diuguid piece.

I hate to say it, but each and every one of the black activists named in that piece were socialist, to some extent; some were downright communist. Calling them socialist had nothing to do with their color, nor their desire for equality, but had everything to do with their "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs" politics.


Obama was trying for a Dick Cheney with his veep choice, but got a Dan Quayle, instead.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jefferson had a good answer for this with the way he dealt with the Barbary Coast.

The pirates around Somalia have been much in the news, lately; recent stories have told readers that the pirates have released a Thai vessel whose ransom had been paid, and that the world at large has no idea how to handle the problem.

I have a suggestion.

After America won Independence, we faced an issue from which we'd been sheltered before, first by the British navy, then, during the war, the French: the pirates of the Barbary Coast. The pirates demanded a yearly payment, or else they'd take ships for ransome, or maybe sell their crews into slavery.

From the first, Jefferson advocated fighting: he attempted to put together America's first coallition of the willing to take on the pirates. He failed, not least because America's presidents prefered to pay the tribute.

In short, once Jefferson got into office, he carried out his plan unilaterally: he sent our navy to the Barbary Coast to rescue the sailors from a taken vessel, which had been burned by one of its officers rather than allow it to fall into the pirates' hands. The marines aboard fought hard, and all the way to the palace in the middle of town (hence, the line, "to the shores of Tripoli" in the Marine's Hymn).

Thus, the threat to American shipping was broken.

Thus, someone should do with (and to) the Somali pirates.

Heh. Good luck getting that done.

Is this like "Russian troops are moving out of Georgia"?

Putin's deputy recently stated that Russia won't attack their neighbors. Oh, and that it has no claim over its previous sattellites.

I'll believe that when I believe that the government is the best agency to do anything underbudget, on time, or with any type of efficiency.

Actually, on second though, I'm willing to believe that they mean what they say, for now. I think they'd rather mess with us in our own back yard. They are, and have been for a while, selling arms to Venezuela, a nation hostile to us, in a bid to use Chavez as a puppet, and Venezuela as a proxy to keep some safe distance between their poor troops and equipment and us, since we have more than just an edge on them in quality.

Unfortunately for us, their military does outnumber ours, and so does their political will to use that military. As Stalin said, and Hitler learned, "Quantity has a quality all of its own." Once they build up their confidence a bit, I look for an actual, full-on attack, either against our troops overseas, or actually against us, here at home.

I'm sure they've already noticed we don't really have the political will to stand up to them.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

They don't see it, do they?

The more the government does to "fix" the economy, the more it spirals down toward deflation and a full-on Depression that could be worse than the one in the thirties, and will last longer.

President Bush claimed, yesterday, that the government isn't moving toward nationalizing banks. What else would he call it, when the government buys preferred stock in the failing banks? I'm sure the government meant well, but the law of unintended consequences is already active: the richest tennis player in the world, Roger Federer, joked about taking his money and putting it in his mattress. I wouldn't be surprised if he'd been only half joking.

Consumer spending has been spiraling down for months, now, between the housing crunch starting and gas and oil prices driving up production and transportation costs driving up the prices for the goods consumers have to have. With consumers hanging onto their money, and credit becoming harder and harder to come by, prices are starting to free-fall in more than just the stock market as manufacturers and sellers drop prices again and again to try to get some cash flowing. Experts may not see a problem, but most consumers aren't experts, and they're terrified.

Business spending is also falling. As the money dries up for investors, they in turn become less willing to invest in new small business ventures. Housing continues to slow--only the slowdown isn't limited to sales any longer. New construction is falling off, leaving contractors unemployed.

There is one bright spot, though tax experts (wrongly) fear that it could cost more than it could save: the IRS and Treasury Department have rolled back some of the tax code that's been driving businesses out of the United States. Granted, they'd be right about it costing too much, were it not that lower taxes brings about companies re-investing what they save in taxes into new infrastructure, and new employees. This helps profits to rise, rapidly, which in a short period of time brings in higher tax revenue than did the higher tax codes.

