Monday, July 31, 2006

The centrist internet goes nuts over Mel Gibson

By now, you've probably heard about Mel Gibson's outlandish behaviour and arrest for DWI. While all observers agree that Mel Gibson's actions were personally disastrous and professionally potentially career-killing, I think most Americans following the story are taking his apology at face value and hoping that he will finally put things right in his life once and for all.

Yes, we are in the apology/rehab phase of the celebrity life cycle. However, due to Mr. Gibson's notoriety from having thumbed his nose at the liberal conventional wisdom with "The Passion of the Christ", we still have an additional, vomit-inducing "political football" stage to go through. Leading the political charge is Christopher Hitchens demanding a loyalty oath from Gibson's backers:
Those who endorsed his previous obscene blockbuster are obliged to say something now or be ignored ever after.
This is like negotiating with Right-wing proponents of "The Passion of the Christ" in the way that Hezbollah negotiates with Israel; it's like saying "We've captured Mel Gibson now. Give up 'The Passion of the Christ' if you want him back."

On the other hand, Andrew Sullivan has gone completely nuts with posts (just today) relating to Mel Gibson here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. And while Hitchens, to his credit, is willing to give Gibson's backers a rhetorical escape hatch -- disavow "The Passion of the Christ" and cut your losses -- Sullivan is out for "christianist" casulties.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


It's rare that I come across a new article that provokes a primal scream from me, but the latest modification to the popular boardgame Monopoly did it. It's probably because I'm from South Jersey that this pisses me off:
In an effort to remain relevant, venerable board game Monopoly has been given an electronic European makeover. Capitalist robber barons in the UK will now have the option of making a cashless fortune thanks to a new version of the game that features an electronic card from Visa instead of paper money.
This modification reeks of politically correct egalitarianism. Presumably one could even dig up a study from some E.U. agency that demostrates that sniggering over huge piles of cash is especially damaging to children's self esteem.

Personally, it's the sniggering over the huge piles of cash that is the real fun of Monopoly. When I was young, the players with all the money tended to go for Indiana Jones coolness by saying things like "Here's 10 bucks kid. Go buy yourself a decent meal." Occasionally we'd go for the patronizing ganster cool from the black and white movies by saying things like "Johnny, you're a mess. Look, here's 50 bucks. Have dinner. Take your wife to a movie. Live a little." Patronizing the other players by swiping a debit card through a card reader is just too liberal; it's like being a Streisand lackey buying groceries for a homeless person instead of giving him money for hookers and booze.

Finally, a realistic computer basketball game

From the MSN review of "And 1 Streetball" as one of the 10 worst technologies of Q2 2006:
Some say the traveling "And 1 Streetball" team is the new-school answer to the Harlem Globetrotters. Others say the "And 1 Streetball" team is just a bunch of guys traveling. Yes, it's cool to see a guy bounce the ball off a defender's head, stick it under his shirt, moonwalk, and then kick an alley-oop pass in one fluid motion, but still: That's traveling.
For you, that might be traveling. For me, that was high school gym class. I like to think of the single pass I received in all of my high school basketball games -- a 100 mile-an-hour rocket aimed at my right occipital lobe -- as a friendly reminder not to let competitive sports damage my academic standing.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Random thoughts

Here's another post full of minor ideas that never got developed into full-blown posts. Call it the blogger's equivalent of the infamous "Star Trek: The Next Generation" flashback episode: it's not as much fun as a regular episode but it saves money to pay for next season's big-honkin' space battle.
  • Remember when Senator Bill Frist got laughed out of Washington D.C. for his gasoline tax rebate idea? Apparently the idea wasn't as bad as the public was lead to believe since Senator Hillary Clinton is now floating a baby rebate for each child born in America. As much fun as it will be to pay the government the money it gives me back when I have my future children, I'm guessing this proposal isn't going to make it into law anytime soon. After all, when you really think about it, isn't this just a backdoor around wefare reform?

  • Democratic party orthodoxy about North Korea was that Kin Jong Il was happily content with President Clinton's 1994 agreement, but that President Bush's inept diplomacy allowed (or "forced"?) North Korea to resume nuclear weapons activities. The equivalent Republican position was that North Korea was happily cheating on the agreement from day 1, and that President Bush at least had the courage not to pay North Korea to break the rules.

