Monday, December 29, 2008

Roping The Wind

You have to love the naievity of politicians. Sometimes they are just so cute that all you can do is laugh at them. Of course, this same "endearing cuddliness" is also exactly the reason why they should not have anywhere close to the levels of power they believe they have, but that is a different matter entirely. Actually, it's this matter, that we are going to laugh at - I mean discuss today.
Andy Burnham, who is identified as something called a "culture secretary" in the United Kingdom, has stated a desire for the UK government to tighten controls over the internet, reining in a chaos that was actively designed to be outside of government control. To make matters even more amusing, Mr. Burnham intends to get together with President-elect Obama and work toward making it a transatlantic operation. Apparently Mr. Burnham does not believe that Mr. Obama - America's first black President taking over during a financial crisis that is scaring the hell out of the rest of the world - has enough on his plate.
You might be wondering why I find this so amusing. Doesn't every new administration claim that they are going to make the internet a safer place? Of course they do and it is always in the name of "making it safer for children", that favorite magic phrase that is supposed to automatically confer propriety and unassailability to any proposed plan. The problem is that the plan itself is utterly impossible. The internet cannot be made safer except by the act of actively hunting down those who use it for illegal purposes, a process that both America and the UK already follow. The fact that much of the illegal activity takes place in countries where neither America nor the UK has any say in the matter does not make the task any easier.
The reason I am laughing is because the proposal being discussed is to use a movie-style ratings system on all English language websites and to have that ratings system administered by individual service providers. Apparently Mr. Burnham is unaware that there is somewhere in the neighborhood of three times as many websites on the internet as there are people on the planet. Would anyone like to even consider retroactively rating all of those websites? Add in the simple matter that it takes less than five minutes to establish a basic website and it is pretty easy to see that the logistics alone make this a task that would send Hercules fleeing in tears.
Not only are their billions of websites, there is not exactly any shortage of service providers. I would actually consider paying good money to watch the attempt to get even a representative sampling of them into one room to hash out how they are going to administer this ratings system. That would be the comedic event of the year, at the very least.
Let's make matters even more complicated, shall we? What qualifies as an individual website? Is it everything under a single domain name? Everything under a particular subdomain? Is this blog one website or are the individual articles each their own website? With the possibilities that exist to this question, who would have the authority to decide? Who would even want the headache of deciding?
There is, however, ample reason for not laughing. The fact that this task is impossible does not guarantee that the politicians won't try it. The fact that even suggesting the idea is proof that Andy Burnham shouldn't have anything to do with internet regulation does not mean that he won't. Those of you in the UK who might read this would do well to take note. We, in America, got the unmitigated disaster that is the Digital Millenium Copyright Act precicely because people who knew nothing about digital technology or copyrights still thought it was a good idea to write sweeping new regulation covering those fields.
Attempting to rate the internet makes about as much sense as attempting to rope the wind but absurdity has never stopped politicians. Unfortunately, it is we who end up having to live with the messes these idiots create. Imagine what would happen to today's global economy if there were suddenly major internet disruption because of monkeeing politicians. Keep that nightmare in mind if you hear any of your politicians discussing this idea.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

You Can't Memorialize Freedom With Theft

Coming back to check on what's happening with the world after spending Christmas with my family, one of the first items that caught my attention was a very un-Christmas item indeed. Plans are in motion to construct a memorial in Pennsylvania to those who died on United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that was hijacked on 9-11 and was presumed to be headed for Washington DC before the passengers took matters into their own hands and caused the plane to crash into Pennsylvania farmland. Negotiations are still underway with Svonavec Inc., which owns a large chunk of land in the proposed memorial area, including the location of the actual crash site but The Families of Flight 93, an organization representing those families who lost loved ones on the doomed plane, is urging President Bush to empower the Secretary of the Interior to just take the land. The National Parks Service, who will actually be building the memorial, has already said that it will use eminent domain if all else fails.
I have nothing but sympathy for those who lost loved ones on 9-11, but my sympathy does not stretch so far as to forgive wrong-headed activities. Eminent Domain is possibly the single most controversial power held by any government and using it for anything other than absolutely necessary reasons is just asking for trouble. Using it to build a memorial taints the memorial before ground has even been broken.
This is even more true in this particular case. The people who died on Flight 93 died fighting against the terrorists. They were not just victims. They were, in a very active sense, heroes. They died defending their land against those who would do us harm. In what way is it even possible to believe that taking someone else's land would be the right and proper way to memorialize these people?
Svonavec Inc. treasurer Mike Svonavec has claimed that NPS has not done enough to negotiate a deal. Patrick White, vice president of The Families of Flight 93, has claimed that Svonavec has been unwilling to negotiate. This sounds like both sides have a long way to go in normal channel negotiations. At any rate, no one should be even close to talking about eminent domain.
I understand that those who want the memorial are feeling pressure to break ground soon in order to have the memorial ready in time for the 2011 anniversary, but being in a hurry does not cancel rights of property ownership. If you are really feeling that anxious then I would recommend that you spend more time at the bargaining table and less time writing letters to outgoing presidents.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tis The Season