Hopefully, this could be enough to stave off the mass of jobs that will be lost when the minimum wage increase hits in January, raising the costs of doing business. Honestly, if the government really wanted to help, they'd suspend the minimum wage increase, if not cut minimum wage, then stay out of the way until the crisis solves itself.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Personal responsibility II: sex

"Be fruitful and multiply; replenish the earth..."--Genesis 1:28

"Thou shalt not commit adultery"--Exodus 20:14

"There goes the good time that was had by all."--Bette Davis

In 2001, William Raspberry, a columnist with The Washington Post, wrote an opinion piece titled "What's Love Got to Do With It?" This editorial asserts that dating is dead, college students promiscuous, and the sexual revolution at fault for both. He bases these assertions on Elizabeth Marquard's small survey of college women.

Yes, the survey was flawed. It was too small, speaking personally with only a few dozen college women nationwide, and only another thousand over the phone. It was too narrow, only speaking with college women, not with college men. The definitions of the terms used were too broad--sexual contact could mean nothing more than kissing, for instance.

However. A few years later, novelist Tom Wolfe wrote a novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, illustrating exactly what Marquard found in her survey, and Raspberry discussed: the way the hookup culture affects young college women.

The sad thing that the survey, the essays, and the novel all assert is that young women--girls, really--are pressured by society to want sex, to pretend if they don't, and to pursue it as if they were men. Though the authors either explicitly or implicitly blame the sexual revolution of the 1960s, what they either don't touch on, or else touch on only lightly, is the role radical feminism played in that, and still plays in the pressure on the young women to go out and have encounter after encounter with no expectations.

They don't even consider other ramifications of the casual sex so prevalent on college campuses today: STDs and abortion used as nothing more than another method of birth control.

I am not going to discuss my opinions on the morality of these issues. Frankly, I don't care what people do, so long as it's not constantly shoved in my face, and nobody listens to anybody else on moral issues, anyway. What I care about is the effects, physical and emotional, that these issues have on the girls I teach.

A couple of years ago, I had a girl in one of my classes. She was always in class, and on time, and usually a lively participant in class discussion, but after a short absence, her behavior changed. She stopped participating, and her papers started showing the effects of less effort on her part. I pulled her aside after class, and learned that she'd had an abortion while she was absent, and was suffering from severe depression because of the guilt she felt. She told me that she'd done it because she wasn't sure what else to do, and she hadn't protected herself against pregnancy because she thought that the guy she was sleeping with did want a relationship was going to step up--until she heard about his girlfriend in another state.

She should have been on birth control. She should have also had protection against STDs, and made him use it, since he obviously hadn't been. She should have been told that she was responsible for her own well-being in the hook-up culture on campus. That she wasn't doesn't really excuse her, but it certainly explains how a girl from a small town could get caught up in something that hurt her so badly.

Some individuals handle casual, no expectations sex better than others, emotionally and mentally. Most of the time, those individuals have a higher degree of personal responsibility than those who don't handle the hook-up culture's expectations quite so well.

What I mean is simply this: the individual who is responsible with their bodies, male or female, protect themselves against disease, and against pregnancy. After all, God designed sex to create new life. Yes, he made it fun, but that wasn't the main point. Modern contraceptives are 98-99% effective, if used correctly, and used every time. Granted, that's not 100%, but that's the choice the participants in casual sex make: the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy or disease is to not participate.

Abortion is not a contraceptive, and shouldn't be used as such--there are too many risks to the physical, mental, and emotional well-being for it to be considered an "easy fix," as it sometimes is. The best way to prevent the damage is for girls to be taught that they're as responsible for their safety during those casual sexual encounters as the boys that they sleep with are supposed to be responsible for their own.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Only ten years?

The female in question ruined her daughter's life and future, and she only gets ten years?

The Crow had a quote that illustrates why I think said female should get as heavy a sentance as her sicko boyfriend: "'Mother' is the name for 'God' on the lips and hearts of all children."

Bad god.

Update: At least this is a step in the right direction. I'm glad to see that Maryland won't let sex offenders hand out candy to the kids on Halloween.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I want my fuzzy hat.

And my cheap vodka.

Our Dear Leaders are nationalizing the banks.  While not an unprecedented move, the move away from capitalism and toward socialism has some...interesting...implications, which many are not happy with.  The ones who are happiest are our enemies in Venezuela and Iran, mostly because in the former case, the communist dictator's socialist policy of nationalizing private enterprise is being vindicated, and in the latter, a social and political ideology that opposes everything ours stands for is cheering our trouble.  Australia has been moving toward socialism for a long time, as has Britain, and, while they're not cheering the trouble we're having, they are blaming it on capitalism.

