Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Could She Be the One?

I am really starting to like Carly Fiorina's chances. Hannity spent the whole hour Monday night with her and she sounds like a woman on a mission. Her resume is at least as compelling and powerful as any candidate in the race. She has experience at running large organizations SUCCESSFULLY and she's not a professional politician. She has an amazing command of the issues and will be able to do things no Republican MALE President would even consider. She will turn identity politics to our advantage, and oh boy do we NEED an advantage.

Consider, it's starting to look like Hillary may indeed be the default candidate for the Democrats. Oh Sanders might give her a few fits and starts, and O'Malley may finally get off the dime, but it's not looking like either will make much of an impact. Fiorina has shown she is very good at exposing Hillary and the Clinton machine. She would runs rings around Hillary in a debate with none of this "sexist male" bullshit to contend with. In fact if I were a Hillary advisor I wouldn't let her debate Fiorina.

Women are now 54% of the registered voters in this country, identity politics are part and parcel to today's political environment and she negates that issue immediately. She takes so many angles of attack away from the Dems (she will be impossible to "Palenize") and opens up so many for Republicans, I'm almost salivating thinking about it.

So, Cruz can't win because of guys like CW. Bush can't win because of guys like me. Rubio is certainly capable but too young and inexperienced in my view (a good VP choice however). The 15 or 20 other declared candidates from Ben Carson to Rand Paul to Mike Huckabee to Lindsey Graham (Good Lord!) will be culled from the herd in short order. Right now I'm going with competence, experience, gender (I know, what can I say?) and toughness. She's the real deal, an American Maggie Thatcher and I think she'd make one helluva President.

The decline of American traditionalism, and what might be done about it

This has been a tough stretch for American traditionalists of all stripes. From the preference cascade toppling Confederate iconography to a couple of Supreme Court decisions that overturned, according to some, the "rule of law," it feels as though American traditionalism, by which term I include "American-greatness" nationalism, secular and religious social conservatism, a romantic love of our history and its symbols, a "long-historical" view of the Constitution, a particular conception of the family and its role, and a longing for the apparent consensus in such things that prevailed in American life until the late 1960s, is on life support. It is, for any number of reasons discussed below. The ultimate question is, what are traditionalists going to do about it?

Trigger warning: Generalizations follow. Try not to miss the forest for the trees.

Traditionalism in the West began its long collapse 100 years ago with the exhaustion of the old European monarchies at the end of World War I, the defeat of fascism (which, in Italy and Spain, positioned itself on the side of the traditionalists, especially the Roman Church), and the rise of revolutionary Communism. Traditionalism (including such things as church-going) eroded in Europe rapidly during the 20th century. It persisted and even thrived in the American national consensus, however, until the mid-1960s for several reasons. Among them, the United States had shut down immigration in the 1920s, and therefore did not have to adjust itself to the different values and culture of new waves of immigrants as it had in the past, and would have to do again. Also, the country faced three truly monumental challenges in the Great Depression, World War II, and the dangerous early years of the Cold War. The national response to these crises drove a broad political and cultural unanimity, including explicitly by dint of propaganda and implicitly by necessity -- one cannot alienate large parts of the population and contend with a wave of national emergencies. Mid-century American traditionalism was therefore built on a foundation of homogeneity and national crisis.

Traditionalism in the United States probably reached its modern high water mark in the mid-1950s, cresting on the shoals of Brown v. Board of Education, the political defeat of McCarthyism, the rise of new voices in American culture who strained against the stultifying pressure to conform, the stabilization of the Cold War after Korea, and the surging prosperity of the middle class in the Post-War boom. To pick one measure of the crest of the wave, and only one, consider this graph of religiosity in American life:

Religiosity-Graph1 Source.

Then the 1960s happened. This is not the place to rehash the causes and consequences of the titanic upheaval in American life from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s. Suffice it to say that some combination of the national shock of the civil rights movement and the response thereto, the collapse in trust in American institutions following Vietnam and Watergate, the resulting rehabilitation of Marxism and Marxism-lite in academic and cultural circles, the birth control pill, the reopening of our borders, the growing cultural, political, and social influence of groups other than male WASPs, the proliferation of media voices and related technological changes, the rise of the trial lawyers and the "safety" culture, and the huge expansion of big American universities fueled in no small measure by Vietnam-era draft deferment rules, tremendously accelerated the erosion of American traditionalism. With bumps along the way, the traditionalist values from the very malign (white supremacy) to the very important (opposition to out-of-wedlock childbirth) fell away among the chattering classes, and retained respectability among only the "great unwashed," as Mencken might have said, or a few iconoclasts.

Like them or not, the social solvent of the 1960 abraded and even destroyed one traditional American value after another. These include, in no particular order of goodness or badness, white supremacy, the importance of durable marriage as a precondition to pregnancy or at least children, an understanding of the history of the United States as both exceptional and superior and widespread acceptance of our defining stories, the idea that our national heroes were worthy of emulation and adulation, love of country as an inherent virtue, the importance of risk-taking, the chance to recover from failure, self-reliance as a matter of personal honor, the profound belief that the foreign policy of the United States goes beyond our direct national interest to make the world a freer place, enterprise as an inherent good, the church as an important center of public life (especially outside of big cities), the relevance of religious teaching in the shaping of individual character, a widely-held ideal division of labor within families, the wisdom of ordinary folk and skepticism of the elites, modesty in matters of dress and sex and decorum in speech, fidelity in sexual relations, conventionality in sexual practices and orientation, and baseball. There are no doubt others that elude me on a beer-sodden weekend afternoon.

Even today's most reactionary social conservatives would agree that some of these values were deplorable from the start -- apart from a tiny number of extremists, essentially nobody actually defends white supremacy -- and that some have out-lived their usefulness. As well, certain traditional values retain enough support, in the abstract, at least, that politicians who have little good to say about traditionalism nevertheless pander to them (so far, all national politicians have to appear to like church and believe in God). But in the main, all of the traditional values above have been in substantial retreat for more than 40 years. Which is a long time.

The question is, what are traditionalists going to do to turn the tide of public opinion?

Let's get one obvious point out of the way: Courts and a few politicians from red jurisdictions and districts are not going to help over the long term. Indeed, a massive conservative landslide (and we've had two since 2010) has not been terribly useful for traditionalists.

The churches remain a great force for traditionalism in American life, but they are in perhaps permanent decline. The United States has regularly passed through spiritual "great awakenings," but I wonder if history will ever repeat itself in this regard. The sheer volume of the cultural pressure coming is so great that it is hard to see how at least Judeo-Christian religion can recover significant lost ground. And, in any case, "because God said so" is an especially discredited argument when its most visible adherents are murderous barbarians.

A top-down strategy might work at some level -- Glenn Reynolds' longstanding suggestion that conservatives buy or start a few women's magazines is an example. The various conservative outlets of News Corp is another. These certainly help, insofar as they create economic opportunity and a paying audience for traditionalist writers and producers. Unfortunately, that still leaves the real engines of cultural influence -- universities, which teach the next generation (and the teachers who teach them) and do the academic work necessary to change elite opinion, and artists, broadly defined to include the many creative types in American life who write the scripts and jokes, produce the television, sing the songs, design the clothing, and so forth -- as profoundly anti-traditionalist.

Of course, artists have been anti-traditionalist since they stopped having to depend on kings and rich people for their commissions. (The creative class types also often have gay friends if they are not gay themselves, which makes gay rights a personal matter.) Academia, not so much. The generations of professors who became adults carrying a rifle at Gettysburg, in the Argonne, on Omaha Beach or on the shores of Iwo Jima may have often been Democrats, but they weren't anti-traditionalist ideologues by any stretch of the imagination. After all, their experiences taught them that traditionalist America, shortcomings notwithstanding, could accomplish great and important things.

