Wednesday, September 30, 2009

We Honor Communist Revolutions Now?

The people who make such decisions have announced that they plan to light up New York's Empire State Building in red and yellow this evening to honor the 60th anniversary of China's communist revolution. The building is normally lit in white but other colors are frequently used to celebrate holidays and various special occasions.
Say what?
Let me be absolutely clear. I am far from xenophobic and wouldn't utter a single complaint if this were being done to honor some visiting Chinese dignitary. Like their policies or not (and I loath them), China is an important trade partner who owns a staggering amount of our public debt and we do owe them some courtesy for this. However, that is not the case here. This lighting display is being done specifically to honor their communist revolution. That is an entirely different matter!
According to the building's managers, this display is to honor "the 60th anniversary of their country", but that is utter nonsense. China's current form of government has existed for 60 years but the country itself, as it is known, has existed for centuries at the very least. China did not spring into existence or become a new entity separate from it's past because of the revolution any more than Russia did those things when their own revolution transformed the Russian Empire into the Soviet Union. Russia, within that union, was still Russia and their nation was certainly not born at that time. Would you like a better example? How about Great Britain? Anyone care to claim that the anniversary of that country goes back only to the Magna Charta? Or maybe only as far back as Queen Victoria when the modern shift to a Constitutional Monarchy (where the royal family is little more than ceremonial) was fully implemented? Go ahead and try. I dare you.
Making such a claim is insulting to the intelligence of anyone and everyone who might be listening and only serves to prop up the totalitarian regime in China, which thrives on such fictions. Had the Empire State Building's managers decided to celebrate the specific acts of totalitarian brutality of any other despotic country in the world, they would have been out on the sidewalk before they could finish making their excuses.
That a communist revolution is being celebrated in America at all is a nightmare indicative of the insane times in which we now live. That it is being celebrated in one of the most important capitalist cities in the world and in a building that symbolizes that capitalism to most people is a crime beyond words.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Try This On For Absurd

Contrary to how it might seem, this is not a political blog. It is a blog dedicated to the absurd and to whatever strikes my interest at the moment. It just works out that politics so often captures both requirements. Not always though. Sometimes I go off on a tangent. Like today.
This isn't about news at all. Well, there will be a bit of entertainment news toward the end. It's more of a personal lament and an irritating tragedy. Or maybe a tragic irritant. It bugs me, anyway.
Let me tell you a story.
I've been telling stories my entire life. It's what I do. It's what most children do, but I think I did it more than most. During childhood, there was hardly a waking moment when I wasn't engrossed in some world of my own creation. Unlike most children, I never stopped. I still create worlds and tell stories on a regular basis. It's still what I do.
I do occasionally run into minor roadblocks though.
When I was a child in the late 70s, one of my stories involved a decked-out attack helicopter with technology far beyond anything that was actually possible at the time. I even called my helicopter the unusual name of Blue Thunder. If you are familiar with mid-80s movies and television then you already know how that worked out.
As a teenager, and purely for my own amusement, I redesigned one of my favorite comic book characters, Spider-Man. I changed his webslingers to bracelets surmounted by multiple nozzles (if you don't know the details, in the traditional Spider-Man design, Spidey's webslingers have a single nozzle with multiple settings that are changed by turning the nozzle, kind of like the nozzle on a Windex bottle). With this, Spidey didn't require two hands to change the output of his webslingers because the different nozzles were fired by different pressure points around the wrist, based on how he turned his hand. I also made one of the nozzles fire knock-out darts based on spider venom and another of the nozzles fired an explosive web-ball that engulfed anyone it hit in webby goo. Then came the Clone Saga, where Marvel introduced the Scarlet Spider. He used multi-nozzle bracelets and one nozzle fired a "spider stinger" - a knock-out dart based on the idea of spider venom - and another nozzle fired "impact webbing" - an explosive web-ball that engulfed anyone it hit in webby goo.
Some day I'm going to prove the existence of psychic phenomenon and sue for copyright infringement. I'm kidding, I think, but you begin to see why I might get frustrated. These are only two of the biggest examples. This has happened to me many times. It's just about the wildest coincidence I have ever personally encountered (and for the record, and in all seriousness, I do consider it coincidence, albeit frustrating coincidence).
I was reading through entertainment news this morning and was shot with the coincidence cannon yet again. I read the article and started cussing. I called my wife into the room and told her to read the second paragraph. She did so, and I watched her eyes grow large as she read. Yep, it had happened again.
The same company that adapted Stephen King's The Dead Zone into a successful 6-season television series is adapting another King property, this time the 2005 novella The Colorado Kid into a television show they are calling "Haven".
According to Variety, "the project centers on a spooky town in Maine where cursed folk live normal lives in exile. When those curses start returning, FBI agent Audrey Parker is brought in to keep those supernatural forces at bay -- while trying to unravel the mysteries of Haven." Now aside from the fact that my own city of Haven is "somewhere in the Midwest" (I've always been very careful to not actually name a state) and centers on a revolving cast of lead characters, that sounds frustratingly familiar. Some of you have even read some of my Haven stories and can understand exactly what I mean. I've been writing these particular stories since about 2001 but I was writing them in a medium that required an artist and I didn't have an artist, so I haven't done anything with them. I have an entire folder on my computer full of Haven stories and notes that all just got rendered useless. They're not the same idea and I have no doubt that they could pass a copyright challenge, but no publisher would take the chance. Ten years of story design just got relegated to personal daydream.
I'm really only ranting about absurd coincidence here. In truth, I am a huge Stephen King fan and am looking forward to seeing this show when it comes out. I hope it is worthy of the master. I am heavily invested in a different writing project right now (one that does not require an artist) and that will keep me plenty distracted from having lost Haven until such time as I can determine how to reclaim all that lost time. I only hope that no one pries open my head and plucks this one out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What's So Hard To Understand About Rights?