Many of you probably think I'm going to make some sarcastic comment about holiday shoppers or something like that, but I'm not. We all know I could - I certainly could, and that's as close as I'm going to get - but I won't do so today. Not on Christmas Eve. If I were going to make that post, I would have done so a few days ago.
Today I am here for one reason and one reason only: to wish everyone out there a very merry Christmas. For this small time, I will break my own rule and pretend reality. We can all pretend, briefly, that all is well with the world and simply enjoy the time.
I sincerely hope that all truly is well with you and yours and, once again, Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Fantasy Budget

Imagine that you were sitting around the dining room table working on the family budget and discovered a $42 billion shortfall. Okay, so you're not likely to see that particular number while doing the family budget, but imagine finding that you're going to be flat broke, completely out of money in just two months. What would you do? What steps would you take to try to keep your family solvent?
Well, if you were part of the California state government what you would apparently do is point the finger at everyone else and then decide to do nothing at all for another month and just rely on IOUs to pay your bills. Of course, if you tried to use IOUs to pay your bills, you would get notices from those bill collectors saying, in essence, "yes, you do and we're shutting off service until you pay them."
I'm trying hard to comprehend this. California is usually looked at as the leader among progressive governments in the west. They're the role model. And they're rich! One of the wealthiest states in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. There are more mansions packed into twenty square miles of California than most states have from border to border. They are one of the global capitols of entertainment.
And they can't pay their bills. Maybe we should send a few housewives to Sacramento to give classes on budget balancing.
If you or I were faced with this situation, we would probably try to find a second job. Of course, there are only so many jobs and so many hours in the day so the feasibility of this plan is limited. Failing an extra income, it would be time to sit down with the red pen and start slashing out unnecessary items from the budget. Yes, cable television would be nice but eating is so much more important, so see you later TV. The mortgage takes priority over steak and caviar, so we'll be eating sandwiches and ground beef. The children have to have shoes and coats so we'll forego the designer labels and expensive haircuts.
That's how those of us who live in the real world deal with budgets every day. We would somehow have to get politicians to understand the difference between need and really really want, but most of them used to have real world lives. Didn't they?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Taking Things A Bit Too Far

Iraq war veteran Kevin Murray, with the support of the Thomas More Law Center and on behalf of U.S. taxpayers, has filed a lawsuit against Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and the Federal Reserve claiming that the recent federal bailout of the American International Group is helping promote Shariah law. The reason for this claim is that AIG will be offering Shariah-compliant homeowner insurance policies, known as takaful, to U.S. customers through one of its subsidiaries. For those who do not know, Shariah is the legal application of the Islamic religion.
Now I must say, there are plenty of reasons to be grumpy about the AIG bailout and there are more than plenty of reasons to be apprehensive about the applications of Shariah law, but this particular lawsuit is stretching things just a bit. AIG is not converting to all takaful policies nor is it requiring anyone to buy takaful policies. It is only offering them as an option to those who want them. It seems to me that, rather than being an establishment or even an endorcement of religion, this is exactly what the First Amendment's religion clause is all about: allowing open and equal access to various religious groups.
It is a long road from this to England's recent decision to allow Shariah law to have a say in certain civil courts. I'm not saying that people shouldn't keep an eye on things to make certain there isn't any encroachment, but there is a difference between guarding against abuse and outright paranoia.
To be honest, though, I do not actually believe that paranoia has anything to do with this one. The Thomas More Law Center is a non-profit law firm that promotes conservative Christian values. Anyone care to place any bets on what their agenda is in this?
This is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt at discrimination and it shouldn't fly here any better than it would were the religion involved Christianity. Most legal scholars seem to be of the opinion that it won't since the prevailing opinion is that what AIG is doing is an open access business policy and not an establishment or endorcement of religion. The fact that it won't fly, however, does not mean that the Thomas More Law Center shouldn't be slapped down for trying. In fact, the people who should be slapping the hardest are those Christians who are concerned about religious freedoms.
I cannot state often enough or emphatically enough, you cannot defend liberty by removing it from someone else. Every time you aprove of the removal of one liberty, you set a precedent for the removal of others. If you give government the power to curtail liberties in one field, you are giving them the power to curtail liberties in all fields. Once the rule is established, it takes no effort at all to change the word "Islam" to "Christian" or "Jewish" or "Buddhist" or pick your flavor.
Anyone who has read my posts in the past knows that I am not a fan of Islam. I am fully aware of the dangerous tendencies inherent in that religion. I am also aware, however, that there are many Muslims in the world who do not subscribe to those dangerous tendencies, just as there were many Christians who were not psychotic murderers during the time of the Crusades and the Inquisition. Pick your battles, but pick them wisely lest the battle you pick wind up being against yourself.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What's In A Name?