American academia began its profoundly anti-traditionalist march with the Vietnam War and its aftermath. A few trends conspired simultaneously. We allowed draft deferments for men who went to graduate school, and the Great Society massively expanded federal subsidies for universities to accommodate them. PhD programs ballooned, and the people who entered them hid a certain shame behind their righteous attacks on the alleged depredations of American foreign policy. Better to have undermined an evil war than to have shirked a just one, so this generation of academics was going to be damned certain our war in Vietnam never would be respectable. Do not underestimate the massive and continuing influence of the Vietnam academics and their intellectual progeny -- they have had a devastating impact on traditionalism in the United States.

Academics continue to be very left-wing compared even to similarly educated professionals, and the question is why. My strong suspicion is that it comes to money. From a post I wrote a few years ago:

[T]here are now wide disparities in compensation between professors and similarly trained and qualified people who went into business or an allied profession (such as law). This is a relatively new development. Forty years ago, the starting salaries for newly minted assistant professors and junior associates in New York law firms were almost identical. Now the new lawyers start with 2-3 times the salary of the professors and the disparity can quickly widen to 10-20 times. Obviously, the pay gap between top academics and top corporate executives is even wider. All of this means that any professor younger than about 45 today made a conscious decision to give up a massive amount of money. Since that is a sacrifice by any measure, it is natural that many professors need some reassurance that they made the right choice. Deciding that the business life is shallow and depraved is, for most of them, ample validation.
In short, many professors need to be left-wing in order to understand the choices that they have made. (Note that this seems far less true in the hard sciences, perhaps because so few physicists imagine that they should have gone to business school or law school.)

So is all lost? How will traditionalists turn, or at least stem, the cultural tide against them?

A national crisis -- a real one in which we are all actually in great jeopardy, not the weak shit we declare a "crisis" these days -- might do the job, at least with regard to those traditionalist values relating to love of country, national confidence, sense of community, faith in God, and so forth. Hoping for a national calamity that visits death and misery on millions does not seem like good politics, though, and in any case hope is not a strategy.

The question for traditionalists who have the potential to be artists and intellectuals is this: Are they are willing to do the hard work to enter academia and the arts in sufficient numbers to change the trajectory of American culture? To do this, traditionalists probably need to do several things. First, they need to want to do. This will be challenging for traditionalists, because most people do not want to immerse themselves in a hostile environment, and it is hard to move your career forward when you are seen as an iconoclast. This is why conservative academics, who are at least slightly more numerous than it seems, often hide their politics until they are well-established. Second, traditionalists probably need to refine their traditionalism to abandon those beliefs that if expressed will destroy their careers aborning. White supremacy, for example, is a big-time loser, to put it mildly. Love the United States overtly, but gain a new perspective, if you need one, on the CSA. Learn to see gay people as fully as moral as you are, if you haven't already. Third, traditionalists need to develop principled and even utilitarian arguments to support traditional values, because "God said so" probably will not fly again in the United States. This is not to say that traditionalists should not become ardent defenders of the First Amendment, including especially the free exercise clause, but that overt faith-based arguments (as opposed to covert ones) will not make much progress in the wider culture. Fourth, learn to spot your likely allies and co-opt them. Latinos are natural traditionalists, if only "Anglo" traditionalists would wake up and realize they are the new Irish.

Is any of this likely to happen? I don't know, but it would seem more satisfying to hope for a traditionalist infiltration in to our cultural institutions than a national cataclysm, or endless braying at the moon or on Twitter in bootless frustration.

Brief addendum: David Brooks has a proposal along different lines this morning.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Time for A Little Pushback

Are you familiar with the concept of nullification? Do you recall the Bill of Rights? How 'bout the 10th. Amendment? What did you think of the dustup Taylor Swift had with iTunes? (Bet you can answer that one.)

Ok, let's do a little brushing up shall we?
The Tenth Amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Now, if you think the Supreme Court's rulings this week are consistent with this Amendment, then you may leave now. There's a beer in the fridge. But if you don't then please allow me to introduce you to the concept of nullification. It goes like this. The Constitution was ratified by various and INDEPENDENT States in order to join "a more perfect union". The Constitution was the contract so to speak. You can't change a contract unless BOTH sides agree. Washington has changed that contract therefore it is within the individual State's RIGHTS AND DUTIES to unilaterally NULLIFY this overreach. The mechanics are the State's governing body meets, debates and votes on the law just like any other law, prohibiting the enacting or enforcement of the Federal "law" within the borders of the State. The other States can do as they damn well please, but the law in said State is NULLIFIED, it doesn't exist.

Now, this has been tried many times over the years (Wisconsin tried it with the Fugitive Slave Act) and always shot down by the FEDERAL courts. But come on, would we allow one of the parties in a contract dispute to arbitrate that dispute? It's ridiculous on its face. Would nullification work? Probably not, in fact HELL NO! But according to my information there are 24 States currently controlled 100% by Republicans. If we got everyone of those States to pass at least a resolution condemning either one or both of these insane decisions then that would send a STRONG political message to the Federal government, the judiciary and the country that this fight is far from over. Or...ORRRR we can whine and bitch and moan and take it up the Hershey Highway just loving being one of Obama's bitches, just like our Country Club Republicans. Actually I doubt our Establishment types will even complain.

So, there you have it. We can push back, buck up our side and raise the blood pressure of the other side. We can change the narrative and "have a conversation" on what the Constitution and federalism means...or we can play dead. What's it gonna be?


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Friday, June 26, 2015

The "BIG LIE"

I just love good propaganda "...we found 48 attributable to people with extreme right-wing, racist or antigovernment views." (as if right-wing and anti-government and racist were synonymous). This BS is making the rounds. Anyway, for your perusal.