These moves by our government toward socialism are alarming to anyone who values freedom, both personal and economic.  Personally, I don't want to have my taxes going to prop up businesses and banks that fail through bad policy decisions.  And if the government doesn't listen to me, or to the rest of the American public about what they don't want, I at least want my government issue fuzzy hat and cheap vodka, comrades.

It's going to be a long, cold, winter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Like this isn't suspicious...

The New York Rangers just announced the death of one of their first draft picks during a game.  

Rare, but it happens, right?  Not suspicious, until you read further and find out that it happened in the young man's native Russia, and that no further details were released.

The KGB--er, FSB--has murdered people before, especially those who've indicated a preference for a more Western idea of freedom.  I'm not saying that that's what happened here.

I wouldn't put it past them, either.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bear on the prowl.

No, I don't mean the stock market.  I mean Russia.  

They've paused on their way to the Caribbean to play with Venezuela, with whom they want closer ties, docking in Libya.  It's a little rediculous for them to try to dock there--the harbor isn't big enough for more than one of the three ships making their way toward our back yard.  

They've also test-fired a ballistic missile to the middle of the Pacific, near the equator.    According to the news article, this is the first time they've test fired a missile anywhere except their own proving grounds.  

This, combined with their belligerence over our involvement with Georgia, the Ukraine, and Poland, along with their increased meddling in Latin America, and in the Middle East, is extremely worrying.  Especially when one considers that their main source of new wealth--the chokehold they have on Europe with their oil production--is endangered by the current economic conditions.  

As of Friday, oil prices had plunged to extreme lows--$77.70-- considering what they had been.  Though they've come back up a bit, with Russia's oil companies cost of doing business, it's not quite enough to help them do more than just break even, and their tax rate--the government gets about $47 per barrel in taxes.

When it falls too low, it's likely that the re-awakening communist government will seize the companies that have to shut down because they're losing money.  At that point, the government's revenue from oil production will fall, because the government is always less efficient at doing jobs than private industry (An elephant is a mouse built to government specifications--Robert Heinlein).  They'll be likely to become even more belligerent as Europe starts looking elsewhere to buy oil.

At that point, the bear won't be just prowling, but hungry.  It's possible that a cold war could heat up fast, in those circumstances.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A colleague's Hoover theory: applied.

A good friend of mine, a fellow English professor, has an interesting literary theory that's far more widely applicable than just to literature. She calls it her "Hoover theory," and it's a reaction to a theory that states that the good literary critic doesn't look at anything but the text: they're not to pay attention to the historical context the text was written in, the lives of the authors, or anything else but the author's word choice, characterization, plot progress, etc.

My colleague thinks that that particular theory is far too narrow to offer a serious literary critic, which most English professors tend to be, a useful lens through which to view and discuss the work and its meaning. Her "Hoover theory" states that "Nothing is created in a vacuum"--in other words, that everything should be taken into account when a reader is trying to determine what an author intended in a text, or sometimes what an author put in without having intended to.

Not all literary theories are equally applicable to the real world--New Criticism, for example, holds that there is one, single, correct interpretation for any work, and that all others are wrong. Queer theory holds that either every character (person) is either repressing their own latent homosexuality, or their own fears that they are. Gender criticism makes everything about how the patriarchy has abused women. Marxist theory deals with social class, class differences, and how the different classes interact.

Granted, each theory is applicable to a greater or lesser extent to real life, but each is a very narrow lens which occasionally has an unfortunate tendency to convince those using that particular lens to view all works of literature, and all events surrounding them, through the ideology of that theory. What makes my colleague's theory superior to any of these, in my opinion, is that it takes them all, and a few more besides, into account in interpreting texts. What's more, this theory is as easily applicable to real life as it is to literature.

For example, in the recent brouhaha about the Nobel Prize for Literature Awards Commission's statement that American fiction is too self-centered to be good enough to win the Nobel Prize, we found buried in the story a reference to why they thought so: the literature submitted for review is all about American pop culture, and the themes really aren't that applicable to the rest of the world. In other words, Americans aren't reading world literature, and since many write what they read, what's written in American literature doesn't resonate anywhere but here. Americans write in a vacuum, and thus, modern American writers don't produce the quality of work that will withstand the test of time.