Frequent readers are already aware of my annoyance with parents who saddle children with names guaranteed to make life exceptionally difficult. I think we have found a new winner in the ongoing Dumbest Names contest. Even better (worse?), we have also reached a whole new level in dumb reactions to the results of a dumb name.
Heath and Deborah Campbell, of Easton, Pennsylvania, made the news this week when a local Shoprite refused to decorate a birthday cake with the full name of their child. The name that Shoprite refused to use may ring a few bells. It was Adolf Hitler Campbell.
By all means, go back and read that sentence again just to convince yourself that it really says what you think it says.
Daddy Campbell claims that the name was chosen because of his own German heritage and because it is a name no other child would have (I can't imagine why not). He has made a big show in the media of calling for tolerance, but do you really believe that he chose this name for those reasons or that he is interested in tolerance? The Campbells have another child named JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell [stress added by me]. Anyone else seeing a trend here? Did he choose that name because he liked the way it sounded?
First of all, the Campbells made a decision to put the child's full name on a birthday cake. When was the last time you attended the birthday party of a toddler and the cake had the child's full name printed on it? I don't think I have ever seen this. The logical conclusion is that they were trying to get exactly the reaction they got. Then they go to the news and make a big stink about it, claiming to want tolerance when their own naming conventions clearly demonstrate their opinions on tolerance.
They saddled this child with the name of one of the most reviled men in modern history and then made that child famous by creating a media storm where none was necessary. While they certainly have the right to name their child what they choose, I doubt anyone is believing their protestations of innocent intent. Of course, the rest of us have the right to believe that these two so-called parents are a couple of World Class Idiots for doing what they have done.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Manners Should Be Taught Before Speech

I sometimes believe that an appalling lack of manners is my biggest complaint against the modern Left. Don't get me wrong, they have policies and beliefs I abhor. They, in fact, have policies and beliefs I would fight to the death (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) to oppose. They don't have a monopoly on that, though. The Right has just as many terrifying and tyranical beliefs. Neither side has a corner on the market of stupid ideas. The biggest difference seems to be that the Right will at least usually be polite while stabbing you in the back.
While it is true that you can wind up dead either way, the difference matters for those times when you survive.
I commented yesterday on the affair of the President and the Shoe and, despite my obvious irritation with the event, my ability to describe it in a humorous fashion should demonstrate that I can see the potential humor. Such an incident would pay a comedian for a week and I have no problem with that. The best humor comes from the absurdities in life and I definitely appreciate that.
There is a difference, however, between seeing the humor in a situation and cheering or supporting bad behavior. Bad behavior should never be tolerated. That only encourages more bad behavior. The modern Left have completely lost any concept of this rule.
Why do I say this? Take a stroll through the comments section of any site that is discussing this incident. In fact, in some cases, take a look at the sites doing the discussing. If you have any sense of decorum, what you find should disgust you.
I understand that many people dislike Bush. I would never be mistaken for Left-leaning and I dislike Bush. I completely understand that, for those on the Left, my dislike almost seems like puppy love. Disliking a person does not excuse cheering when a member of a respected profession behaves in a childish manner toward a political leader. The identities of neither the reporter nor the leader make the least difference. Childish behavior in a professional setting is inexcusable! Supporting such behavior to the detriment of your own home is a negative for which I do not even have a term.
This is your home. I have never supported the "love it or leave it" mentality and I never will. If you are unhappy with your home, work to make it better. Do not go out of your way to make it worse. If that is your mentality then it is time to apply the "leave it" idea.
The only thing worse than the ungrateful people abroad who abuse us as reward for our generosity is the ungrateful brats living right here who are too lazy and spoiled to do anything positive with their dissatisfaction. A nation of children cannot be a great nation. If you want us to be great again then grow up. You might start by applying some of the manners you should have been taught while you were still in diapers.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lost In Translation