    There is a third possibility in-between the two mentioned above. North Korea could have obeyed or mildly cheated on the 1994 agreement during the 90s, but then extravagently cheated on the deal after the 2001 for the purpose of smearing President Bush. Why not stick a thumb in the American president's eye? Liberal public opinion would almost certainly blame Bush for anything that went wrong with the 1994 deal, regardless of fault, and any contrary information would be insulated from the American public by its mainstream media. Whatever benefits North Korea lost during the Bush Administration would simply be made up with interest by some future Democratic administration.

  • It seems to me that the recent sabre-rattling by North Korea could be a sign that President Bush's approach to dealing with them is having its intended effect. If Kim Jong Il is going nuts over being asked to negotiate in six-party talks, doesn't that indicate that six-party talks somehow benefit the United States (assuming that the United States isn't the crazed imperialistic killer superpower protrayed in North Korean propaganda)? One American advantage I can see arising from six-party talks is that it takes away North Korea's ability to tell each of the parties different stories without those parties comparing notes afterwords. Another American advantage is that an easy way to isolate a country that has betrayed one deal with the United States is to try and get that country to make (an inevitably broken) deal with all of its neightbors. That seems hard to do in a series of bilateral talks but somewhat easier to do in multiple-party talks.

  • Has anyone noticed that the liberal slant of the mainstream media is one of the principle benefits that a Democratic president would bring to the War on Terror (before it became the Serious Criminal Investigation on Terror, that is)? The easist way to get more "positive" stories on Iraq into the mainstream media would be to elect a Democrat president in 2008.

  • Nothing screams desperation more than Connecticut Democrats pressuring Senator Lieberman not to run as an independent if he loses the Democratic primary to challenger Ted Lamont. The impression being conveyed is that Lieberman is guarenteed to win as long as he is on the general election ballot, which seems counter-productive for his challenger to seemingly endorse. Another drawback to this type of pressure is that fits the Democratic Left's stereotype of being willing to "game the electoral system" whenever it can pick up an advantage by doing so.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Howard Dean is a blogger's best friend.

The man with more holes in his feet than Yosemite Sam blasts himself again with more mindless remarks. Here are some classic Deanisms:
"You know, people say the Republicans are tough on defense. How can you be tough on defense if five years after 9/11, Osama bin Laden is still at large, the Iranians are about to get nuclear weapons, North Korea's quadrupled their nuclear weapons stash. . . .
Dean is absolutely oblivious to how these statements indict Democrats as well. Seven years after the World Trade Center bombing and President Clinton still hadn't gotten Bin Laden? President Clinton allowed North Korea to stockpile a nuclear weapons stash in the first place? Does anyone seriously believe that the president who gave us Mogadishu is going to go down in history as the "national defense" president?

If Howard Dean ever gets serious about proving that Democrats are tough on defense, he might want to explain to the American people why the Clinton/Daschle "no casulties rule" was such a lousy idea first.

There is even more brain-damaged commentary from Howard Dean:
“This country is in the worst shape since Richard Nixon, and probably before that,” Dean said.
Yes, Kent State, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy, the mass campus protests against the draft and the Vietnam War, the Cuban missile crisis, the Yom Kippur War, the Tet offensive, and the black plastic diaper trapeze bathing suit all happened between 2001 and 2006. And they were all President Bush's fault.

And now, a word from our sponsor, the counter-factual reality-based community:
"If you think what's going on in the Middle East today would be going on if the Democrats were in control, it wouldn't, because we would have worked day after day after day to make sure we didn't get where we are today. We would have had the moral authority that Bill Clinton had when he brought together the Northern Irish and the IRA, when he brought together the Israelis and the Palestinians."
You see, if only we'd elect Democrats instead of Republicans, then the whole world would just give up its evil ambitions and be a peace and it would all happen without anyone getting hurt.

Of course, the United States already tried Dean's strategy for world peace without much success. I'm sure that if you try hard enough you could even find a solemn document stating something along the lines of "I promise not to invade anyone. Sincerely, A. Hitler".