The interesting thing about this is not that American literature is written in a vacuum so much as why it is: literature departments nationwide no longer focus on the literature, but on the social statements that the theorists read into the literature. No longer do most survey classes teach a basic appreciation for the great works that form our culture, but instead teach a narrow, politicized theory about how all literature of all periods do nothing but demonstrate how this or that minority were oppressed by the white, upper class, male majority. Thus, our population learns that literature is nothing worthwhile, and stops reading literature. The minority who keep reading (usually English majors) learn that what makes a novel a great work is relative, and that messages don't have to resonate with the masses to be worth delivering. The minority who keep reading are the ones who write the next generation of "literature," in all its naval-gazing, self-flagellating glory.

Nothing is created in a vacuum. Not literature, and not the growing irrelevance of the departments that teach it.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Not good.

It really looks like we're sliding into another 30s-style depression.  Prices are dropping.  They started dropping in housing first, and then in oil and gas, indicating (at least to the untrained observer, such as I am) that we're heading for deflation.  I'd mention the sudden plunges of the stock market as another sign, but I'm not sure that's anything more than fear overcoming greed.

There are a lot of questions out there, amongst the public, the economists, and the government officials, ranging from "Who did this to us?" to "Why is this happening?" to "What's next?" to "How do we fix this?"

Given any fifty people, you'd get fifty different answers to each of these questions.  Basically, what that boils down to is that nobody knows.   I've already said that there's no point in trying to place blame anymore, so I won't go into that, except to snicker about the irony of former President Jimmy Carter, famous for the bad economy, stagflation, and gas shortages, blaming President George W. Bush for fouling up the economy.  I think, though, that there are a few opinions on why this is happening that are closer to correct than most: those of the National Review's Victor Davis Hanson, and Townhall's David Strom.  

As for "What's next?" I think that's obvious: we're in for a really rough ride.  I think that we're really looking at another Great Depression; possibly a longer one, depending on how much the government chooses to interfere.  

I can, actually, think of some government interference that could really help, but I sincerely doubt that it will happen.  Let me explain.

Everyone knows what inflation is, and what its effects are.  Not quite so many know that deflation is worse, or what its effects were.  Many are unaware that it was deflation, not inflation that caused the Great Depression to be as bad as it was.  The other influential cause for how bad the Great Depression was, and why it lasted so long, was government interference in the market in wages and prices.

Inflation causes prices to go up, and go up faster than wages can keep up.  That's bad for the average person making a paycheck and making payments.  However, inflation will not cause them to lose their jobs.  Deflation, on the other hand, happens when people have money, get scared, and won't spend it.  Goods set on shelves at prices that people had been willing to pay, then the prices are cut, and cut again.  However, they're still not selling.  The longer they don't sell, the more profits the company that makes the product loses.  Their overhead doesn't shrink, though--they still have to pay the workers.

Here's where one bit of government interference could help: in January, minimum wage is set to increase again.  With the prices of goods and services dropping, this is not a good thing for either businesses or workers.  Some businesses will have no choice but to fold, because they can't afford to keep paying their workers.  Other businesses will have to fire employees.  If the government would at least stop the minimum wage hike, if not slash minimum wage, it could help the economy by saving jobs.  I do not think, however, that the government would have either the foresight or the courage to interfere in this manner.  

So, "What's next?" is a probable world-wide economic slowdown, possibly rivaling or surpassing the Great Depression.  It won't be limited to the United States, this time.

On to "How do we fix this?"  Well, there are a lot of people that say capitalism is totally at fault.  That there wasn't enough regulation on industry.  That there wasn't enough government interference in the market.  Those people insist that the only fix is for the government to step in and take over the markets and economies of the world.  

I disagree.  I believe that the government's interference is what caused the worst of this disaster.  I believe that Strom had a definite point: the Federal Reserve, in its decades-long success in regulating the market, is partially to blame in the greed-fest in the investments banking and insurance world, because it removed far too much risk from the game.  I believe that the only fix is for the government to step all the way back, let the companies that had less sound business practices fail, and let the markets--both American and world--recover on their own.  Yes, it will be more painful in the short run, but the burned hand teaches best in the long run.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Personal. Not ranting.

I admit I'm revealing a bit more about who I am than I typically do on this blog, but I've had requests for baby pictures. Here are a couple of my son in the NICU in the Midwestern town hospital he was born in. I won't post more pictures of him than this on the blog, but you can e-mail me if you'd like to see more.