I was reading a review this morning on Michael Moore's new film Capitalism: A Love Story. (I won't go there. I've never seen a Moore film and probably never will, so I am not qualified to comment.) What interested me was the fact that the reviewer was a self-professed Republican and was not, as might be expected, simply bashing the movie. It was a balanced review with many points the author liked and many others he did not like. At one point in the review, the author stated that he did not believe, as Moore apparently does, that FDR's proposed "second bill of rights" was the solution to our problems and this statement resulted in the comment which resulted in what I am writing now. The commenter asked why the author disagreed with this concept, which the commenter referred to as an "economical bill of rights", and then quoted the following as a demonstration of said bill:

"The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad
The right of every family to a decent home
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment
The right to a good education"

I freely admit that I only got as far as the second line before convulsive shuddering made me stop and then have to go back and read more slowly and cautiously so as not to blow a gasket.
In a nutshell, the right of everyone to a good job where he or she makes a good living and, thus, can live a good life. Sounds great, right? Who could be opposed? How about anyone with a rational understanding of the concept of rights and/or freedom?
The fatal flaw in just about this entire list is that none of these so-called rights can exist without someone being forced to give them to you. How can you have a right to a job unless someone is required to hire you? How can you have a right to a certain renumeration unless someone is required to fulfill that renumeration? How can you have a right to sell your products at a certain rate unless someone is first required to buy them and is then required to buy them at that rate?
Let's take it a step further, shall we? What right do you have to a job if you are not qualified to perform that job? What right do you have to a particular level of renumeration if you do not perform work that someone paying believes to be worthy of that renumeration? What right do you have to sell a product that no one wants?
Do you begin to see a problem with this idea? It's a nice dream. Yes, wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone were happily employed and could afford a quality life without having to make do or settle or cut corners? I think it would be wonderful if everyone could fly to any point in the world to visit any loved one you choose at any time you like, but that doesn't make it my right to get on a plane and zip off to Texas every other week unless I can somehow come up with a way to afford that airfare. Just because something is a nice idea doesn't make it a right and erroneously labeling it a right doesn't improve your position.
No right can be in conflict with another and no right can require the active participation or contribution of someone else. This is a very simple, easy to use formula to help determine whether or not that nice idea you are considering is actually a right. The fact that your idea meets this criteria does not automatically make it a right, but you'd be amazed how many "nice ideas" can't even get past this starting gate.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Stretching The Dictionary