Date Country City/State         Killed  Injured Description
3/19/2002 USA Tuscon, AZ 1 0 A 60-year-old man is gunned down by Muslim snipers on a golf course.
5/27/2002 USA Denton, TX 1 0 Muslim snipers kill a man as he works in his yard.
7/4/2002 USA Los Angeles, CA 2 0 Muslim man pulls out a gun at the counter of an Israeli airline and kills two people.
9/5/2002 USA Clinton, MD        1      0       A 55-year-old pizzaria owner is shot six times in the back by Muslims at close range.
9/21/2002 USA Montgomery, AL 1 1 Muslim snipers shoot two women, killing one.
9/23/2002 USA Baton Rouge, LA 1 0 A Korean mother is shot in the back by Muslim snipers.
10/2/2002 USA Wheaton, MD 1 0 Muslim snipers gun down a program analyst in a store parking lot.
10/3/2002 USA Montgomery County, MD 5 0 Muslim snipers kill three men and two women in separate attacks over a 15-hour period.
10/9/2002 USA Manassas, VA 1 1 A man is killed by Muslim snipers while pumping gas two days after a 13-year-old is wounded by the same team.
10/11/2002 USA Fredericksburg, VA 1 0 Another man is killed by Muslim snipers while pumping gas.
10/14/2002 USA Arlington, VA 1 0 A woman is killed by Muslim snipers in a Home Depot parking lot.
10/22/2002 USA Aspen Hill, MD 1 0 A bus driver is killed by Muslim snipers.
8/6/2003 USA Houston, TX 1 0 After undergoing a 'religious revival', a Saudi college student slashes the throat of a Jewish student with a 4" butterfly knife, nearly decapitating the young man.
12/2/2003 USA Chicago, IL 1 0 A Muslim doctor deliberately allows a Jewish patient to die from an easily treatable condition.
4/13/2004 USA Raleigh, NC 1 4 An angry Muslim runs down five strangers with a car.
4/15/2004 USA Scottsville, NY 1 2 In an honor killing, a Muslim father kills his wife and attacks his two daughters with a knife and hammer because he feared that they had been sexually molested.
6/16/2006 USA Baltimore, MD 1 0 A 62-year-old Jewish moviegoer is shot to death by a Muslim gunman in an unprovoked terror attack.
6/25/2006 USA Denver, CO 1 5 Saying that it was 'Allah's choice', a Muslim shoots four of his co-workers and a police officer.
7/28/2006 USA Seattle, WA 1 5 An 'angry' Muslim-American uses a young girl as hostage to enter a local Jewish center, where he shoots six women, one of whom dies.
1/1/2008 USA Irving, TX 2 0 A Muslim immigrant shoots his two daughters to death on concerns about their 'Western' lifestyle.
7/6/2008 USA Jonesboro, GA 1 0 A devout Muslim strangles his 25-year-old daughter in an honor killing.
2/12/2009 USA Buffalo, NY 1 0 The founder of a Muslim TV station beheads his wife in the hallway for seeking a divorce.
4/12/2009 USA Phoenix, AZ 2 0 A man shoots his brother-in-law and another man to death after finding out that they visited a strip club, in contradiction to Islamic values.
6/1/2009 USA Little Rock, AR 1 1 A Muslim shoots a local soldier to death inside a recruiting center explicitly in the name of Allah.
11/2/2009 USA Glendale, AZ 1 1 A woman dies from injuries suffered when her father runs her down with a car for being too 'Westernized.' (10-20-09)
11/5/2009 USA Ft. Hood, TX 13 31 A Muslim psychiatrist guns down thirteen unarmed soldiers while yelling praises to Allah.
12/4/2009 USA Binghamton, NY 1 0 A non-Muslim Islamic studies professor is stabbed to death by a Muslim grad student in revenge for 'persecuted' Muslims.
4/14/2010 USA Marquette Park, IL 5 2 After quarrelling with his wife over Islamic dress, a Muslim convert shoots his family members to 'take them back to Allah' and out of the 'world of sinners'.
4/30/2011 USA Warren, MI 1 0 A 20-year-old woman is shot in the head by her stepfather for not adhering to Islamic practices.
9/11/2011 USA Waltham, MA 3 0 Three Jewish men have their throats slashed by Muslim terrorists.
1/15/2012 USA Houston, TX 1 0 A 30-year-old Christian convert is shot to death by a devout Muslim.
2/7/2013 USA Buena Vista, NJ 2 0 A Muslim targets and beheads two Christian Coptic immigrants.
3/24/2013 USA Ashtabula, OH 1 0 A Muslim convert walks into a church service with a Quran and guns down his Christian father while praising Allah.
4/15/2013 USA Boston, MA 3 264 Foreign-born Muslims describing themselves as 'very religious' detonate two bombs packed with ball bearings at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and causing several more to lose limbs.
4/19/2013 USA Boston, MA 1 1 Jihadists gun down a university police officer sitting in his car.
8/4/2013 USA Richmond, CA 1 0 A convert "on a mission from Allah" stabs a store clerk to death.
3/6/2014 USA Port Bolivar, TX 2 0 A Muslim man shoots his lesbian daughter and her lover to death and leaves a copy of the Quran open to a page condemning homosexuality.
4/27/2014 USA Skyway, WA 1 0 A 30-year-old man is murdered by a Muslim fanatic.
6/1/2014 USA Seattle, WA 2 0 Two homosexuals are murdered by an Islamic extremist.
6/25/2014 USA West Orange, NJ 1 0 A 19-year-old college student is shot to death 'in revenge' for Muslim deaths overseas.
9/25/2014 USA Moore, OK 1 1 A Sharia advocate beheads a woman after calling for Islamic terror and posting         an Islamist beheading photo.

Obergefell, and some advice to Republicans

Same-sex couples may now marry throughout the United States. This is a result, even if not a means to a result, that I have publicly supported for more than 11 years, eight years before Barack Obama. I am very happy for my gay friends today.

If we are permitted to descend to the political for a moment, it would be very smart for Republicans in general and GOP presidential candidates specifically to move the frack on. My recommended statement: "While some of us may have opposed this result as passionately as others favored it, the Supreme Court has now determined that couples of the same sex may marry throughout the United States, a ruling that will bring many people joy along with equality before the law. We call upon all Americans, regardless of their support of or opposition to the result in the Obergefell case, to consider the matter settled. We have important problems to solve as a nation, none of which will get closer to a solution if we beat each other to a pulp in the hope of obstructing the Court's purpose or of overturning this case many years hence."

Or words to that effect.

While you were sleeping...

While you were sleeping, or perhaps plotting your next social media move or counter-move in the argument over Confederate iconography, the utterly meaningless spat over the latest eruption from the SCOTUS over the Affordable Care Act, or the essential truth or not in something Ann Coulter may or may not have recently said, Islamic terrorists were cutting off a head at a French chemical plant, shooting up a lot of tourists in Tunisia, and blowing up a mosque in Kuwait. This is one day's work, folks.

It is fashionable of late to argue that since September 11, 2001 "right wing" terrorism has killed more Americans inside our borders than Islamic terrorism over the same period (alleged body count 48 to 26 over around 14 years). Suppose that is true: So what? Islamic terrorism has killed many more Americans -- never mind other people -- elsewhere in the world. Per the freaking Guardian, Islamic terrorists whacked almost 18,000 people of all nationalities in 2013, rising from around 3400 in 2000 (before, we note, any meaningful American retaliation).

Transnational progressives are keen on thinking of themselves as citizens of the world and love looking elsewhere for precedent, best practices, and socialism to emulate, right up until transnationalism undermines their point instead of supporting it. Hence the careful shaving of data comparing 48 deaths to 26, starting right after 9/11 and ending exactly at our borders.

Why should Americans care if virtually all of these murders occur outside our borders? The reasons are legion. First, the problem is growing rapidly, with deaths up six-fold from 2000 to 2013, and up 60% alone in that last year. A few more years of double-digit growth and you will have a real slaughter on your hands. Even if they are, you know, foreigners or Americans silly enough to leave the metropolitan United States. Second, with growth that fast, why do we think the problem will not spread to our shores? Even if American Muslims remain loyal (as they manifestly have to date), are we so confident in our border security that we expect to keep these bastards out? Third, the Islamists are closing the borders of the world. The United States will become a much smaller country if we redefine the security of our citizens to mean only security inside our borders.

Regardless, the media will defend the Obama-Clinton foreign policy for at least the next 16 months. Expect more strange parsing of data and new definitions of actual security in the service of Clinton's campaign and President Obama's legacy. And by all means worry about the four people a year who die "because right wing extremists."

Gay Marriage Decision Due Today

As most of you loyal readers know, I am ambivalent about gay marriage, because I am ambivalent about straight marriage.  I would see marriage evolve to a social/religious custom with straightforward contract law covering the rest.  I would also see marriage advantages that are enshrined in law, done away with.

That said, I am bracing myself for today's decision, which is almost certainly going to uphold gay marriage as a Constitutional right.

Not because I would disagree with such a decision, though I might.

But because the smarmy, bootlicking, cool-kid, oh-so-nonjudgmental media will immediately claim yet another victory for President Obama, a man who was elected President looking straight into the cameras claiming that he believed marriage was between one man and one woman.  All will be forgotten by the cloying toadies of the political-media complex.