Thank you for the good wishes. He is a healthy baby for being eight weeks premature, and I'm sure he'll continue to progress rapidly. Keep my small family in your kind thoughts and prayers.

I'll get back to my usual format, but with a slightly reduced production rate, as soon as I can. In the meantime, I've got other, more important, things to worry about than the greater world around me.

Welcome to the world, baby boy.

My son, my firstborn child, was born yesterday morning. I had to laugh at the timing: he came right at the beginning of another Great Depression. According to some, we're headed toward some severe economic down times, with a probability of what Greenspan sought to head off: deflation.

Honestly, we've seen the deflation hit the housing market--hard--already. We shouldn't be surprised to see its ugly head popping up elsewhere.

Deflation was one of the two real kickers in the Great Depression. The other, as I've said before, was Hoover's failing policies carried out to their logical extreme by FDR, who has long been known, wrongly, for pulling this country out of the Great Depression. As I've linked before, it was some of his policies that made it last as long as it did.

I think the bailout bill which was just railroaded through is going to do for us what Hoover's and Roosevelt's policies did in the thirties, if not worse with the current loads of unsecured credit card and other debt that most Americans carry.

Between domestic issues--the economy, the social issues that've split the nation, energy policy, etc.--and foreign issues in the Middle East, Europe, and the resurgent Russia, we're looking at some of the more interesting times that any of us have seen in living memory, or studied in history. And when I say "interesting times," I mean in the ancient Chinese curse sense of the term.

Welcome to the world, son. It's going to be an interesting ride, and I'm sorry we had such bad timing in bringing you into it.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

At least the economic downturn has some upsides.

Illegal immigration rates are falling in tandem with the economy's downturn. That means it's pretty likely that the crime rates in certain cities will likely fall, as well.

Phoenix, one of the major sanctuary cities in the United States, has a major violent crime problem. The county's prosecutor has revealed statistics that demonstrate that illegal immigrants do commit a good portion of the crime in the county. Since his statistics are county wide, we can assume that Phoenix's numbers are much higher than the numbers cited in the story; however, with the mayor's policy forbidding police from inquiring into immigration status in arrests, we cannot be sure how much higher.

What these sanctuary cities attempt to sweep under the rug is the types they provide sanctuary for: the newest, most dangerous gang bangers currently in the United States. These are the same gangs run by the drug cartels committing murders in Mexico, as well as bribing the Mexican military to get their people and drugs across our borders.

With the economy faltering, though, and the money pool shrinking, there are enough fewer hardworking illegals who've come for a better life that city politicians will not long be able to justify their foolish, short-sighted, dangerous policies.

Sometimes a "wait and see" attitude is the best bet.

After pushing hard to pass the bailout bill, including tacking on a whole lot of pork-barrel spending, it turns out President Bush and Congress should have waited a bit longer to see if it would be necessary, or even advisable, for the government to step in to "fix" the economy.

Almost immediately after the bailout was passed, the market began to drop. Before the end of the day, it went from being up by a few percentage points across the board to down by a couple. I don't know if it was news of what-all was put into the spending bill, being told how much the bailout would cost, news about the unemployment rate, or something else entirely, but the market had one of the worst weeks since September 11, 2001.

Now, and only now, economists are telling us that the bailout won't work unless the housing market stabilizes.

Remember that when it comes time to re-elect state representatives and senators. Also remember that it took a majority Democrat congress for President Bush to pass the mess we're now saddled with. And last, remember that this will cost each household a minimum of $17,064 if this were fairly apportioned across every household in the United States--which it won't be.

Sometimes the "do nothing" option is the best one there is.

Update: I really wish they'd waited. What they've done to us feels like this, in a way.

In other ways, it feels like they've bent us over something without even having taken us to dinner and a movie first. And they aren't planning to use lubricant, either.

Friday, October 3, 2008

...and the House isn't any better.

The House of Representatives just signed off on the travesty that the Senate passed Wednesday night.  Go here for a list of who voted for (and against) it, here for a list of your state reps, and fire the sheeple that voted yea for a second Great Depression.

The guy in charge is already losing his job come January.  Neither of the candidates up for election or Senator Biden voted against it; however, Sarah Palin made it pretty clear, without breaking with her senior running mate's position, that she was very much against it.  