Reading the news this morning made me laugh. I see that President Obama and George Stephanopoulos were arguing over whether or not the much-discussed Everyone Must Buy Health Insurance mandate qualified as a new tax on the middle class (thus breaking Obama's pledge to not raise taxes on the middle class) and Stephanopoulos broke out the dictionary. I had to go to YouTube and look it up. I cheered! That is something I would have done, and have done here, repeatedly.
Please don't accuse me of thinking that Stephanopoulos stole a trick from my playbook. I know perfectly well that he doesn't even know this blog exists. I still find it gratifying that someone in the mainstream media actually understands the concept of going to the dictionary - the official and codified record of what words mean - when debating the meaning of a word.
There were a few amazing moments in that little discussion (and by "amazing" I mean "Did he really go there?").
Obama accused Stephanopoulos of "stretching a little bit right there" for using the dictionary. Really? It is now considered "stretching" to go to the dictionary to settle a dispute on the meaning of a word? On what planet? I would like to think that this blatant Gotcha moment might come back to bite Obama but, unfortunately, I know all too well that his die hard supporters will just spin it to mean something else. They have already started attacking Stephanopoulos (by calling him - GASP - a Republican). The fact of the matter is that Obama was wrong, was caught being wrong, and tried to weasel out of it by making it seem like the eminently reasonable action of Stephanopoulos was something dirty and giggle-worthy. Apparently we are supposed to believe now that it is a bad thing to use words for what they actually mean.
Obama also made the amazing statement, "If I say that, right now, your premiums are going to be going up by 5 or 8 or 10% next year, and you say, 'Well that's not a tax increase.'" And I say, in this example, are you saying this as a president or as an insurance company? Because your example doesn't say. If you are saying this as a president then 1) Yes, that actually would be a tax increase, in exactly the same way that your mandate is a tax increase and 2) When did you, as president, gain the Constitutional authority to tell the insurance companies what they will and will not charge? If, in this example, you are saying this as an insurance company then no, that is not a tax increase because insurance companies do not collect taxes. Duh! You're not really this stupid, are you? Or, more to the point, you don't really believe that we are this stupid, do you?
Finally - no surprise here - Obama fell back on the constant (and constantly false) auto insurance analogy. "Everybody in America, just about, has to get auto insurance. Nobody considers that a tax increase." For one thing, Mr. President, many people in America do consider that a tax and thus considered it a tax increase when such laws were passed. They may have agreed with the reason and need for the tax, but it was still a tax. After dismissing that strawman, we get to go back to the many reasons (already listed here) as to why the comparing health insurance mandate to auto insurance mandate is a false analogy. I know it sounds good and they do both have the word "insurance" in them, but surely a Harvard law professor can parse language better than that.
If you have to spend money you might not otherwise spend, because the government told you to, under penalty of law, that is a tax, no matter what other fancy terms you care to apply. If it is a new expenditure then it is a tax increase. No amount of fancy rhetoric will make this fact go away. It may be that you believe this tax increase is warranted, but that is an entirely different debate. Warranted or not, it is still a tax increase. Obama is faced with the choice of breaking his word to try and go forward with his healthcare policy ideas or keeping his word and probably not going forward with this ideas. It is a pretty classic No Win situation but then, frankly, he (and any other politician you care to know) should never have made that "no new taxes" pledge. That's a promise that never ends well in the long run.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Solves Everything Cop Out

The Left has developed a bulletproof response to every policy objection the Right might care to raise: it's all a result of racism. This neatly ends the need to discover whether or not points should be discussed - let alone the possibility of having such a discussion - because now, instead of discussing the original point of debate, you're discussing whether or not the argument is racially motivated. The very fact that a charge of racism can so easily derail any conversation should, itself, be a testament to how far we have come in race relations - Would the accusation be so explosive or insulting if there truly were as many racists as the accusers claim? Do you honestly believe that if you accused, for example, the average KKK member of being racist, that person would be insulted? - but instead it is being used to drive us backward. If you don't think people can develop racist tendencies by being constantly falsely accused of such then you don't know much about psychology or sociology.
Is there a racial overtone (or undertone) to the objections against President Obama's policies? Interestingly, Obama himself doesn't think so, not that this is doing a thing to slow down the accusers. Of course, it could be that Obama is just taking the politically expedient route. He is, after all, a politician. So what about the accusations themselves? Do they hold up? Why don't we look at a few and find out?

"Representative Joe Wilson calling President Obama a liar last week was ALL about race -- the race of the illegal immigrants both the President and Mr. Wilson were referring to."

This is one of the biggest and one of the easiest to dismiss. This could actually be an entire posting subject on its own, but I'll try to keep it brief. For starters, this argument demonstrates that there is nothing new with improperly inserting racial accusations into a policy debate. There are many people on one side of the illegal immigration debate who insist on making it a racial debate instead of a law and immigration debate. According to them, if you support enforcing (and even toughening) illegal immigration laws then you are a racist. End of discussion. Never mind the fact that immigration laws do not concern a specific race or that supporting such laws doesn't say a thing about your opinion on legal immigration. According to the thinking of this group, it is racist because one racial group makes up the majority of illegal immigrants in this country. Seriously? Is it my fault one race breaks this particular law more often than any other? If one racial group made up most of the thieves in a given country (please note that I am not suggesting this to be the case nor do I believe it to be so - I'm only giving a stupidly exaggerated example) would it then become racist to enforce anti-stealing laws? Of course not! Who would suggest such silliness? Why then is it suggested in this other area of law?