Big Fat Friday Free For All

Aw, what's the matter, Chumley?  Your team lose big at the Supreme Court?  Your in-the-planning-for-three-years 50th Birthday Party on what is traditionally one of the most consistently beautiful weekends of the year on the Atlantic Coast going to be visited by Biblical rainstorms?

Get it off your chest!  This is the place to do it.

Although the final, "150's by 50" weigh in is tomorrow morning to align with my actual birthday, today's weigh in was 158.4, for a loss of 40.4 lbs since December 26.  About 9.4 to go--stretch goal is "50 lbs in 50th year" (though I will technically be stretching it into my 51st....details).

As is mentioned above--the weather Gods are not on my side--likely no rain today, likely no rain Sunday--lots of rain Saturday. Oh well.  To be surrounded by a bunch of people I love will make is sunny where I am, at least.


Thursday, June 25, 2015

King v. Burwell

This is turning out to be somewhat of a shitty day.  First, the weather forecast for the weekend's events is not good.  Well, not good is probably too good.  The forecast is downright shitty.

Next and probably more depressing was today's Supreme Court decision (6-3) in King v Burwell, or the latest Obamacare verdict.  The decision can be found here.

I urge you to read it, both the Chief Justice's majority opinion and Justice Scalia's dissent.

There is talk all over social media about how this is a good decision for the GOP, that they get to keep the bleeding sore of Obamacare as an issue but don't have to do anything that they didn't want to have to do to fix it.  As a matter of naked politics, I understand that.  But I don't want to think about naked politics today.

I want you to read the Chief Justice's tortured, Orwellian rendering of our shared tongue, which Justice Scalia described thusly: "This case requires us to decide whether someone who buys insurance on an Exchange established by the Secretary gets tax credits. You would think the answer would be obvious—so obvious there would hardly be a need for the Supreme Court to hear a case about it. In order to receive any money under §36B, an individual must enroll in an insurance plan through an “Exchange established by the State.” The Secretary of Health and Human Services is not a State. So an Exchange established by the Secretary is not an Exchange established by the State—which means people who buy health insurance through such an Exchange get no money under §36B. Words no longer have meaning if an Exchange that is not established by a State is “established by the State.” "

And then contrast it with Justice Scalias words, for example: "The Court holds that when the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act says “Exchange established by the State” it means “Exchange established by the State or the Federal Government.” That is of course quite absurd, and the Court’s 21 pages of explanation make it no less so."

Not only has the Supreme Court suffered today--suffered in having once again become a legislative organ rather than a judicial one--but our common understanding of the English language has been done great violence, when a learned jurist with a straight face tells us that clear and and unambiguous language is not nearly so clear nor as unambiguous as one might think.

I read a New York Times blog piece (which I cannot unfortunately find right now) an hour ago in which the author asked the question, "why would states retain their exchanges in light of this decision?"  What a good question.  But not only is it a good question, but it is an OBVIOUS question.  A question that six Supreme Court Justices should have more deeply considered when they decided that not only was there no meaning to the plain language of the statute, but that there was no rationale behind the creation of separate federal and state exchanges.  But there was. They were created in order to shift costs to pliable states in order to keep the federal bill down.  To provide incentives to states to do so, specific tax credits were legislated that applied to those who--here it comes--obtained their insurance on a state exchange.  Our friend Jonathan Gruber made it very, very clear that this was what was behind the legislative decision to create separate exchanges.  Now I know modern jurists of a certain ideology like to get at "meaning and intent" but the in this case, not only was the plain language interpretation clear and unambiguous, but the legislative history had enough doubt in it (see Gruber, J) to render the plain language interpretation unassailable.  One would think.

But we don't live in those times. We live in times in which the Chief Justice--providing high cover for Justice Kennedy--have decided that their job is to save us from ourselves, that Congress is incapable of legislating for us and that the nation cannot bear the potential for chaos.  Not that there would BE chaos, mind you, just people not getting subsidies that they thought they were going to get.  A matter of relatively quick legislative action for states or the Congress, but that is not now required, as the Supreme Legislature has ruled.

This is a dark day and I am in a foul mood.

Grievance, Voter ID and UVA Wins

HOW much time and effort and money will it take to appease the left and cleanse ourselves of our racist history? Well without getting into all the bending over backwards we've done over the years, the fact is no matter what we do it will never be enough. The left see minorities, most especially blacks as the ultimate wedge to achieve their version of socialism (which is still to be decided). Many blacks are purposely kept in poverty (with the help of rich blacks) because poor blacks are useful.

There are two groups I can think of that are treated as victims of a power structure hellbent on keeping them down (with socialists riding to the rescue of course): American blacks and the British WHITE lower class. Not surprisingly they act (or act out) in very similar ways. Tom Sowell nailed it a couple of years ago. I reference this as proof these people are just manipulative, power hungry bastards without a modicum of care or respect for humanity.

So, for all the lunkheads out there who thought they would put racial strife behind us by electing an unqualified, smooth talking, black version of a Marlboro Man, then guess again. American socialists/fascists/communists/race-hustlers will NEVER give up black victimhood. When one victory is achieved (like getting rid of the Confederate Flag) the goalposts will just change. Black grievance is too valuable (and too profitable) to be given up.

DID you see our NC Republican Legislature gave up on voter id? Yep, they rolled over quicker than a ladyboy in a Thai alternative lifestyle cathouse. I'm sure most of you aren't too familiar with North Carolina politics, but let's just say we have our share of Boehners and McCarthys and McConnells. Anyway, rather than show a free ID issued by the NCDMV now you can vote if you sign an affidavit attesting to how the burden of getting your FREE ID was too much to bear and you'll do it later, maybe, if you feel like it...possibly. As a matter of fact the door to voter fraud was opened a little wider. Wow, some bunch of conservatives we have in Raleigh these days.

Here's the deal, we have NO Constitutional RIGHT to vote. None whatsoever Goddammit (look it up). So, in order to vote one must be eligible and PROVE their eligibility. The burden is not on the State to prove you are ineligible otherwise you vote. For example, if a Doctor wished to practice medicine in the State of North Carolina it is up to the doctor to prove his eligibility for a medical license. The argument that "it's ok, I'm eligible, I'll get back to you with that medical degree thingy" wouldn't fly (at least not yet). It's just common sense. Furthermore, who goes through life without proper identification? And if voting is such a priority why are you walking around with a Foodlion rewards card as your only ID? When some ineligible asshole votes, he/she negates a vote by an ELIGIBLE VOTER denying them the franchise. Where the hell is the outrage about that?

CONGRATS to CW's University of Virginia for their first ever College World Series win. UVA baseball has been a bright spot in an otherwise traumatic year (sports and otherwise) in Charlottesville. According to my information this makes 19 National Championships won by the Wahoos over the years in such sports as women's track and field, men and women's lacrosse and soccer (you know, the pussy sports). So this first championship in an American game is just great. Well done!




Wednesday, June 24, 2015

We Focus on Flags While China Robs Us Blind

I have maintained an active security clearance with the U.S. government since sometime in the mid 1980's, the maintenance of which required periodic reviews and significant revelations of a great deal of personal data.

The system supporting this massive bureaucracy is administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), which it was recently revealed had its IT system compromised and the personal data (including mine) of as many as 14 million people has been siphoned off.  All signs point to the People's Republic of China as being behind this act, yet our President has yet to publicly discuss responsibility, either for the breach (China) or for allowing it to happen (OPM).