Let's teach the representatives and senators that ignored their constituencies that they can be fired, and will be fired for not listening to the voters they serve.  


If there’s anything I’ve learned from my study of history, it’s that we’re doomed to repeat it. Over and over again. We, as a species, have a unique capacity to learn from our mistakes. We, as a species, are wasting that capacity.

I have a couple of specific instances in mind that we really should have learned from: Europe’s pacifism and appeasement’s role in Hitler’s rise to power and WWII, and (closer to home) the policies that lengthened the duration of the recession and depression Black Tuesday heralded in 1929.

Let’s start with appeasement. In 1937, Neville Chamberlain became Prime Minister of Britain. He faced a Hitler, belligerent and drunk with power granted him by the people of Germany. Chamberlain, believing that the Treaty of Versailles which ended WWI was unfair, and wishing to avoid a second war that would involve most of Europe, adopted a policy of giving Hitler what he asked for. At least, until April 1938, when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia with the excuse that he was merely granting the wishes of the native, ethnic German population therein that wished to rejoin the fatherland.

Even then, what Chamberlain attempted to do was negotiate a deal where Hitler wouldn’t go for the rest of Czechoslovakia. Unfortunately, though Hitler agreed, he later invaded and took the rest of the country in October. Nor did he stop there, ultimately inflaming all of Europe in WWII.

In August of this year, not long after I started this blog, Russia invaded two regions of its former satellite state of Georgia, using the excuse that the Russian population of these two regions didn’t wish to be ruled by the Georgian government. Like in 1938, most of Europe’s policies have leaned toward appeasement of the former power. Joining Europe in its preferred policy is one of the current presidential candidates. The current President likes Putin, and cannot believe malice of his friend.

I predict that we’re seeing a similar resurgence of Russian power just as Europe saw a resurgence of German power in the late 30s, leading to WWII. I don’t necessarily predict another World War—mostly because I don’t believe the political will exists in the US, NATO, or the EU to draw a line in the sand—but what I do foresee is Russia moving to retake the countries it formerly held as vassal states. If the current atmosphere of appeasement holds, it may move to take more of Europe, and possibly move further afield into the rest of the world. If we refuse to act, and NATO cannot, there is nothing to prevent it.

Second, recent studies have postulated that the Great Depression of the 1930’s lasted a good several years longer than it should have, and that there is one, previously irreproachable, suspect for why it did: FDR’s New Deal policies.

Roosevelt believed that excess competition was at fault for the deflation that started in the early thirties; wages reduced, jobs reduced, and consumption reduced, driving the country toward economic collapse. He believed that the only way to combat the problem was to sign into law policies that allowed unions to force artificially high wages—leading to much higher unemployment—and allowed businesses to grow unchallenged by the anti-trust legislation passed by earlier governments. Without these policies, a couple of UCLA economics professors who’ve studied the Depression and the New Deal extensively believe that the Great Depression would likely have ended in 1936, rather than 1943.

Judging by the current legislation passed and signed into law today, we have learned no more from this than we did from Hitler’s invasion of the Sudetenland in 1938. We’re facing another Great Depression, thanks to the massive governmental interference in the market starting with the strengthened threat of prosecution of banks refusing mortgages to the unqualified (creating the subprime mortgage industry pretty much from whole cloth right there) of the Community Reinvestment Act in 1995. The banks are busy buying one another, trying to become “too big to fail”—and government isn’t disallowing the mergers. Government has agreed to buy up the current “toxic assets,” or subprime mortgage liabilities, and failing retirement accounts—including those which are failing because unions demanded more than the industries could support.

Many different philosophers have commented on how those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Several science fiction authors have commented on—or written sagas illustrating—the same concept. Unfortunately, science fiction is rather a niche market, with the serious science fiction (as opposed to pulp sci-fi like Star Trek or its clones) tending to be the only ones willing to listen to and learn the lessons history has to teach.

Here’s hoping we can learn to learn from our mistakes before we face repeated wholesale destructions of civilization as chronicled in Walter Miller's novel of repeated nuclear holocaust and rebuilt civilizations, A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

I think we've established the Senate's price...

First, the bailout bill proposal was 3 pages.  By the time the house overturned it, it was a bit over 100 pages.  