"Also, if it is not racism why carry swastika signs or call President Obama all kinds of unsavory names, and carry loaded guns to the meetings or protest marches?"

Do you even know what racism is about? Here's a hint: "I don't like you, you're stupid," is not a racist comment. It doesn't matter if I'm purple and you're green, it's still not a racist comment. If you're going to accuse someone of racism, can you at least use racial examples to support your accusation?

"Why all the rascist signs at these meetings calling Obama Hitler and Muslim and using every deragatory comment based on religion and race? As a black female seeing that I call it rasism (sic)."

Again, an accusation of racism while citing examples that do not support the accusation. Muslim is a religion, not a race and comparing Obama (black) to Hitler (white supremacist) strikes me as a rather absurd way to go about racism. You are aware of the fact that many true racists would not consider comparisons to Hitler to be a bad thing, right?
I've collected another comment that says pretty much the same thing as this one but includes the phrase "Indonesian Muslim" instead of just "Muslim". If you aren't aware of the fact that the "Indonesian" portion of that particular accusation is an assertion on whether or not Obama is legally eligible to hold the office of president (no comment here on the irrationality of that assertion - that would be a different post) and not a racial slur against Indonesians then you haven't been paying enough attention to current events to really warrant making a comment.

"There is a huge element of racism in how many Republicans, white working-class people, and those on the religious right see the Democratic Party as a whole. I know religious people who seethe at the very thought of their tax money going to welfare cheats (i.e., blacks), who are full of anger at having to deal with resentful, boorish, fat, lazy, long-nailed government clerks (black women), and who burn with hatred at the anti-social low-lifes whose very presence drives down property values, ruins neighborhoods, and contaminates everything they touch (blacks again). For many of them the words "welfare", "socialism", "Obama", and "Democrat" are just code words for black, black, black, and black."

Are you familiar with the psychological term "projecting"? Just because you claim that these things are code words for "black" doesn't mean that they are. Personally, most of the welfare cheats that I have known or seen in my life have been white. Most of the boorish, lazy government workers I have known or seen in my life have been white. Most of the people complaining about these people that I have known in my life have been just as demonstrably angry about the "white trash" examples as at any other examples. Frankly, what does it say about you that you assume these things mean "black"? In short, this is another accusation without foundation. Because the accuser assumes the person in question means "black" does not in any way demonstrate or prove that this is actually the case.
What needs to be said here is that this is most of the current debate on racism. It is made up almost entirely of people assuming racism with no evidence to support the accusation. Are there racists involved in this debate? Absolutely, and anyone who suggests otherwise is too foolish to be involved in the debate. Are those racists the majority of the Right side of the debate? There is no evidence to support this assumption and I find it highly doubtful. The fact of the matter is that the Left, on the whole, assumes that you are racist if you don't support welfare, affirmative action, or entitlement policies in general or if you do support such things as enforcement of illegal immigration laws - in short, if you're not on the Left - so you are guilty before you have even done anything. This makes it easier for them because, if you are just a hateful little racist, they don't have to waste time discussing policy differences with you.
There is a continuing problem with racism in this country, but you cannot solve that problem by throwing everything you disagree with into the same pot and calling it all racism. People can disagree with spending decisions without having a racial motivation. People can believe there is no Constitutional justification for government involvement in healthcare without having racial motivations. People can believe that current plans under discussion will harm their own healthcare without having racial motivations. The very fact that these differences can legitimately exist indicates that you should be discussing them instead of dismissing them as racism and pretending they don't exist.
The fact that you refuse to discuss them does not say good things about your side of the argument.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Double Standard Of Racism