Apparently there is no requirement for journalists in Iraq covering a Presidential press conference to speak or understand the English language. That seems to be the only rational conclusion to draw after Al-Baghdadiya television demanded the release of Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi who was arrested for throwing shoes at President Bush. According to the station, al-Zeidi was only acting "in accordance with the new era of freedom of speech and democracy that the U.S has promised the Iraqi people." As an education moment for both al-Zeidi and his employers, the word "speech" in English does not translate as "throw shoe at".
The fact of the matter is that this is nothing more than a case of angry people claiming that their anger gives them license to act without consequences. I neither affirm nor deny that they have a right to be angry - that is for them to decide - but anger does not remove consequences.
There is not a culture in the world in which it is legal to assault a political leader because you are angry at that leader's policies. Many people from cultures outside the United States love to point out the boorish behavior of Americans but there is one thing I can tell you for certain: Had a foreign political leader been attacked while giving a press conference in America, not only would the culprit have been immediately arrested but the American government would be issuing an apology to the offended government that such an incident could ever have happened. In fact, you can feel fairly confident that the apology would come almost as quickly as the arrest. I'll even go you one step further. Had it been an American journalist who had committed the assault, the American employers would be issuing an apology almost as fast as the government. They would also probably be firing the journalist.
I am sick and tired of the arrogance of foreign cultures that says it is acceptable to treat Americans in a different (and always more negative) fashion than anyone else. I do not deny that America and Americans have made mistakes, but so has everyone else. We are not alone in political errors. We are only the most popular scapegoat.
We are also the country who is almost always the first to help almost anyone in need. The vast majority of those countries who feel it is permissible to abuse America and Americans on a regular basis have themselves been the recipients of our generosity on numerous occasions.
Perhaps it is time that we stop accepting cruelty and abuse as proper payment for our generosity. I have never been a proponent of actual isolationism (though I do strongly favor a more limited involvement in global affairs) but, if this is how our help is appreciated, I am sure that we could find more beneficial uses for our time and money at home.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

On The Concept And Nature Of Rights - Part Two

We have established an axiom - Rights are Inherent to Sentient Beings - and we have established a corollary to that axiom - if rights are inherent to sentient beings then rights must be naturally occuring and must be able to exist in the presence of any one sentient being. We have also established the reverse of that corollary - if it is not naturally occuring and/or cannot exist in the presence of any one sentient being, it cannot be a right. Through this process we have eliminated a whole host of things people often claim as rights and have narrowed down the possibilities of what might actually be a right. Now we will see if we can find a more definite answer to what is a right.
If we examine what we have already established we will see that there are three required components of a right.
1. A right must be naturally occurring.
2. A right must be able to exist in the presence of any one sentient being.
3. A right must not interfere with a right of another sentient being.
The first two are explicitly stated in the corollary while the third is implied both through the corollary and through the basic definitions of "rights" and "inherent". A right is what is naturally owed due to the meeting of certain conditions. The rights we are discussing are naturally owed - or inherent - due to the condition of being a living, thinking being. If a right is naturally owed then it cannot be taken away except through violation. Because a right must be able to exist in the presence of any one sentient being, there cannot be a right to violate another right. That would require the presence and/or participation of another sentient being, which violates the corollary.
We could stop right there if we wanted to. You have the right to do anything you choose that can be done naturally, can be done alone, and does not interfere with the rights of another. If an action meets those three requirements then there would be no reason for anyone else to intervene because the action would have nothing to do with anyone else. It would only be the human tendency to want to control the actions of others that would cause interferance, but controling the actions of another is certainly not a right. It does not even come close to satisfying the requirements. Right trumps non-right.
I said we could stop there but we will not because we can take it one step further. Why are rights inherent? Why is anything inherent? If we look at what is inherent in any living thing, we find that these inherent attributes serve the twin purposes of survival and prosperity. Whether it be legs for mobility, claws for hunting and defense, or the ability to reason between a good choice and a bad one, all of these things serve to not only keep a thing alive but also to help improve its life. It seems evident, then, that this is the reason for inherent attributes.
That being the case, rights - being inherent - would serve the same twin purposes: survival and prosperity, staying alive and improving life.
The defining difference between a sentient being and all other living things is the self-aware thought process. Because we are sentient, and because all sentient beings that we currently know about lack such things as claws and fangs, our ability to think and act upon our thoughts is our most critical tool for both survival and prosperity. Even our idea of rights (and of right and wrong in general) stems from this one point. Thus a right, to be properly inherent, would serve the purpose of staying alive and/or improving life.
Your right to hold your own belief improves your life because there is no faster way to misery than to oppose your own will. Your right to defend yourself obviously helps you stay alive. Your right to speak your mind might convince others to believe as you do, thus gaining you friends (we are social creatures) and improving your social interactions. Your right to walk away from someone who is speaking his mind can definitely improve your own peace of mind.
All of these rights, of course, stop at the point of requiring participation from another person. Your right to hold your own belief is not a right to compel another to follow your belief. Your right to defend yourself does not compel someone else to provide you with a weapon. Your right to speak your mind does not require someone else to listen or even to provide you with a location from which to speak.
So we have added a fourth requirement and defined a definite positive for human rights. If it occurs naturally among sentient beings, can exist in the presence of any one sentient being, does not interfere with the rights of another sentient being, and serves the purposes of survival and prosperity then it is a right. Put simply, if it could help you stay alive or improve your life while you were naked and alone in an empty universe then it is your inherent right and any attempt to remove it from you would be a violation of that right. If it doesn't meet that definition then it is not a right. That isn't to say that it isn't a good thing, just that it isn't an automatic.
We have now defined what a right is not and we have defined what a right is. If anyone is still following along, tomorrow we might go into practical application. I'm not promising that Part Three though. It isn't as required as Part Two was and something else may come up that needs to be addressed. Besides, Part Two was difficult to write. Attempting to break down what seems obvious to me is never easy. I'm always afraid that I will forget to say something that needed to be said just because it is so obvious to me that I don't think about it. Try thinking about every biological step involved in breathing sometime and see if you don't have to start over once or twice because you forgot something.
At any rate, come back tomorrow and we will see what we see.