Or, to view the absurdity of Dean's ideas from another point of view, lets examine the United States from a historical perspective. As liberal historians would be the first to admit, the United States has engaged in genocide, territorial aggrandizement on a continental scale, mass slavery, nuclear war, and waves of oversees imperialism, murder, mayhem and destruction culminating in the the complete overthrow of international law and world order by President George W. Bush's evil Neocon war for total planetary domination. And yet, the moral committment of an Al Gore or a Hillary Clinton is so strong, wholesome and pure that a country who can elect such a person as them to its presidency in 2008 is redeemed, made new and unshakeably wholesome, and elevated to the status of moral beacon of truth and justice. Give me a break!

A day of confusions

Sometimes, as much as you wish otherwise, you and your coworkers inhabit different entertainment universes. Conversation #1 today goes something like this:
J: There's this actor named Bill Paxton who is the only person to be terminated by the Terminator, predated by the Predator, and alienated by the Alien.

L: I have no idea what films you're talking about.

J: Have you seen "Event Horizon"? You know, the Sci-Fi movie with Laurence Fishburne.

L: Who's Laurence Fishburne?

J: He played Morpheus in "The Matrix".

L: I never saw "The Matrix".
It looks like one of the advantages of being born a member of Generation X was the opportunity to watch (or, if you prefer, invest in) the renaissance of science fiction that developed in the late 70s and early 80s. Those of us born during the Nixon Administration were around to see
  • The beginning of the 6-film Star Wars saga with "Episode IV: A New Hope" in 1977.
  • The beginning of the 10-film Star Trek saga with "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" in 1979 in addition to 4 television spin-offs of "Star Trek" beginning with "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in 1987.
  • Steven Spielberg's entrance into science fiction with "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982) and the 3-film "Back to the Future" trilogy started in 1985.
  • At least part of the golden age of "Dr. Who" with the Tom Baker episodes that started in 1974.
  • The 4-film "Aliens" series that began in 1979.
  • The beginning of the 3-film Terminator series with "The Terminator" in 1984.
  • A slate of other cult-favorite science fiction films such as "Dune" (1984), "Ghostbusters" (1984), "Bladerunner" (1982), and John Carpenter's "The Thing" (1982).
In terms of science fiction film, Generation X has seen an embaressment of riches. We're also at the point where Generation X is making its own science fiction films. "V for Vendetta", for example, plays exactly like the mix of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged", Tim Burton's film "Batman", George Orwell's "1984", and the November 1989 revolution that anyone who went to college during the elder Bush Administration would have been exposed to.

Conversation #2 shows that some people had priorities other than movies during the 80's:
J: John Carpenter was able to show the Thing taking over other life forms and imitating them, which they weren't able to do in the original movie.

A:That's like what they did with "The Terminator"?

J:Uh, yeah, kinda the same thing.
Conversation #3 demonstrates that there was a Golden Age and a Silver Age of science fiction long before the current (or, perhaps, concluded) Bronze Age of science fiction:
A:Well, you remember Robbie the Robot then?

J:[blank stare, jaw drops]
Ironically, Robbie the Robot starred in this film which was a possible precursor for these people.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Blowback: It's not just for Republicans anymore

Here's an interesting observation presented in the book "The Myth of Mental Illness" by Thomas S. Szasz, M.D.:
In general then, the open acknowledgement of satisfaction is feared only in oppressive situations -- for example, by the much-suffering wife married to a domineering husband. The experience and expression of satisfaction (joy, contentment) are inhibited lest they lead to an augmentation of one's burden. This dilemma must be faced, for example, by persons who come from large poor families and do moderately well financially while to other family members remain poor. If such a person manages to become very wealthy, he will be able to take care of all the other family members who want to be dependent on him. However, if he is only moderately well off, he will be faced with the threat that, irrespective of how hard he works, the demands of his poor relatives will prevent him from enjoying the fruits of his own labor, thrift, and perhaps good luck. Their needs will aways be greater than his assets.* If our hypothetical moderately successful man wants to prevent antagonizing his poor relatives, he will be prompted to "malinger" in regard to his financial situation. He will pretend to be less well off than he really is.
The footnote indicated by * reads "Progressive taxation may create similar feelings in people."