The words "racist" and "racism" have been thrown around so much lately, they have just about lost all useful meaning. The really sad thing is that the accusations, in most cases, are so vague that they can't be answered or defended against. When opposing groups refuse to use the same language in their debates, there can be no possibility of coming to a positive resolution, and these opposing groups are not speaking the same language. They might all sound like English, but sound is all they have in common.
We have, however, been handed a double feature in the news lately that might help to explain some of this. Or maybe they will just lead to more unanswered questions. I'm not really sure. We've had two specific, high-publicity accusations of racism in the press in the last week or so that both share a common (and important to this discussion) feature and comparing them might bring some answers. Those cases are, of course, Rep. Joe Wilson shouting "You Lie" at President Obama during the latter's Congressional speech and hip hop artist Kanye West upstaging Taylor Swift during her VMA award acceptance.
You might be asking yourself, a politician and a performer? What could their cases have in common? (Aside from the obvious. Insert your favorite politician joke here.) What they have in common is this: they've both been accused of racism even though there was nothing overtly racist in their specific speech or actions.
Wilson said two words and, right or wrong, those two words are the opinion of many Americans. There was nothing racial about them. There is certainly no one claiming that only one race lies or that one race never lies. Wilson claims that his moment was an outburst, a momentary loss of temper and restraint. The argument goes that Wilson would not have had that loss of restraint if the President were a white man.
West hijacked a special moment to make an announcement with which many of his fans - and fans of hip hop in general - agree. There was nothing racial in his words. He certainly didn't say that only black women should be nominated in this category nor that white women shouldn't win it. West claims that he was just giving a shout out to a friend and lost his head. The argument goes that West would not have lost his head had any black women won the award, regardless of whether or not she was his specific friend.
Do you see the similarity now? Do you see the comparison? Here's where it gets tricky.
Those who have accused West of racism are now being accused of racism for seeing it where none was overtly evident. To make the claim that "a black man offended against a white woman so it must be racism", you must be a racist. Those making this argument even go so far as to ask, "Where were you when Wilson was disrespecting the President? Why the outrage here and not there?" They are apparently oblivious to the fact that every major news organization on the planet (including the of-so-conservative Fox News) ran articles denouncing Wilson's outburst. Many of those organizations, in fact, immediately jumped on calling Wilson a racist. New York Times columnist (and world famous class and race baiter) Maureen Dowd went so far as to swear that she heard the unspoken word "boy" on the end of Wilson's outburst. You should also keep in mind that the people making this argument are, on the whole, the exact same people who are accusing Wilson of racism. So, in essence, they're saying it's okay to accuse a white man of racism without evidence but it's not okay to accuse a black man of racism without evidence.
Wait a minute. Did I say "without evidence"? It gets better. This is the second time that West has had such an outburst against a white female singer. West has been documented numerous times making racist and racial comments. While this specific incident did not overtly smack of racism, West's history does lead to the question. What is there in Wilson's history that leads to the question of racism? If it exists, I haven't seen it. Have you? Do you honestly believe that, if such evidence existed, Wilson's opponents wouldn't be shouting it from the highest mountain? I don't.
You can't have it both ways. You can't use the racism card when it is convenient to your cause and ignore it when it is not. I can't prove anything in either case and so, you might notice, I haven't accused anyone of anything. I can ask questions, though.
My biggest question is, why aren't you asking these questions?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Those Silly Words With Meanings

I was strolling through the comments on the Kanye West fiasco - more of the same; you wouldn't be interested unless you're just obsessed with comments like I am - when I came across another tangent that caught my attention. It's not surprising that West is being accused of racism, though the accusation at this point is a bit overblown. There was nothing overtly racial about this particular incident - and West is usually pretty lacking in subtlety - but his past behavior does lend weight to the accusation. Maybe so. Maybe no. Impossible to prove, one way or the other. What caught my attention, though, was a specific comment on the subject:
"Pointless to post at this point, but traditional definitions yada yada yada … “ism” has to do with positions of power. So, for example, a woman cannot by definition be “sexist” toward men, because the woman is not in a (traditional) position of power."
What? Really? As a writer, I find words to be important and try to stay current and knowledgeable on their meanings and I don't recall the -ism suffix having anything to do with "positions of power". As always when there is a disagreement on meanings, I don't settle for trusting memory. I look it up. Dictionaries are wonderful things.
According to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary, the actual definition of the -ism suffix is:
1 a : act : practice : process b : manner of action or behavior characteristic of a (specified) person or thing c : prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a (specified) attribute
2 a : state : condition : property b : abnormal state or condition resulting from excess of a (specified) thing or marked by resemblance to (such) a person or thing
3 a : doctrine : theory : religion b : adherence to a system or a class of principles
4 : characteristic or peculiar feature or trait
Do you see anything in there about "positions of power"? Because I don't. Tell me, please, what positions of power Buddhism would be about. Doesn't work, does it?
Let's try that dictionary again. Another definition? Well, despite using "sexism" as an example, the person who made the comment was actually arguing about the definition of "racism", so let's look that up. Again, according to Mirriam-Webster:
1 : a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
2 : racial prejudice or discrimination
And again, no mention of "positions of power". You can try this experiment with just about any dictionary you care to check (the internet makes this wonderfully easy) and you will not find "positions of power" in the defining component of racism or any of the other isms people might like to discuss in this context. Why not? Because one has nothing to do with the other. Yes, positions of power often make these isms easier but the absence of power doesn't come anywhere close to making them impossible. It doesn't even make them difficult.
This wouldn't bother me quite so much - inability to properly use their own language is a hallmark of idiots and I expect it - except that this mushy thinking is often used to justify the asinine idea that minorities cannot be racist, women cannot be sexist, etc. Nothing could be further from the truth and people who insist on clinging to this false idea are the very people who prevent such isms from being correctable. If you believe that a particular race is inherently superior to another or that one race is inherently inferior to another or that race is the defining factor in all or most aspects of an individual person then you are a racist. If you believe that a particular gender is inherently superior to another or that one gender is inherently inferior to another or that gender is the defining factor in all or most aspects of an individual person then you are a sexist. If you are in a position of power then you have even more ability to cause harm with your particular ism but you do not require a position of power to have the ism.
Words have meaning, people. You can't pretend them away and you won't improve anything by trying to do so.