Friday, December 12, 2008

A Note On Certain Posts

The primary purpose of A Is A is to discuss certain events in the news - whether they be political, absurd, or entertaining - and especially when those events contradict the basic premise of this blog, that reality is real. There are times, however, when I must make points more clear by expanding on certain core philosophies of my own. If philosophical discussion for its own sake does not interest you then you should probably skip those posts. They will usually be fairly evident from the beginning. I promise that I will not turn this blog into nothing but a preaching soapbox but I hope that these philosophical digressions will be interesting enough in their own right that you will follow along with them as well.
There will be times when I think something is obvious while others disagree. I will be the first to admit that I make mistakes and this is probably one of my most common. You can believe that Heather will point out to me when she feels that I have made this mistake and I would like you to feel free to do so as well. I am always open to comments and questions and will always try to honestly answer any honestly asked question. Fair warning, though: I do not subscribe to the notion that there are no foolish questions. Dishonest questions, questions that have been plainly answered, and questions asked purely for the sake of arguing are prime examples of foolish questions. So long as we keep this in mind, I am always open to discussion.

On The Concept And Nature Of Rights - Part One

I made a comment in passing yesterday that may have left some readers confused, concerning human rights, so I have decided to elaborate today. Many people consider this to be a complicated subject but there is no reason for it to be so. If the root of human rights is treated as axiomatic then the rest becomes obvious. The axiom is one that most people recognize but few people (or at least, not nearly enough) pause to consider the details.
The axiom is this, that what we call human rights is a condition inherent in sentient beings. Whether you consider them to be inherent from God or inherent by nature is irrelevant to this particular discussion. What matters is that they are inextricably contained within living, thinking beings.
Allow me to digress for just a moment to explain why I am using a formal phrase instead of simply saying "people" or "human beings". As of yet there is no credible evidence that there are any other sentient beings either on this planet or within the greater universe. Absence of evidence, however, is not evidence of absence and it may be (it also may not be - please do not read in more than I am actually saying) that we will one day discover or be discovered by other sentient beings. If you are a fan of science or science fiction (as I am of both) then you are already aware that much thought has gone into how such beings should be treated or what rights they might possess if we ever do meet them. I use the phrase "sentient beings" in my axiom instead of "people" to demonstrate that the question is already answered. If they are sentient beings then their rights are as inherent as our own and for the same reason: the simple fact that they are sentient beings.
With that out of the way, let us return to the axiom. An axiom is a truth taken for granted because it is self-evident or is the first cause of other truths that are derived from it. If you do not believe that Rights Are Inherent To Sentient Beings is an axiom then you do not want to keep reading. We do not speak the same language and cannot come to an agreement. Rights are not granted by government or document and, while they can be abridged through force, such abridgment does not remove them, it violates them. Be very clear on and careful of the difference.
If we take our axiom as true then human rights are a natural occurance and, therefore, must occur in nature and must be able to occur in all cases where the required condition applies. Our axiom has only one condition - the existance of a sentient being - and therefore human rights must be naturally occuring to sentient beings and must be able to coexist with any one or more sentient being(s). To put it quite simply, if you can do a thing naturally and by yourself, it is possibly a human right. If you cannot do it naturally and by yourself, it cannot meet the basic definition of a human right. To think, to speak your mind, to arm yourself against possible danger, to believe what you believe and to practice this belief (in any manner that does not require the presence or participation of another person), to keep your thoughts to yourself. While certainly not an all-inclusive list, all of these things meet the basic definition and so can possibly be considered a human right. Color television, indoor plumbing, assault against another person, human sacrifice, a high paying job in someone else's business. None of these things meet the basic definition and so they cannot be human rights.
But there are people who cannot speak (or express themselves in some way) because of physical limitations and there are people who can, by themselves, build a color television or create indoor plumbing! I can hear this argument as plainly as though you were sitting in the room with me. But consider: Communication is a natural part of the human being (ask any biologist or anthropologist) and those who cannot do so are so rare as to come very close to statistical nonexistance. Conversely, those who can create or build entire structures (of almost any type) are almost as rare. In both cases, the rarity of the objection makes them the exception that proves the rule The person who has lost a basic right through physical inability should certainly be pitied but the person who has gained a right to a television (for himself and himself alone) by being able to build that television single-handedly should be greatly admired. Anyone who can add to rights is certainly a kind of hero.
So we have defined, based on our starting axiom, what rights cannot be and what rights can be. We have not, however, defined what rights are. We have only narrowed the field. We have found a definite negative but, on the positive, only a maybe. Is there a way, by drawing corollaries from our axiom, that we can narrow the field even further so that we might arrive at a definite positive?
I believe that there is and I have given a hint of what I believe through the examples I have chosen to provide. You will note, though, that the headline of this post contained the phrase "Part One", making clear that there will be a Part Two. I cannot discuss rights without getting long winded and I would not ask you to sit through all of that at one time, so we will take up Part Two tomorrow when I will attempt to demonstrate that there can be a definite positive to go along with the definite negative on rights. I hope you will join me.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Time To Flush The UN