Now there is an observation of real utility for Democrats who can't understand why their goverment spending isn't wholeheartedly embraced by American society. Observe that one of the major exertions of modern liberals is to increase the weight of the moral bludgeon used to extract money from the American tax base. As the excerpt above makes clear, the public will naturally react against heavy-handed tax collections. In response, liberals simply escalate their efforts to attempt to overcome the public's resistance to further taxation, while remaining seemingly oblivious that this will only further inflame public opinion.

The side effect for liberals is a sometimes amazingly neurotic approach to politics. One prominent example is Senator Kerry's charge during the 2004 elections that President Bush was deliberately underfunding homeland security measures in coastal states because these states are predominately Democratic. Or pay attention to what happens when a new Democratic spending program pops up in Congress: evil, stone-hearted, Hitleresque bastard Republicans will instantly transform into warm-heared, compassionate, far-seeing guardians of the public trust by voting for a ten-percent increase in federal education spending over the next five years. You could also just listen to Democratic politicians give speechs for a week or so. One day Republicans are evil conspirators launching a coup d'etat or destroying the constitution; the next day Republicans are "bipartisan" partners in accomplishing some good deed.

This analysis only understates the problems for liberals because their policies seem calculated to deliberately increase the anxieties of the tax-paying public. There is liberal habit of always pushing for new taxes regardless of the state of the economy, since the poor need the most help during recessions but the rich can afford to pay more during expansions. There is the liberal habit of framing new spending proposals in ways they make them impossible to reverse (i.e. the entitlement mentality). Liberals protect the extraordinary taxes such as the alternative-minimum tax that are initially levied only onto the extra-wealthy but slowly creep down onto the middle class over time. Liberals even protect taxes levied on wealth, such as the estate tax, while remaining oblivious to the fact that undermining the public's trust in the private ownership of wealth will only increase its anxieties about the taxation of its income.

And even this analysis understates the problems for liberals once we take into account the liberal crusades against any corporation that dares to show a profit on its books. Although to be fair, a Democratic politician is usually willing to shower public money and acclaim on corporations that threaten to lay off large numbers of that politician's constituents before moving operations to a state with a friendlier economic climate.

One of the reasons why Georgia Senator Zell Miller was excommunicated by the Democratic Party is that he recognized that exactly this type of dynamic was at work. The one policy that he advocated for today's Democratic party was to be willing to lower taxes. Aside from avoiding the neurotic traps that I mention above, doesn't it make sense that a poitical party that is willing to lower taxes when more government revenues are not necessary can be trusted to raise taxes when move government revenues are necessary?

Monday, July 17, 2006

The slow motion collapse of the conservative movement continues

Thoughtful conservatives have been issuing warnings to the conservative movement as a whole that political anti-Darwinism is a losing position. Less thoughtful conservatives have, for the most part, laughed in response. Ironically, it is usually the general public and liberals who do much of the laughing when the creationist conservatives open their mouths upon the subject. 2006, in particular, seems destined to be the year of the great conservative crackup over evolution. Yes, creationist conservatives, that incessant giggling coming from your Left is directed at you.

The peril the creationism poses to conservatives is twofold. First, the truth in general and scientific truth in particular are conservative principles. The truth is an indispensible component of good governance for any political movement, but for conservatives in particular, the willingness of private organizations to set their duty to the truth above the claims of political factions is also a key component of a principled anti-statism. Second, a political movement that is unwilling to say anything about science, whether true or false, to serve its political goals is only casting its general reliability into doubt. In other words, if creationist conservatives are unwilling to make the slightest concessions to truth when discussing "Darwinist" physics or mathematics, then why should they be believed when they discuss economics or political theory or anything else.