Monday, September 14, 2009

RIP Patrick Swayze

I just read that Patrick Swayze passed away today after his nearly two year battle with pancreatic cancer. I would be hard pressed to list Swayze's most memorable roles but, as the senior member of my generation's Brat Pack, it is safe to say that he had a lasting impression on many people. I know it's been a rough couple years and his family has endured a lot. I wish them the best and hope they realize how many people will miss that rugged charm.
Rest in peace, Patrick. Thanks for the memories.

Video Award Stupidity

If you follow music entertainment news at all (and probably if you just casually follow the news at all) then you are no doubt already aware of the uproar caused yesterday when Taylor Swift won the MTV Video Music Award (VMA) for Best Female Video and hip hop star Kanye West jumped on stage,took the mic from her, and basically announced that someone else (in this case, fellow hip hop star Beyonce) should have won instead. I was going to write a post denouncing this tactless, boorish behavior, but then I continued reading. My conclusion was: What's the point? I have denounced Kanye West in the past - he is a no-class loser and he insists on demonstrating that fact almost every time he goes out in public - but music fans as a whole are so much in arms that they really don't need one more cheer leader. Besides, I found something else in those comments to attract my attention.
While most people who have commented on this topic have been very angry or disappointed with West's behavior (most depending on where their emotional/fan state started from), there have been some defenders of West who state that he was "just speaking the truth". I would put those people in the same "no-class loser" category as West, but they're not really my point here. If you aren't clever enough to know that, truth or not, dashing on a young lady's (a young lady who is almost universally considered to be one of the nicest, sweetest people in modern entertainment, no less) special moment instead of waiting until a more appropriate time is not acceptable, civilized behavior, no amount of words from me is going to fix you. Actually, that "just speaking the truth" part of the story is my point here.
See, I'm confused. I - unlike some of these other people, apparently - completely understand that entertainment is mostly subjective, not objective. It is mostly about personal tastes and opinions, not about measurable, empirical data. Some of it, however, is objective. You can objectively tell whether or not a person knows how to play a piano with skill, regardless of your opinion on the particular songs that person might choose to play. I don't know, I hope you can. That seems to me to be a pretty simple thing, but this is where I'm confused.
There are three classes of comments that are the cause of my confusion. There is the already mentioned "just telling the truth argument" but there is also a related argument from the other side. That argument says, "Obviously Beyonce's video was better, but Kanye shouldn't have done it that way." And finally - and this one goes back to the Kanye defenders - there is the argument that says "Taylor Swift has no talent anyway."
I'll take them in reverse order because that will be easiest. That's purely objective.
You cannot honestly make the claim that Taylor Swift has no talent unless you are completely oblivious to reality. You can easily claim that her particular talent is not to your taste, but that's not the same thing. Just because you don't like the particular, specific results of her talent does not negate the talent itself. As a whole, I dislike the rap genre. Over the last 20 years I can probably count the number of rap songs I've actually enjoyed on one hand, two if I'm feeling extra generous. (Here's a funny Full Disclosure for you: Kanye West actually has one of those songs.) I still recognize the talents involved with certain artists despite the fact that I don't personally care for the results of those talents. So you don't like country music. This prevents you from recognizing the talents of a teenage girl who writes most of her own songs, directs many of her own videos, and - at 19 years old - has a career that many senior entertainers would envy? I'm sorry, that's just blind stupidity.
I can handle the other two arguments in one blow because they're really the same argument, just the polite version and the rude version. That argument says that Beyonce's video was obviously better than Taylor's and "everyone knows" that Beyonce should have won that award. Here's a clue for you people: that's a subjective opinion and cannot be proven one way or the other. Sure, you can pile up objective facts about the videos - technical features like use of lighting, videography, photography quality, editing, etc. - and, if those facts carry a significant amount of weight, you can probably lean toward an objective statement of which video is better. In certain extreme cases you might be able to make an objective statement - for example, if I were to make a music video, you would probably have no trouble objectively stating that either of these two ladies' videos was better - but in the end it still comes down to one person's opinion of how well those facts came together to form a whole versus another person's opinion. It's still subjective. You cannot objectively state that Kanye West was "just telling the truth" and that Beyonce's video was "obviously better".
Shall we compare objective facts about the two videos? I actually sat through them both to form my own opinion, so I would find such a comparison worthwhile. Swift's video is a classic story video, with characters acting out roles per the lyrics of the song. There is no dialogue in the video, so it's all physical acting and I didn't see any significant problems there. The girl opposite Swift could have been better but she was also supposed to be a stereotype, so that may have been intentional. Lighting, editing, sound, etc. all seemed to be of the expected professional caliber. Beyonce's video was black and white and featured three women dancing in bathing suits on a featureless stage with shifting lighting effects. I'm not being facetious here. That's literally all there was. Again, there were no glaring technical issues. The lighting effects were put to good use and the women demonstrated the expected dancing talent. I personally found the dance to be somewhat repetitive and not able to hold the attention for the length of an entire song (unless of course you're looking at the women and not actually watching the video as a video), but that's my own subjective taste. If you prefer your music videos to have something to do with the song then the preponderance of the evidence would be in Taylor's favor. If you prefer dancing videos then the preponderance of the evidence would be in Beyonce's favor. If you truly believe that the bulk of the music video watching audience is specifically one or the other then you need serious psychological help.
In short, label me as one of those who actually does believe that Taylor had the better video and deserved the award (at least between those two - I didn't watch the others since they weren't the argument), but I accept that as a subjective statement. If you believe that Beyonce had the better video, that's your subjective opinion and you're welcome to it. What you're not welcome to is the claim that there is some objective standard by which you are right and I am wrong. Beyonce was not ripped off. There were simply people who didn't agree with you and their subjective opinions carried more weight.
I almost feel like I should thank Kanye for giving me something amusing to write about outside of politics but, instead, I'll just offer some free advice. Get some help. You are obviously spinning out of control and when that leads to being an obnoxious bully toward a 19-year-old girl and destroying a memory she'll never get to have again, I'd say you've crossed a line.
Congratulations on your VMA, Taylor. And, for the record, Beyonce too Video of the Year, so congratulations to her as well.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Disingenuous Questions And False Statements