If you are part of the shrinking minority who still believe that the United Nations has any relevance (or sanity) in the modern world, perhaps today's headlines will finally disabuse you of this notion. U.N. General Assembly President Miguel D'Escoto announced today that he had chosen Canadian activist Maude Barlow to be his advisor on global water-use policies, a position the media has dubbed "Water Czar". Even if we stipulate that the UN has the authority to even bother with such policies - a position that is far from universally stipulated - this appointment makes about as much sense as naming Osama bin Laden to head a committee on comparative religion.
Where to begin? Well, the first thing you might be wondering is just who in the world is Maude Barlow? I know that was my first question. I'm a political junkie and I had never heard of the woman. So I did a quick Google search and it turns out there is a good reason I had never heard of her. Apparently the only person who has spent any significant amount of time talking about Maude Barlow in the past is Maude Barlow. I'm not kidding. Go look for yourself. There's not much out there except what she has said, herself.
And it turns out there is good reason for that too. Maude Barlow is a hardcore activist, the kind that, ordinarily, no one listens to. We're talking far fringe activism here. Barlow believes that all fresh water sources on the planet should be nationalized, that private enterprise should not be a part of the equation, and that access to fresh water is a basic human right. This begs an obvious question: Of what use is an advisor who is obviously biased toward only one side of an issue? I'm not exaggerating here. One of Barlow's supporters, Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch (of which, Barlow is a board member), describes her as "probably the most outspoken and well-known advocate in making water a human right and making sure that water is in public control ..." Talk about a ringing endorsement for open-minded policy advice.
Barlow has no scientific background and, aside from an assortment of activist committees, no political background. Yet she is somehow qualified to offer advice on global water policy. Barlow maintains that sources of fresh water are shrinking yet would remove from the field the very people who have the greatest ability to improve access and distribution. Barlow claims that access to fresh water is a basic human right and yet ignores the fact that this "right" would require someone else to provide it. Does this make sense to anyone else?
I have said for years that the United Nations is a bloated bureaucracy, incapable of fulfilling its basic function and yet greedy for power beyond its charter, and I couldn't ask for a better example of this fact than has been provided today. This should be a laughing stock moment, but just wait. No one will be laughing, at least not for long.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Fact Vs. Fiction