Last night, the senate passed the bailout bill.  By the time it was passed, it had reached 451 pages.  Granted, there were about $100 billion in tax cuts written, but by the time the senate handed this monstrosity to the United States taxpayer, every pork-barrel spending plan that had been defeated, either before it came to the floor or on the floor, had been tacked on.  Otherwise, there's no way it would have passed.  Not against the public outcry against it.

The bill passed 74-25.  For those who wanted to see the bill fail, there's a roll-call of who voted how here.  If you feel strongly enough, remember this, and make sure your senator who voted yes does not get re-elected, and your senator who voted no does.

There's an anecdote about Winston Churchill that I (and others) feel is applicable to the situation.  The story goes that Churchill, at some dinner or other, asked some duchess or other if she'd sleep with him for a million pounds (about 5 million in today's pounds).  She answered that she would, of course.  The next question he asked was "What about for ten pounds?"  She answered that of course she wouldn't--what kind of woman did he think she was, anyway?  His response fits today's senate, as well as yesterday's duchess: "Madam, I believe we have established that.  Now we are haggling over price."

Here's hoping our congress critters in the House hold their "virtue" a little dearer than those in the senate.  Be prepared, though, to fire them, too.

Terrorism =piracy = terrorism = a big problem for the whole world

Stratfor recently published an analysis of what it calls the two battle spaces in the War on Terror (as President Bush has erroneously termed it): the physical battlefield and the ideological battlefield.  Fred Burton and Scott Stewart, the authors of the piece, have said that, though al Qaeda's central command is cut off from most of the rest of it and therefore weakened, various groups claiming to be allied with the terrorist group have seen failure in some places and success in others.  They say that the successes keep the terrorists in business, and that we must not let our successes lull us into a false sense of victory, unless we want to give them time to regroup and perhaps defeat us.

That's a grossly simplified version of what Stratfor's piece said, but bear with me.  I'm about to apply it.

Though we've seen some major successes on the physical battlefield--for example, kicking the Taliban (al Qaeda supporters) out of Afghanistan's government, and helping the Iraqi people throw most of al Qaeda out of their country--the best successes we've seen have been on the ideological front. 

Iraq, in particular, has seen al Qaeda for what it is: a radical, militant, religious tyranny that they really want nothing to do with.  They've decided for themselves that any group calling themselves Muslim who kills other Muslims just because they aren't "true, pure, Islamics" is nothing they want to ally with.  Though al Qaeda and allied groups still commit homicide attacks in Iraq, the Iraqi people are not going to permit the terrorists to take over.  Why?  

Because the United States, through the professional, protective behavior of most of its military, have convinced the Iraqi people that al Qaeda doesn't have their best interests at heart.  The only ones who do are the Iraqi people themselves.  Any Muslim who blows up, shoots, or otherwise murders other Muslims during worship instead of targeting military targets--Iraqi or American or allied--is not someone they want to trust enough to work with against Western interests.  If the terrorists had restricted themselves to military targets, instead, that might have been different.  In other words, because of al Qaeda's own behavior, we've won the ideological battle against terrorism in Iraq.  For now.

Where we seem to be stalemated or losing in the ideological war is in places like Somalia, Iran, and (not surprisingly, given recent developments in our relationship) Pakistan.

Somalia, in particular, has burst into the news recently: Somalian pirates have seized more than one cargo ship carrying heavy armor from vendor to buyer.  Last week in particular, the pirates--militant Islamic terrorists--seized a Ukrainian vessel carrying Russian made tanks to Kenya.  They're demanding $20 million in ransom before they'll let the ship go.  Excluding this demand, experts say that Somali pirates have raked in $30 million this year, following the same pattern.  

The Somali government has issued a statement that the world can use whatever force it cares to to resolve the situation.  It's unclear, at this point, whether we've won the ideological battle against the militant jihadists in Somalia, or if the Somali government simply doesn't want to risk the world taking it out of power.

Iran is simply an ongoing problem that we have to face, and keep facing, until something is finally done to take the physical battlefield away from the radical militant jihadist tyrants in power.  We have, after all, already won the ideological battlefield against the government with the people.  We will, however, have to be careful in how we prevent the problem with the regime from growing to keep from losing that ideological ground.  Our renewed diplomatic issues with Russia only complicate matters, on this battlefield.