Part of my relative silence lately has been due to simple overload. There is so much I want to say that picking and choosing becomes difficult. Also, I have been reluctant to allow this blog to be dominated by health care or climate change debates, yet those seem to be the two subjects dominating the portions of the news that I would normally comment on. Oh well, you play the hand you're dealt, right?
I'm pulling from comment sections again today, but I'm not going to use direct quotes. As you should easily see, there won't be any need. Instead, I am distilling questions and comments that are seen constantly among the various blogs and news comments but which are, themselves, a considerable distance away from being honest. I'll distill the question into its most common form and then try to give it an answer.
For example:
"If you are opposed to socialized medicine, why don't you refuse to accept Medicare?"
You mean these people should refuse to accept services for which they have already paid in full? You do realize, of course, that Medicare is essentially an insurance program that uses the strength of government to force you to pay premiums for decades before you are even allowed to use it. Of course you do. If you have ever received a paycheck, you have seen these forced premium payments for yourself. The people who are using Medicare have spent all or most of their lives expecting that this is how it would be because this was the only choice they were allowed. They planned accordingly and now your brilliant suggestion is that they fix someone else's problem by ditching their lives' plans at the last minute and just accepting that the money which was taken from them for years has disappeared into a black hole instead of coming back to them in any useful manner. I have a hard time believing that anyone uttering this particular question doesn't fully understand what they are suggesting.

"If you oppose health care reform for fiscal reasons, why didn't you oppose the unnecessary Iraq war for those same reasons?"
This one is wrong on so many levels. First of all, it assumes that everyone who is fiscally opposed to the current health care reform ideas was for the Iraq war, which is demonstrably false. There is a large number of fiscally conservative Libertarians who screamed bloody murder about the waste and uselessness of the Iraq war and who are also less than pleased with the current round of waste. I have no doubt that there are many Republicans and Independents who fall into the same camp. More importantly, though, this question assumes that everyone shares the belief that the Iraq war was unnecessary - a belief that even a semi-bright child can easily see is not shared - and, even more importantly, it assumes that everyone shared that belief from the beginning. Shall we do a reminder list of the people on the Left who supported the Iraq war at the beginning? Those people who supported the Iraq war did so precisely because they believed it was necessary, negating the entire "logic" of this question.