The first conservative casulty of creationist this year is Anne Coulter, whose book Godless: The Church of Liberalism has several chapters of anti-Darwinist content. These chapters have already been shreaded to pieces by liberal bloggers all across the internet since they largely recycled already discredited anti-Darwinist arguments (i.e. things like Darwinism is a tautology).
The second conservative casulty is The National Review, whose July 17th issue devotes more than 5 pages to an essay that cannot even conceed basic principles of science in its zeal to refute materialism. For example, the author writes (author's italics):
Feynman proposed the mapping of electron paths by assuming the electron took all possible routes, and then calculating the interference patterns that result among their wave functions. This method was a great success. But despite some dabbling as a youth in many-worlds theory, Feynman in his prime was too shrewd to suggest that the electron actually took all the possible paths, let alone to accept the theory that these paths compounded into entire seperate universes.
Actually, you can be absolutely sure the Feynman did believe that the elctron could travel from one point to another by multiple paths because this is a basic principle -- and practically a defining principle -- of quantum mechanics. It seems difficult to believe that anyone, much less the great Feynman, who cared to obtain the slightest practical knowledge of quantum mechanics could possibly get a fact like that wrong.

Here's another example:
In a computer, as information theory shows, the content is manifestly independent of its material substrate. No possible knowledge of the computer's materials can yield any information whatsoever about the actual content of its computations.
I don't know what kind of computer the author of this essay uses, but my computer was actually designed to examine automatically its component materials for information about the content of its calculations. The information is then displayed on a little device I like to call a "monitor" for my personal inspection. In reality, it is the semantic content of the information contained within the computer, not the actual physical state of the computer's components, that is independent of the computer's construction.

Yet another example (author's italics):
Turning to economics in researching my 1981 book Wealth & Poverty, I incurred new disappointments in Darwin and materialism. Forget God -- economic science largely denies intelligent design or creation even by human beings.
Is the author therefore expecting us to believe, apparently quite literally, that money grows on trees?

The rest of the article continues along similar lines by confusing information theory with semantics, confusing semantics with pragmatics, confusing information with knowledge, dropping trendy names and scientific buzzwords, and so on. That a magazine would devote more than five pages of prime "real estate" to a crank science article simply underscores the fact that it simply has zero credibility on any topic. The same issue of the National Review contains a lengthy analysis about the economic problems of Mexico. Did the editors manage to dig up an author who has read, say, page one of an Economics 101 textbook? Who knows?

Saturday, July 15, 2006

A thought about creationism

George Gilder writes in the July 17th issue of the National Review (his italics):
"As I pondered this materialist superstition, it became increasingly clear to me that in all the sciences I studied, information comes first, and regulates the flesh and the world, not the other way around. The pattern seemed to echo some familiar wisdom. Could it be, I asked myself one day in astonishment, that the opening of St. John's Gospel, In the beginning was the Word, is a central dogma of modern science?"
Ironically, Mr Gilder doesn't seem to realize that all of Christianity is based on a tautology. In the beginning was the Word; the Word is what was in the beginning.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Andrew Sullivan game continues

Read Andrew Sullivan's blog The Daily Dish long enough and you'll notice that he periodically feels a need to strongly distinguish himself from mainstream conservatism while still claiming a conservative identity. Think of him as the conservative movement's equivalent of France: a nominal ally who can't understand why he gives the impression of undermining the movement by articulating a rival, heterodox position. So whenever Andrew Sullivan rolls out a new, improved conservative movement, it inevitably generates a buzz of blogging over whether Andrew Sullivan is a true conservative.

The latest iteration in the game is Andrew Sullivan's claim that he has been written out of the movement by Ramesh Ponnuru of The National Review. Evolutionblog has an excellent excellent comparison of Ponnuru's column and Sullivan's response. Unfortunately, Evolutionblog doesn't realize that a game is being played here, so he falls for Sullivan's latest indictment of Right-wing conservatives hook, line, and sinker:
Why do no serious conservatives regard Sullivan as a fellow traveller? Because he has been very critical of the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq and has consistently opposed the attempts by religious extremists to turn this country into a theocracy. But sadly, pandering to religious conservatives and expressing fanatical loyalty to Bush represent the sum total of Republican politics these days.