Like most people, I receive quite a few email forwards from family and friends, with politically flavored forwards being far from uncommon. In fact, since most of my friends and family are quite aware of my interests and activities, forwards of a political type may actually be more common for me than is average. Such is the life of a politically oriented blogger.
I was discussing the nature of some of those forwards earlier today and decided that I should expand on a concept here. That concept is simple: Dishonesty has no place in a political discussion no matter whose side you take nor whose side is made to look bad by the false claims. While the concept is simple, the practice is, apparently, something else entirely.
Setting aside the moral aspects (Most of us have been told repeatedly that telling a lie is bad but how many people actually listen to this lesson on a consistant basis?) there are really very practical reasons for taking this concept to heart. Perhaps more important, there is a very practical loss for all of us when this concept is forgotten.
We who wish to live in a free society must make decisions on a regular basis in order to keep our society free. Those decisions must be grounded in reality if they are to have any practical value and, in order to ground decisions in reality, we must have information untainted by falsehood. Faulty information, whether the fault arises from honest mistakes or intentional deception, results in faulty decisions. Faulty decisions, in a society such as ours, can be fatal.
Of course, those who have an axe to grind won't always have the same idea of what "free society" means as I have. In fact, it is safe to assume that they will often have different ideas. They may honestly believe that, so long as the faulty information shifts things toward their desired outcome, things will work out well in the end regardless of the bumpy road used to reach the goal. To those people I offer a small reminder: The Boy Who Cried Wolf.
In this age of easy information, the possibility of keeping a lie unchecked gets smaller and smaller. Sooner or later, the odds are definitely in favor of people discovering the truth and, once that happens, the credibility of the liar takes a nosedive. For those with political goals, this can result in even greater consequences than one discredited person. For right or wrong, people often associate a movement with those who speak for that movement. When a person is discovered to be falsifying information to push a political agenda, the entire agenda can be painted with the same brush of dishonesty. That thought, alone, should be enough to keep true believers in check. If only this were so.
True believers tend to leap first and think about the consequences later, if at all. If only they knew how much harm they were doing to their own movements, maybe this would be different. If you are a true believer - of any cause - if this applies to you, you would do well to slow down and look at that forward before sending it along.
At the beginning of this post we set aside the moral aspects of the argument, but there is one more point that should be addressed and it does hinge on the moral aspect. If you are using dishonesty to support your agenda - or if you are supporting those who do so - you completely lose any possibility of moral high ground in condemning your opponents for doing the same. If you do not stand opposed to dishonesty in political discussion, even when that dishonesty favors your cause, there is no reason for anyone to believe anything else you say. I would even take that a step further. If you really want credibility, be the first to step foward condemning a lie that favors your cause. Let your opponents try to discredit you then.
Sometimes the simplest lessons, the ones we were supposed to learn in our childhood playgrounds, are the most important. A lie makes you look bad. Honesty makes you look good. Lies will be found out more often than not. Personally, I would like to see honesty in political discussion because we all truly want the best outcome we can achieve and we all know we need honest information to achieve that. However, I'm a realist. If I cannot appeal to the best in people, at least I can point out that honesty really is in your own best interest.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Already Getting Nervous

It seems that President-Elect Barack Obama has not even been sworn in yet and is already generating controversy. In fact, we still have more than a month before he takes over the top job and some people are already getting nervous. I'm not talking about those who were nervous the moment his election was announced. I'm talking about people who actually wait to see results before making judgments.
Full Disclosure: I did not vote for Obama. I didn't care for McCain either, but anyone who is as popular just because as Obama is, makes me nervous. History has far too many examples of people riding this kind of popularity straight into disaster.
Speaking of which, today's subject: Obama's "America Serves" initiative.
It would appear that there has been some hanky-panky over at Obama's website, changing up some wording to make things sound less offensive, but I have doubts that changes in words actually means changes in intentions or goals. At issue is the plan, under the America Serves tab, to require all middle school and high school students to perform 50 hours of community service and all college students to perform 100 hours of community service. For those of you running over to look this up, the word "require" is no longer present - it was stricken from the page a couple days ago - but it was and the fact that it was says more about Obama's intentions and goals than anything that page currently says.
Think about that for a moment. Your child goes to school in order to learn to read and write, learn some math and science and (hopefully) acquire some knowledge of history and government. Exactly what does community service have to do with school? "Yes, I know you have straight A's in all educational courses but you cannot graduate because you have not completed your required community service." Is that really something we want to see?
Under such a program, who gets to define what is a community service? You should already know the answer to that question. He who controls the purse strings controls the definitions. I can easily assume that it will not be you, the parent, controling that definition.
Let me make sure this is clear. I have nothing against community service. I don't even have anything against students performing community service. It would probably be good for them and there is absolutely no reason it cannot be organized through the schools. There are many extracurricular activities organized through the schools that encourage student participation but are in no way required. The moment you transform it into a requirement, however, it becomes something else entirely. And, for the record, it makes no difference whether the government makes a law requiring it or they sneak into it by withholding funds from schools that don't require it. Either way amounts to a requirement and either way amounts to a government mandated requirement. Requiring a person to work where you want them to work is, by definition, slavery and slavery is, by the Constitution, outlawed. Whether the requirement is direct and straight forward or sneaky and underhanded, it is still a requirement and still slavery.
You cannot force volunteerism. The very idea is ludicrous and the fact that someone would even consider it says a lot about that person. I would highly recommend that everyone pay close attention to this subject as we move forward and be prepared to scream bloody murder if the scoundrels at the top actually look like they are preparing for implementation.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Note On Scheduling

One thing I want to warn you about before we get rolling full steam ahead. At this point in time, I am averaging 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday, at the job that pays the bills. I will be trying my level best to have things worth reading here on a regular basis, but bills and family come first. It will probably take some time for me to work out a good schedule for this, so I hope you will be patient with me.