"Where were you for the last eight years when Bush was spending so much?"
Where were you, living under a rock? There were fiscally conservative Republicans howling against Bush's spending policies every single day! Just because they weren't the majority or the loudest voices doesn't mean you get to claim they weren't there. Are there more of them now? Of course there are! In case you hadn't noticed, spending has gone up exponentially. Those who were uneasy about Bush's spending - but not enough so to make a big stink - could easily be pushed over the line by doubling and trippling the spending. There is nothing sinister or inherently partisan about this. It's pretty normal. Most of us behave in the exact same way in our every day lives. We might wince at certain household expenses but decide not to make an issue just yet, and then hit the roof when the household budget goes through the roof. Can you honestly try to claim that this is unusual behavior?

"If you're so anti-socialism then we should make sure the police and fire departments never come to your aid since they are government funded."
Pure hyperbole, and stupid hyperbole at that. Can you even imagine a Republican anarchist? Because I can't and, for the record, there is nothing in Libertarian principles that would support this idea either. Socialism is the economic theory of public ownership of the means of production and allocation of resources. Defense - including domestic defense, ie. law enforcement and fire brigades - is not a part of the socialism theory. It isn't even covered. One has nothing to do with the other. Defense and how it is handled would be covered under political theory, not economic theory - yes, for those of you who don't know any better, you actually do have to be able to juggle multiple theories at the same time in order to successfully have this conversation - and most fiscal conservatives subscribe to political theories that do include defense as a natural and proper function of government.

I could go on like this all day, but I think you get the idea. I'll let you chew on these for a while and maybe we'll come back to this idea another time. If you see similar questions or statements that don't quite seem to make sense, feel free to send them along and maybe we'll include them next time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Always Remember

Today is September 11. 9-11. There is no one in America and very few in the world who need to be told of the significance of this date. On this day eight years ago some 3,000 innocent lives were lost and countless more were destroyed beyond understanding in an attack that was, itself, beyond understanding for most people. There have been many debates, many arguments even, about the causes, the results, and the meanings of that attack, but what stands out the most is that 3,000 people died and one of the mightiest nations in the world found itself afraid, confused, and in pain like never before.
I have seen comparisons to December 7, 1941, the "day that will live in infamy" and that is, probably, the only date in American history that can compare but, at the same time, there are significant differences. In 1941 there was a major war in progress that included nations with whom we were on friendly terms if not in outright alliance. Despite the isolationist tendencies of the American public of that day, these nations were people with whom we had only recently joined in war once before and it was the general, global consensus that we would join again. We were already actively involved in supporting and equipping the Allied forces and the only real question concerning our military engagement was how long we would wait before committing.
Also, Pearl Harbor was a military installation. I do not dismiss nor downplay the deaths that happened there - quite the contrary! - but there is a difference, as any soldier will tell you. In fact it is one of the defining differences between a military engagement - even a guerilla military engagement - and an act of terrorism. The Japanese in 1941 attacked a military target. Those responsible for the 9-11 attacks specifically chose and attacked civilian targets. (Before I get hate mail from nitpickers, I am fully aware that not all of the targets on 9-11 were of a civilian nature, but where was the intended highest concentration of deaths?)
There is certainly a comparison between these two events in American history and they both shook the feelings of American security to the foundations, but there are also important differences and it is these differences that must be remembered.
We cannot forget that those 3,000 civilians who died on 9-11 were not casualties of war. They were not collateral damage. They were the intended targets. Remember that, if you are one of those inclined to make excuses for the attackers.
We cannot forget the brave men and women - many of whom joined that 3,000 - who ran into harm's way to try to help those who were hurt and dying. Yes, it was their job, but how many of them had ever been called upon - or even expected to be called upon - to perform that job in so heroic a fashion and under such hellish circumstances? Remember that, if you are one of those inclined to call Americans selfish and venal.
We cannot forget that we stood as a nation, and even as a world, in shock, in horror, and in anguish. We wept, but we did so together. Remember that, if you are one of those inclined to believe that we are an island, untouched by and untouching toward world events.
Most importantly, however, we cannot forget that it was our very way of life that was attacked that day. The targets that were chosen were chosen because they would shake us, because they would scare us, and because they would hurt us. They were chosen as targets that would cripple our belief in ourselves, our ideals, and our identity. The purpose of those attacks was not to destroy America, but to cause us to destroy ourselves. Remember that, if you are one of those inclined to respond to 9-11 by making America something other than the Land of the Free.
We must never forget, but we must never forget exactly what it is we need to remember.