This Administration has for most of its time in office, mishandled the China account, seeing in its rise a sense of inevitability that relieves it of any responsibility for real statecraft, nuanced or power-based.  Like so many of Mr. Obama's other mistakes, the strawman supports his view here, and it goes something like, "what are we going to do, go to war with 1/5 of the world's population"?  This then, relieves him of having to think clearly about what OTHER things can be done short of war.

As my friend Misha Auslin wrote recently, it is time to stop treating China as a partner, and recognize that we are engaged in a new great power competition.  This recognition SHOULD be the big story upon which we concentrate, but instead, we are talking about Confederate flags.

Others on this blog have beaten this subject to a fare thee well, and so I will only say that while I have a personal dislike for the sight of the Confederate flag, I continue to maintain a steadfast allegiance to the First Amendment and the right of others to festoon their autos, houses, flag poles or upper arms with representations of something I hold in low regard.  Where I depart the pattern is when government supports, nay, requires the appearance of such a symbol.

We have as a country, spent an inordinate amount of time over the past week in a great national Oprah show, trying to blame the actions of a mentally ill, racist, terrorist on the flying of a flag, without much irony in explaining how that flag accounted for such acts of domestic terrorism elsewhere in the country.  All the while, a foreign flag is conducting its own acts of terrorism against us.

Who does this extended dialogue on flags and race serve?  Why, Hillary Clinton of course, and Barack Obama.  Hillary has all of a sudden become the great friend of race relations as she attempts to cobble together the Obama coalition of 2008/2012.  Tigerhawk has appropriately identified the naked political angle here, as in 2008 her bread was buttered on low Black voter turnout, whereas her 2016 future hangs on it.  More importantly though, if the OPM's oversight of personal information was so easily obtained by Chinese hackers, are we to believe that Mrs. Clinton's basement server was somehow more secure?  Remember folks--Mrs. Clinton claims to have ONLY used her personal email address(es) during her time as Secretary to transact the business of that office.  She has not made those emails available for Congressional scrutiny, only the ones that her team cleared for sharing.  Wrapping herself in the flag of the anti-flag movement comes at a particularly serendipitous time for the former Secretary.

And how is Mr. Obama served by the Great Flag Debate?  Why, the more we talk about it, the less he is identified once again with MASSIVE failure of government.  How soon we forget the collossal failure of the Obamacare exchanges--both state and federal?  Not only is failure endemic to this administration, but no one seems to be fired except Generals who blab to Rolling Stone.  There is no responsibility, there is no accountability.

I do not raise all this to minimize the deaths of 9 innocent people in South Carolina.  I simply wish to urge my fellow citizens to keep our eye on the ball, on the long term, and on the strategic.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When will the State Department be able to issue visas again?

Here's one thing for damn sure, the federal government of the United States is completely inept at information technology. Forget the managerial calamity popularly known as healthcare.gov. In the last few weeks, we have had the national security disaster no one will talk about, and now this:

The United States has been unable to issue visas to travelers around the world for two weeks because of a computer hardware failure that remains unresolved, State Department officials said Monday....

“We are working around the clock to fix it,” John Kirby, a department spokesman, said Monday. “More than 100 computer experts from both the private and public sectors across the United States are working on this.”

In other words, "top men."

One would think that this would be the subject of, you know, reporting. Voters concerned with good government might be interested in knowing who ran the State Department when this system was put in, for example. But since that information might reflect poorly on the managerial competence of the leading Democratic presidential candidate, there is very little risk that journalism will happen.

Goodbye America, Hello The United States of Commerce

Take a long look at this guy, he's the man who destroyed the Republican Party (and possibly the country). No I'm not referring to Obama, I'm referring to Obama's bitch, the guy on the right.

I cannot imagine a more useful idiot than John Boehner. After he and his minions lied to us, repeatedly, to our face, about repealing Obamacare et al. we gave him the biggest Republican majority in decades. We also gave him a Republican Senate, in fact we gave him everything he needed to put the brakes on all things Obama. And how were we repaid? He betrayed us at every turn that's how. Last year he took the budget (and Obamacare) off the table so fast people were running around like shellshocked Dresden survivors wondering what the hell just happened. Now he wants to give Obama more unchecked power beyond the reach of voters or our Constitution.

What's happening you might ask? The Chamber of Commerce is what's happening. People tend to think of the Chamber as a collection of small businesses, you know, your locally owned Ace Hardware kinda thing. Not so my friend. The Chamber is JP Morgan on the phone barking orders at Senators. It's the big banks pushing us into World War I so the British will hand over Palestine. It's the reason LBJ went to Congress in 1939 without a pot to piss in and left thirty years later worth 50 million dollars. It's Bill Clinton's $500,000 speaking fees, his Gulfstream and his blowjobs at 30,000 feet.

The Chamber is not about capitalism as we understand it. It's not about national sovereignty or the rights of man or border security or any of the major issues of the day. Its about power and profit. It's about accessing cheap labor and capital, keeping government interference to a minimum and ringing that Goddamned cash register. It's about making money as fast as possible any and every way you can. It's about controlling markets and reducing risk. What it's NOT about is competition, and it's CERTAINLY NOT about countries or people or "so called" rights.

A lot of folks accuse me of some sort of neo-Marxism when I talk like this. Nothing could be further from the truth. I'm down with the profit thing. I get it. But big business has no more to do with the libertarian, laissez faire view of capitalism (the most essential component of freedom) than an Allis Chalmers tractor has to do with the Daytona 500. As Milton Friedman said, "The problem of social organization is how to set up an arrangement under which greed will do the least harm, capitalism is that kind of a system". The Chamber of Commerce has no more interest in free enterprise capitalism than Caitlyn Jenner has in Katy Perry's tits.

So, what Boehner and company are doing is setting up a system where greed goes unchecked. A new corporate world order run by the likes of Soros and Buffett, and make no mistake, Big Business loves Big Government (and vis versa). A system whereby the 10% at the top control all the money and resources, where there's no upward mobility and everybody (apart from the 10%) have their EBT cards and government healthcare. In a nutshell, a system run by and for large corporations.

This isn't capitalism and this isn't freedom. This is power and control. But what the hell, let's keep talking about Confederate Battle flags and gay marriage (OH LOOK, THERE'S SOMETHING SHINY!) while these bought and paid for politicians give away our future to gangsters.


Monday, June 22, 2015

Historical imagery in the politics of the moment

A national argument is raging over the symbols of the Confederacy and their meaning in today's United States. If you are reading this blog you surely know the contours of that argument, or at least the tweet-length summaries of those contours. This has happened before, but it feels as if this time the Confederacy jig is up, and that after this moment its symbols will be historical curiosities rather than objects to venerate. The cleansing fire is spreading. Jeff Davis may not long survive in his place of honor on the University of Texas campus, and expect an extended argument over more than one state flag.

Whether you regard this fight as a long overdue correcting of the historical record -- my view -- or a politically correct distorting of it, it is absolutely not the first time we have fought over history's images to serve the moment's politics. Your blogger is in the middle of Daniel Okrent's excellent Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, which explores how "a mighty alliance of moralists and progressives, suffragists and xenophobes ... legally seized the Constitution" and bent it to a new purpose. This vignette from the book reminded me that fighting over imagery is nothing new:

Commemorating the centennial of American independence in 1876, the Manhattan lithography shop of Nathaniel Currier and James Merritt Ives reissued a popular item Currier had first published in 1848, Washington's Farewell to the Officers of His Army. The great general stands in the exact center of the print, his associates arrayed around him, his tricorne hat on a stout table by his side. Washington is in full dress uniform; his right hand, fingers curled into a fist, rests on his breastbone. He looks to be making an emphatic gesture, but the officers in the picture seem lost in thought. It doesn't make a lot of sense.