Another place where it's unclear if we're winning or losing the ideological battlefield is in Pakistan.  A recent Spanish intelligence report has surfaced, charging certain elements within Pakistan's Inter-Service Intelligence agency provided weapons and training to Taliban terrorists as recently as 2005.  Their purpose?  To assassinate certain elements in Afghanistan's new government, destabilizing it's neighbor.  There's no telling whether this was an attempt to keep Afghanistan from becoming a threat, or whether it was al Qaeda backed and funded.  It could well be either.

In any case, Pakistan has, of course, denied the allegations.  However, it certainly explains their new attitude toward our pursuit of terrorists across the Afghani border.  

It also explains a recent call for help that the American commander in Afghanistan has made.  He alleges that there has been a recent uptick in border crossings, from Pakistan into Afghanistan, made by terrorists of several different nationalities.

Currently, the United States and our allied forces are holding ground against the terrorists.  We could not do it except for on their own soil, and except for defeating their ideologies with the common, everyday people that live there.  Unless we fully succeed in defeating Islamic terrorists, wherever they're found, on both the physical and ideological battlefields, what has been shrunk into a small, regional problem will quickly explode into a huge, world-wide problem.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

And this is why, when I read American fiction, it's usually genre.

The head of the Nobel Prize Awards Committee on Literature has deemed American literature too "insular" to truly be able to win.  If, by this, he means "too self-introspective, caught up by pop culture, and too much all of the same," then I have to say I agree with him.

That's not to say that there aren't gems out there.  There are, after all, modern American writers that can tell a good story that holds the attention.  The problem is that these writers are either "genre," or extremely few and far between.  

The head of the Awards Committee said that American writers don't participate enough in the world of literary conversation, that they don't read enough of other culture's literature.  

Given the increasing views of English departments as irrelevant to the greater culture, I'd have to say he's right.  

The sad thing is that many English departments have made themselves irrelevant.  Rather than teaching the great works of literature that have formed whole cultures, they go political--teaching things from minority perspectives, or women's perspectives, or from "queer theory"--whatever's in style for the moment.  

That turns readers off.  Even English majors.  Yes, the theories are an interesting way to view the work, but when it becomes the be-all and end-all of literary studies, it makes students wonder why literature is studied at all, and why they should care about anything more than the current, navel-gazing pop culture cluttering popular literature.  And, of course, they write what they read, because that sells, right?  

I believe that the greater trends in teaching literature in higher education is what's leading the Nobel Prize Awards Commission to believe that an insular focus on our own culture is all there is to American literature.  And, for the most part, I think he's right.

A sound defense

According to the current CIA chief, President Bush has done exactly what he should have been doing to prevent another attack on American soil: attack al Qaeda on their own soil and put them on the defensive.

Well, duh. Most Midwesterners can see that. But then, most Midwesterners are violent rednecks, right?

Not entirely. I, and most of my friends, simply aren't pacifists. It's more that we're willing to, as Patton said, see to it that "the other son of a bitch dies for his [country]."

The fact that most of those who would see us, as a nation, fall don't actually operate from a nation state only makes things harder. Al Qaeda and the Taliban no longer have a home base from which to attack us. Afghanistan, currently, isn't safe for them. We're there, in force. Iraq, currently, isn't safe for them. Their moderates have discovered that they actually have the testicular fortitude to stand up to the radicals. So, they've retreated to Yemen. They've retreated into the border regions of Pakistan.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't still be taking the fight to them. That just means that we've got a few...complications.

That doesn't even touch on the Somali pirates. Those guys are radical Muslims in the tradition of the Barbary pirates that we faced in Jefferson's presidency. Recently, they seized a Ukrainian ship loaded with Russian heavy weaponry destined for Kenya. That's not all, either. They've also seized an Iranian vessel with a mysterious cargo that may or may not be some form of WMD. The latter raises two issues: first, why has Iran been allowed to acquire WMD; second, what will the pirates do with it, if that is what they seized? I suppose another good question is what are we going to do about it?

Remember, Somalia was the location of some of the worst Muslim rioting, where our troops' hands were tied tightly enough by ROE (rules of engagement) that they weren't even allowed to defend themselves, leading to the events memorialized in the movie Black Hawk Down.

Every football player and fan knows that the best defense is a good offense. We have to keep radical Islamofacist terrorists on their own soil to keep them off of ours.