Monday, December 1, 2008

And Another Thing

While I'm doing the housework of setting everything up and explaining everything here, I should make another introduction. If you look over at the "contributors" list, you will see the name H. Denison-Jones along with mine. That is my wife (yes, the same one that readers of the earlier blog have seen named as "Mrs. Elf"). Do not expect to see anything written by her here - I don't think we could get her to do that under threat of force - but she is an editor. What that means, in short, is that she corrects my mistakes. Since that is no small job, we decided that we would actually give her the official permisions here rather than just having her point things out over my shoulder. Make sure you tell her thank you once in a while.

The Ratings System

We interrupt this blog for a friendly service announcement. You will notice, under each post, we are instituting the Reaction rating system. Don't have time to leave a comment? I'd appreciate it if you still took the time to click one of the ratings. The legend is simple:
This is A: you liked the post.
This is not A: you did not like the post.
What is A: you were indifferent to the post.

Thank you.

Has Human Dignity Become An Oxymoron?

By now, everyone has probably heard about the tragic death at a New York Wal-Mart Monday when a temporary employee, Jdimytai Damour, was stampeded by aproximately 2000 shoppers attempting to enter the store for the annual Black Friday sale. There have been many blogs going on about this all weekend now and no small amount of hand-wringing and finger-pointing. Personally, when I am reading these blogs, I always make it a point to read through the comments because that is where you find the most telling cross-sections of humanity.
Most of the fingers, in this case, appear to be pointing squarely at the corporate entity of Wal-Mart. While I am not surprised by this, I am a little disheartened.
Let's get the details out of the way. Early that morning, police responded to an unruly crowd and told that crowd to settle down and play nice. The police then left. Do keep that sentence in mind for later examination. By the time the store was scheduled to be opening, there were aproximately 2000 people waiting to enter. These people, apparently responding to some action inside which they interpreted as the store opening, began to push forward. The store was not, in fact opening and employees attempted to physically block the doors with their own manual strength (A for effort, but an utterly impossible task under the circumstances). The surging crowd pushed forward with such force that the outer doors were actually broken open. That tidal wave of people crashed into the store and Jdimytai Damour was killed in the process. According to multiple witnesses (both employee and customer) as well as multiple cameras, people continued to step over Mr. Damour even after it should have been plainly obvious that he was at least critically injured. This crowd even continued to plow through emergency workers who were trying to save Damour's life. Once it was announced that there had been a death and the store had to be evacuated, people complained and some even balked at having to leave.
Those are the details. Disgusting enough for you?
The police later said that the store's security was not adequate to the crowd. These are the same police who saw the crowd and left, remember. These are also the same crowd who had to approve of the store's security measures before the sale. After the tragedy is a fine time for them to say that things were not adequate.
Could Wal-Mart have done more? Of that there is no doubt. It is always possible to have done more and hindsight is 20/20. I used to work for Wal-Mart and I have worked one of these sales. I don't mind telling you it was one of the most nerve-wracking moments of my life and my store was a 24-hour store so there was no mad rush to enter in the morning. These Black Friday sales are certainly dangerous and stores do need to do more to keep that in mind.
However, it is not the stores' fault that these sales are dangerous (never mind the comment on one blog suggesting that people are being programmed to behave a certain way by predatory merchandising tactics). The stores must claim some responsibility because they set the nature of the environment and control the safety of the environment, but they are not puppet masters pulling the strings of unruly shoppers.
The average shopper today is unruly when there is not a special sale occuring. Manners have gone right out the window and that is our fault, not the fault of companies or merchants. This, though, goes way beyond manners. This goes to outright barbarity.
While I have no doubt that there were many people in that crowd who were innocent - I fully realize that one does not argue with the forward momentum of a mob - was there anyone who came to his or her senses once inside and free of the press of bodies? There is no indication that this is true. Someone had to realize that their feet were coming down upon a human body and that someone did not turn back to determine the fate of that human body. Wal-Mart is not to blame for that and neither are the police.
It was not a surging mob that caused people to jostle the emergency workers. By that time, the mob surge had dissipated. Wal-Mart is not to blame for that and neither are the police.
It was not mob mentality that caused people to balk at leaving the store when it was discovered that someone had died. Even greed cannot acount for that. That was nothing more than callous disregard for human life. Wal-Mart is not to blame for that and neither are the police.
My first response upon reading about this tragedy was that everyone involved should be arrested and charged with manslaughter, at the very least. I stand by this response even though I know that actually succeeding at this effort will be an almost impossible task. Separating the guilty from those who were almost as much victims as was Mr. Damour will be no simple undertaking. Having said that, I do hope that those responsible are sitting at home right now with a full understanding of what they have done and why they did it. I hope they now feel every cent of the price they paid for those bargains.