It did, however, when Currier first published a version of the image twenty-eight years earlier. In that version there's no hat on the table; a decanter and some wineglasses occupy that spot. Nor is Washington making that peculiar fist. His fingers are extended, the better to grip the glass of wine he's holding. He's apparently delivering a heartfelt toast to the officers, whose considered expressions convey both their sadness and their humility.

The original image makes historical sense. Washington's fondness for Madeira found expression in the postprandial bottle (and accompanying bowl of hickory nuts) he shared with his guests almost nightly. At the event depicted -- his valedictory at Fraunces' Tavern, in 1783 -- he had opened the emotional proceedings by pouring himself a glass of wine and inviting his officers to join him. Currier and Ives were businessmen, however, and business required them to oblige the temperance agitators who objected so vociferously to the original image. It was easy enough to obliterate the decanter and glasses by drawing in the hat; chopping of Washington's own goblet, as well as the top two joints of his fingers, may have required a little more skill, but presumably it was worth the effort. That this self-censorship occurred as early as 1876, when the WCTU and its allies were only beginning to develop their strength and their strategy, suggests the degree to which aggressive actions would soon replace the prayerful entreaties of Mother Thompson -- not least because they worked.

Currier and Ives are no doubt looking down quite delighted that they did not have to suffer the argument over their airbrushing among bloggers, Facebookers, and Tweeters. They probably need a drink just in the contemplation of it.

Regardless, please do not believe that I am constructing some sort of confusing or equivocating analogy between the torturing of Washington's Farewell and the present debate over Confederate imagery. There is no such analogy for any number of reasons. The story does remind us, though, that history's images have meaning today, and fighting over them is a storied tradition in American democracy.

Missing Christopher Hitchens at times like these

While I did not always agree with Christopher Hitchens -- not by a long shot -- I do always miss him in these national moments. His 2008 column on Mike Huckabee and South Carolina's use of the confederate battle flag is well worth your time.

Vacation Week, Sort Of

I am, to the extent that anything is official in my life, on vacation this week.  This week was chosen in no small part because at its end--this Saturday evening--I am throwing a Bilbo Baggins-like 50th Birthday for myself in the backyard.  We're hoping against all hope that the uneven forecast that exists right now cleans itself up quickly.

The party is a big one, nearly 150 people, with tents, a band, and lots of BBQ chicken and ribs.  I've been planning this baby in my mind for about three years now--and have simply tired The Kitten out with its details.

But there's more to the story.  Our best friends in town are moving this summer, as he's taken a new job in Virginia.  After much kvetching among the ladies, it was decided that we should hold their going away party.  Not wanting to sound like a party-pooper and definitely wanting a proper send-off for our good friends, I readily agreed.  Then came the bad news.  For a number of reasons, pretty much the best night for the party turned out to be the night before my birthday party.  The tents would already be up, the place looking ship-shape, etc.  After all, how hard would it be to throw a party for 100 the night before you throw a party for 150?

When this back to back obligation arose, I realized that taking Thursday and Friday off this week just would not do, as the Kitten would invariably have a ton of things that she needed help doing.  You see, our standards simply aren't the same, and so I have a great deal more forgiveness with respect to small details.  For me, the point is there is a party, with alcohol, a band, and food.  Who gives a crap about everything else.  The Kitten?  A bit more discriminating.

So, in order to ensure sufficient support is rendered to the lady of the manor, I blocked out the week.  Except that then, things started to creep in--some of which were "responsibilities" and some of which were pretty profitable.  I need to become more disciplined about saying "no, hell no", but things worked out pretty well and I only have something I must do this afternoon--the other stuff moved to the right.

And so, much of my "vacation" will be spent running back and forth to liquor stores, grocery stores, party supply stores, Lowe's, and so on.  I'll be sprucing this and tidying that, planning this and carrying that.  All in the service of a blowout weekend of bashes.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

The collapse of opinion polling: Speculating on consequences

The New York Times asks "What's the matter with polling?" Public opinion polling is in a crisis, because few people are now willing to respond to phone surveys (participation rates have fallen from 80% forty years ago to 8% today) and pollsters may not use auto-dialers for mobile phones. This has made public opinion polling more expensive (so there is less of it) and less reliable, which in turn accounts for the big surprises -- to the media at least -- in the 2014 mid-terms in the United States, the Conservative Party romp in the United Kingdom, and Benjamin Netanyahu's strong re-election.

The Times, unsurprisingly, does not climb out of its echo chamber to notice that all of these were failures in forecasting right-wing victories, a circumstance that might lead to social rather than technical explanations for the failure of polling. It may be that conservatives no longer trust that pollsters will use their information honestly, so they just do not participate. The NYT's story gives no indication whether participation rates have declined similarly across the range of political beliefs. It would be surprising if they had.

We might well speculate about the consequence of all of this for our "national conversation," never mind presidential politics in the next 16 months.

In American presidential elections, ineffective polling will raise the cost of political campaigns even more, because politicians will not be able to target their spending so precisely. As the now unknown margin for error rises, there will be more battleground states. Since Florida taught us 15 years ago that every electoral vote is sacred, neither party may know enough to risk shifting money out of the "almost battlegrounds." While this will broaden American democracy and force candidates to the center, it will also be expensive and the agenda-setters in the media will decry it as another sad example of "money politics."

Political reporters will need to become more creative, because endless stories about the polling horse race will no longer be important or even slightly interesting. The only question will be whether the media admits this enough to move these stories off the front page.

Assertions by activists that this or that position in their favor is supported by the polling deserve essentially debilitating skepticism. The only question is how quickly the politicians who will have to decide such matters realize that issue polls are of rapidly declining importance to their own fortunes. The media, which funds a lot of these polls, will mock politicians who simply say that they do not believe the polls, even if the politicians are right.

The failure of issue-polling may eventually mean that we will again more reliant on the judgment of our elected officials and therefore more a republic than a democracy, at least insofar as we ordinary citizens are in a position to affect the regulatory state at all. Let us hope that this leads to a more thoughtful political class.

The media and the academic social scientists will try to claim that public opinion surveys are still useful, but the failure of election polls will make them look silly for saying so. Social scientists in particular will have to come up with new tools for their scholarship, such as it is. Expect to see a big push from academics to mandate even deeper questioning by the Census Bureau and other devices for extracting opinions from the citizenry.

Watch for new technologies that purport to measure public opinion more directly, including analytics from Google and Facebook, which are probably in a position to exploit an opportunity here, even if at great risk to the charge that they are actually affecting American political outcomes.

Release the hounds.

Happy Fathers Day

Jimmy Wires, Paterfamilias
I never really know whether father is singular possessive, plural possessive, or plural in its use commemorating this day, so I'll leave it as it is.  But Happy Day to all of those who are fathers.

One day when I was a younger, far more obnoxious and less wise man, I was home from college and happened to be in the kitchen while my father was carrying out his routine for the morning before leaving for work.  Dad is many things, but a natty dresser is not among them.  Not that he's a slob, he just never seemed to put a lot of thought into what it was he was wearing to work in the morning.  So in my best know it all voice, I said, "you know Dad, you run a successful business, you have salesmen and others coming to call on you every day...have you thought about stepping up your wardrobe a little?"   Without missing a beat, and out of my mother's hearing, he whispered, "who the fuck do I have to impress?"

Thus endeth the lesson.