I frequently disagree with Sullivan, but I usually find him thoughtful and interesting. It's unsurprising that people like him are no longer welcome on the American political Right.
To dispose of Sullivan's case, here's an excerpt from The National Review's Jonah Goldberg arguing that Andrew Sullivan is a conservative:
In the world we live in today, to be an American conservative requires two complementary forms of argumentation: skepticism about the new and faith in the old. You must have both to be a conservative of any stripe. Which new things you’re skeptical about and which old things you revere distinguish the kind of conservative you are. I think, unlike many readers, that by this criteria alone Sullivan is a conservative.

All conservatives must put their shoulder to the river to protect what they hold dear from the rush of change. My chief complaint about Sullivan is that the little pocket of turf he wishes to keep dry is just too small and can’t be protected from the deluge without a much bigger dam.
Perhaps what drives conservatives crazy about Andrew Sullivan is the way that he tends to recycle Democratic Party talking points into conservative principles from time to time. For instance, observe the way that he uses President Bush's "incompetence" in waging the conflict in Iraq. What Sullivan and Democrats tend to forget is that pratically every war in United States history has had its share of incompetence.

President Kennedy's assassination of President Ngo Dinh Diem of South Vietnam is one of the greatest blunders any president has ever made. The first thing Lyndon Johnson did when he was elected Senator was to dig up "incompetence" in the prosecution of the Korean War. Of course, Lyndon Johnson was using Harry Truman as a model, since Harry Truman managed to use a similar function in the Senate during World War II to convince President Roosevelt to promote him to Vice-President.

The list goes on and on. Every high school student learns about military "blundering" during the Spanish-American War (although nobody seriously believes that the war would have gone perfectly if only we had elected Democrat William Jennings Bryan instead of Republican William McKinley). President Lincoln's problems in waging the Civil war have become legendary. Even General Washington was a whisker away from losing the Revolutionary War in 1776 until he managed to win the Battle of Trenton.

Another example is Sullivan's echoing of the Democratic party's charge of "monarchism" as a summation of various Administration wrongdoings while remaining blissfully ignorant of the fact that, to quote Supreme Court Justice John Marshall, "the Morals of the Author of the letter to Mazzei cannot be pure".

Sunday, July 02, 2006

It's the propaganda, stupid!

If you ever doubted that the Democratic Party's "culture of corruption" campaign was one big pile of hypocritical B.S., this article from the Washington Post should erase all of your doubts. Here's a key sentence which explains a great deal of the Clinton phenomenon:
One thing we know about Clinton campaigns: Nobody gets Swift Boated.
If we assume that "getting Swift Boated" is a reference to being the victim of a successful propaganda campaign by an opponent, then this is absolutely correct. The hallmark of the Clintonian election campaign -- and the Clintonian style of governance, for that matter -- is the relentless use of propaganda. On the defense, this is propaganda to muddy the waters of public opinion or to convince the public to "move on" after a cursory investigation of one scandal after another. On the offense, this is propaganda to not only defeat an opponent but to destroy that opponent's ability to compete in future elections.

The classic Clintonian propaganda moment for me was when Senator Bob Dole's 1996 catchphrase "a bridge to the past" at the 1996 Republican National Convention was quickly trumped by President Clinton's "a bridge to the future" at the later Democratic National Convention. Obviously the Clinton's use of propaganda has only been enhanced by this "hacker" point of view.

Here's another key point that the article makes about Senator Clinton:
For those who think that the politics of personal destruction might be rekindled against Hillary or her husband, we can only remind people how consistently that approach has backfired in the past. Bill Clinton would certainly be a huge asset if Hillary decided to run.
Nothing better illustrates the corruption and total unscrupulousness of the contemporary Democratic Party than the fact that it literally couldn't care less about all of the crimes and scandals of the most notorious criminal partnership since Bonnie and Clyde. Until the Democrats demand a full explanation from the Clintons about their many scandals as an inescapable precondition for nominating Senator Clinton as their presidential candidate in 2008, that party will have exactly zero credibility as political reformers.

Speaking of "Swift Boating", anyone who thinks that Senator John Kerry is some kind of big-shot, war hero might want to recall that Senator Dole was a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division. Those guys are elite commando troopers: the best of the best soldiers that the United States ever produced. If you think that military service is a necessity for a well-qualified presidentical candidate then it should have been a honor to vote for Bob Dole in 1996.