Happy Fathers Day everyone.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A short note on the Confederate battle flag, addressed to Republicans

The Confederate battle flag, the ole "stars and bars," stands for all the things that a rebellion long ago asserted as its just cause. Yes, a few of those things -- particularly as they relate to resistance to urban, federal power, and to a "lost cause" literally memorialized over much of the country -- exert a certain gauzy and romantic attraction even today, even to me. We are allowed a certain attachment to the traitors of the Confederacy -- who we dignify as "rebels" instead -- because in the binding of our national wounds we decided not demonize a people who, after all, were but a generation or two behind many northerners in their attitudes about slavery and racial supremacy. But there cannot be any doubt that today, in 2015, and for many decades now, most Americans perceive the Confederate battle flag to stand for white supremacy and slavery, without which there would have been no rebellion and no civil war.

This is an especially treacherous subject for politicians in the Republican Party, which has since 1970 or so tried to be both the "party of Lincoln" and the heir to the traditions of the Old South, some wonderful and worth preserving and, unfortunately, some deeply malign and simply unworthy. You see certain Republicans struggle with this when they point out that Democrats were the great segregationists back in the day. Well, that was true, but none of those Democrats would be Democrats today, and everybody knows it.

Loathe as I am to quote a tweet in the making of any argument, this today from an apparently black conservative makes the point most eloquently:

Exactly. The Republican Party not only needs to end its support for the Confederate battle flag on those rare occasions when the controversy arises, but it must also stop justifying or defending any of the symbols and legacy of the Confederate States of America. There are far better ways to resist urban and federal power than by romanticizing a slave state, which conservatives have long understood when they correctly denounced liberals who defended the slavery of Communism as the mere failure of good intentions.

And if you need a lost cause, root for the Cubs.

150's by 50 Goal Weight Achieved

On 31 December of the past year, I blogged in this space about a goal I had for nudging my weight into the 150's by my 50th Birthday.  That goal was achieved yesterday when I weighted in (holding my phone) at a mighty 159.6 lbs, one week and a day before my birthday.  For those of you not keeping score, that was 39.2 lbs in six months, or 24.6% of my body weight.

I have decided to continue down to 148.8, so that I can legitimately be able to claim a fifty pound weight loss.

The first 20 were pretty easy, and were a result almost exclusively of dieting.  I started out on a diet that allowed for a net of 1500 calories a day, with only 50 grams of carrbohydrates (heavy in fat and protein).  Once my hip healed and I could exercise, Netting 1500 a day became easier because I could work out and burn 350-400 calories at a shot.  A few weeks ago though, things seemed to plateau, and so I've been netting 1200 a day recently--which I essentially carried out as a two meal a day regimen.

Benefits?  I definitely feel better.  I'm eating plenty of food, and plenty of things I like.  I'm not snoring anymore.  At all.  The diet plus getting the hip done has caused me to exercise more, pain free.  Love that.

Drawbacks.  No pasta, rice, processed sugars, carbs below 50 a day means a lot of meat/fish/pork/lamb/butter/cheese/salad/veggies/shrooms.

Definitely worth it though.  I realize The Hammer is betting against me, but I hope to maintain this for a while.




Some Thoughts on Charleston

I happened to learn of the murders in Charleston while atop an elliptical trainer in a health club in Bergen, Norway, surrounded I would presume by a group of fit Norwegians getting their exercise on. Three large screen TV's were before us, each on a different channel, each broadcasting reports delivered by different channels.  It was not a moment for great American pride, I can tell you that.  Like most sentient beings, I've used the past few days to gather a few thoughts designed to reconcile at least for myself, the various counter-streams of logic and emotion I have about what happened, and so I share them with you here.  There is something here for everyone, and I will likely wind up offending your sensibilities or your ideology at some point, if you are of the offense-taking ilk.  Fair warning.

For my friends on the right (and the left) who are ardent Second Amendment supporters, the degree of dissembling that your spokespeople deliver when yet another one of these crises occurs is ridiculous, and it increasingly makes you look like you are unable or unwilling to face what appear to be simple truths.  One of these truths is that our Second Amendment makes legal gun ownership very easy, because it makes it a basic, Constitutional right.  Because it is a right, it is exercised widely, by both the sane and responsible, and the damaged and criminal.  Because legal and responsible gun ownership is so widespread, illegal and unwise ownership is also common.  Tidy little internet memes that bring up mass murders in other countries committed by firearms, or knives, may help with your consciences, but the numbers pale in comparison.  We are a violent, gun-fueled, murderous society and we must acknowledge the role that the law plays in enabling this.  Believe it or not, this is not posed as a value judgement.  It is a request of friends and fellow travelers to begin to open their eyes to the obvious connection, rather than continuing to claim it doesn't exist.

For my friends on the left and those who would diminish the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms as a method of relieving both our violence problem and your consciences, your disrespect for the majesty and wisdom of the Constitution does nothing to advance your cause.  This is the most brilliant piece of political theory in action since the Magna Carta, and your incessant attempts to limit and chip away at the Second Amendment raise the question as to what other of our fundamental rights you are willing to concede?  Conversely, gun ownership is legal and protected by the very wording of the document, yet you would ignore it, whereas the grounds upon which countless babies are slaughtered every year springs from "emanations from a penumbra" of a right of privacy that most of you believe is an absolute and irreducible right.  If you wish for change on this subject, then you must resort to one of the two (I believe) methods of amending the Constitution available.  In the meantime, lawful citizens who purchase and use firearms in this country are entitled to exercise their rights, and yes, they are even entitled to believe that this right is so fundamental and cherished that horrible events such as what happened in Charleston do not abrogate or diminish that importance.  You want change? Win this debate among your fellow citizens and amend the Constitution. Weakening it through dubious, guerrilla-legislating opens Pandora's box where rights you may hold more dear are concerned.

For my friends in the African-American community horrified by what happened in Charleston and convinced of its meaning as a symbol of racism in America, it is hard for me to argue with you, though I urge you to think clearly and deeply about what you have already learned about this murderer and consider whether his racism was not at least a symptom of a much deeper sickness.  And while this horror may serve as fuel for the fires of race-baiting and gun confiscating, simple math tells us that black on black murder is a runaway epidemic compared to the incidence of white on black murder, even when accounting for mass events such as this.  If the right has to answer for Dylann Roof, then the left must answer for Baltimore and countless other places where failed policies and one-party rule have effectively created urban "reservations" within which a significant segment of the African American population lives, and is entrapped.

And for everyone else, are you not tired of reading about these crimes, tired of reading within a day or so, reports of friends, neighbors, and relatives who come forward to tell us of this murderous mutant's previous statements of intent?  Can we try a little harder with our children and our friends to make sure we recognize and act upon clear and unmistakable signs of evil at worst, and mental illness at best?  I'm not talking about the kid who is on anxiety meds, or ADHD who's a little out of balance.  I'm talking about true, crazed evil, like what we saw this week and what was presaged by the murderer's own statements.  We can do better.

Norway Wrap Up

It is Saturday morning, about a half day since I landed at Dulles to conclude my visit to Norway, so those among you who upbraid me for "leaving me (you) hanging" don't level that charge.  On the whole, a good trip.  Met a lot of wonderful, intelligent, and increasingly nervous people (see Russia, immigration).  Did a little sightseeing, a little work, and watched the first two seasons of Game of Thrones (where the hell have I been?)

A few closers?

1.  I posted about this on Facebook the other night, but it is worth sharing here.  The last night there (Thursday), I ambled down to my favorite little authentic Norwegian restaurant to swallow down a portion of reindeer before leaving.  When I arrived, it was pretty crowded, and I was told there were no tables available.  No problem, I said.  How long is the wait.  The first waiter I spoke to looked at me like I had ten heads. "How can I know this?"  he said.  I did a double take and asked again, "can you estimate how long the wait is?" He answered, "how will I know how long people will stay?"  At this point his colleague joined him, and they exchanged a few words in some Scandinavian tongue (the Norwegians told me all the Swedes have the waiter jobs, because the waiter salaries are so good and the oil-fattened Norwegians don't wish to do service economy jobs) and the colleague said, "may I help you?"  I answered yes, that I would go put my name on a list and go do a little shopping while I waited if I could be given an estimate of how long that would take. She then adopted the same line. "How do we know how long these people will be here?"  At this point, I realized I was up against a cultural norm, and so I decided to have a little fun with it.  "How long has this restaurant been here?" I asked.  She answered "ninety years".  My answer was then "ninety years of experience with people occupying tables, perhaps?"  And with a big smile, I walked away.  Yes, some of this is cultural, that Euro's like to linger over meals--which is something I wholeheartedly support.  But some of it is also the lack of a "tip" culture.  Waiters are paid a generous minimum wage (at least) in Norway, and they make very little from tips (the practice is to round up).  Therefore, table turnover matters to the waitstaff very, very little.  I like our system better.

2.  There is a special place in the seventh ring of hell for the people who use the back of the airline seat in front of them as an anchor point as they lift themselves out of their seats, only to allow it an elastic snap-back for the person sitting in front of them.  The cretin behind me did this several times during the trip home yesterday, so at one point as I proceeded aft to the loo (with most of the people around him sleeping, including him) I gave his seatback a mighty tug and let it fly.  I felt like a WWII Norwegian saboteur.

3.  Lots of angst among the Norwegian intelligentsia with whom I consorted over the past few days about immigration.  Much praise for the Poles (they live in our neighborhoods, learn our language), little nice to say about other cultures who are not learning the language and are gathering in clusters.

Lots of things here at the Farm to get on with, plus another blog post to write, so that's all for now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Day 4 and 5: Trains, Buses, and Boats

Writing to you from the bed of the new hotel in which I am staying, a decided turn for the worse from the luxe spot I was staying the first couple of nights here, but these digs are fronted by the Norwegian Navy, and they don't have a lot of cash to spare.  Actually, they are just across the port from where I was, but there is no gym and there is no in room coffee.  I'll likely not work out at all today, though tomorrow is a free day and the hotel tells me they have an "agreement" with a healthclub where, for only $15, I can go and use the gym.

It is 0615 and  I leave in an hour and a half for the Norwegian Naval Academy where this shindig is going down.  I met my fellow presenters at a dinner last night, one of whom I knew, another of whom I knew by reputation, but the rest were new to me.  More on dinner later, but time to fill you in on yesterday.

Bergen Station
As I indicated, I decamped early from previous quarters, schlepping my gear with me for the partial circumnavigation of the port to the new hotel.  They did not have a room for me at 0800 (expected), so I stowed my gear and headed off on my "Norway in a Nutshell" tour.  I'll say from the start, that I really didn't know what to expect from this, so I entered it with an open mind and tried to forget that I have a crushing amount of work to do that I was blowing off by playing Joe Tourist.  The bottom line up from was that I'm glad I did it, but it was an awful lot of sitting around on one's behind.

At the hotel, I inquired as to a taxi to the train station, but the helpful woman behind the counter let
me know with a pruned up face and a shaking head that one should walk the 15 minutes to the station.  Capable of following orders, I did so and cut up through the heart of a quaint shopping and restaurant district, espying a possible Chinese option for dinner tomorrow night should my Norwegian eating spree lose steam.  Once at the station, I turned my internet receipt into a little ticket book to enable my day, and I was off.

First on the agenda was a train ride on The Bergen Railway to the town of Voss, about an hour away. The scenery was stunning and the train was serviceable, though no coffee/dining car.  The purpose of the stop at Voss was simply to transfer to a bus that would take us to the town of Gudvangen.  The bus ride was
A little fjord hamlet
also wonderful, with plenty of amazing scenery along the way.  Of interest, I sat next to a German woman who was delighted with my being able to speak German. I get this all the time from Germans, kind of a mix of happiness and pride that an American had chosen to learn their tongue, and kind of a backhanded slam on Americans about our propensity not to learn languages. A bit of the old, "soft bigotry of low expectations".  She was very complimentary about my pronunciation, and she told me not to worry too much about my mangling of verb tenses, noun cases, etc.

At the end of this one hour bus trip we exited at Gudvangen for a two-hour fjord cruise.  With
Quite the Valley
temperatures in the high fifties, we sorta lucked out weather-wise, especially in comparison to what the weather had been in the previous days.  The weather was so nice in fact, that I may be the only person in the Kingdom of Norway with a sunburn.  The cruise was a leisurely float through ancient geography, past little outcroppings of farm life and occasional small villages.  I sat on deck next to an aged Aussie couple who seemed amazed at my ability to predict the course of our voyage and the exact time the winds would abate and leave an even more pleasant experience (read the chart, understand apparent wind).  We concluded the voyage at the town of Flam, where a monstrous cruise ship was docked and a garish little tourist outpost awaited us.  A stopover of some forty minutes allowed my tour mates to relieve themselves of their cash on trinkets, while I walked about creating today's sunburn horror.

We then all hopped on a train from Flam to Myrdal which cut through even more beautiful scenery as we headed uphill all the way--more snow appeared as we went on.  After an hour, we got off at Myrdal, transferred to another train, and spent two hours traveling back to Bergen.  I think you get the point...great scenery, but a lot of just sitting.

When I reached the train station, I had an hour to get my act together, get to the hotel, change, and get to the Bergen Fortress for the dinner with the other speakers.  The dinner was held in a beautiful room in the Fortress Commandant's house.  We were in open collar, but everything else spoke formality.  Toasts, little speeches, champagne before dinner, cognac after--really well done.  And the lamb chops were wonderful.  I sat next to the host (his choice) and an instructor at the Norwegian Naval Academy. Both were amiable dinner companions and good conversationalists.

BREAK

It is now 2008 hrs on the 17th, over 12 hours after I started this.  I had to put it down in order to get to breakfast and then off to the conference.  I will pick up where I left off.

As I've discussed, this new hotel has no gym, so I arose this morning at 0500 solely to catch up with the world and to get this now overly long post done.  No nescafe here in the room, but a quick elevator ride to the lobby resulted in the juice I needed to get my day started.  I sat down to breakfast after showering and changing into my superman suit (Blue Suit, light green tie), and was soon joined by another conference speaker, a retired Norwegian Rear Admiral.  He was a pretty good guy and we had a nice chat before piling into the van that took us and our comrades to the Naval Academy for the conference.
The symposium crowd

I won't bore you with the details of the conference, except to tell you that the Norwegians are great allies, and the Russians have them worried.  That is, they have the military folks worried, but their general population is still pretty clueless.  I gave them the red meat American view of Eurosloth, and they seemed to enjoy it.  One of the speakers was a Finnish Naval Officer who said, "you Americans are always the best speakers---and it wasn't fair that you got such an easy topic for an American"  ("Are the Europeans Up to It?").  I can't say he's wrong. Fact is, I sorta had them eating out of my hand when I pulled the old, "I'll be an old man someday, and I want my grandchildren to know that I addressed the Leadership of the Kingdom of Norway" trick and took a picture of them.

After the day was over, we had a dinner provided to us there at the Naval Academy, some damn good beef tenderloin, and then repaired to the bar for a few drinks--cognac seems to be a favorite round these parts.  I think if I were to start drinking again, it would be high on the list.  Has a nice bouquet.

That should do it for this edition--my plan tomorrow is to find the gym that this place is associated with and sweat a little, to eat nothing but authentic Norwegian food, and to do a lot of work.  Hop on a plane Friday AM.
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