Thursday, August 31, 2006

Brain-damaged nightly news

Here is an example of exactly what I don't want from my nightly news broadcast: the nightly fashion report. That's not to say that Ms. Couric will be anything less than an excellent evening news anchor. She can read from a teleprompter just as well as anyone else.

That is to say that CBS news doesn't have an entirely serious approach to news journalism. There are most likely innumerable women in America who could be perfectly good broadcast news anchors and who wouldn't need multi-million dollar advertising campaigns to convince the public that they are "serious". But given that both Katie Couric and Tom Brokaw are alumni of "The Today Show", there is apparently something about spending years doing interviews with, say, diaper manufacturers over no-leak linings, that just screams "this person is the trusted voice of America" to network executives.

As I and others have mentioned before, the problem with the networks news broadcasts is the progressively fluffier content that they adopt. A typical 30-minute networks news broadcast has a large chunk of time devoted to commercials, more time devoted to the one millionth status report about John Mark Karr, even more time devoted to security camera footage of a New Jersey mom spanking her kids in a mall parking lot to please the affiliates, and a "heart-warming" final segment devoted to the little old lady with 42 cats who donated her bingo winnings back to her local church group. In other words, NOT NEWS!

What I would really love to see from one of the big three networks is a 30-minute program of news for masochists. I want news that might actually challenge me to think, at least for a few seconds, to understand what it means, not news that, as the Dan Rathers of the world might put it, is more exciting than "a cowpoke on the wrong end of a cattle prod". Besides, all of the network news anchors pretend that they are citizens of the world, so why can't they treat their audience that way? If the parliament of Bulgaria topples its government in a 167 to 123 vote, I want to know. If Great Britain moves 1000 troops from Diego Garcia to Sierra Leone, I want to know. If Michael Jackson moves to Saudi Arabia because they don't sell "Huggies for Men" in the United States, that is not news and I do not care.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Government funding and the anti-Walmart crusade

There are at least five ways that a government can raise funds to pay for its expenditures.
  1. It can print money. Technically speaking, a government can never go bankrupt because it always print as much new money as it needs to covers its debts. My understanding is that governments are reluctant to embrace this method for fear of damaging its economy with excessive inflation. Liberals sometimes advocate this step, justified by the observation that moderate inflation produces economic growth. Conservatives tend to be more vigilant against this step, justified by the observation that moderate inflation produces economic growth followed by an economic crash.

  2. It can sell things for a profit. A massive chunk of United States Federal expenditures in the 19th century was funding with land sales, for example.

  3. It can borrow money and promise to pay it back later. Where would be without good old fashioned deficit spending?

  4. It can tax its citizens or subjects.

  5. And when all else fails, the goverment can ask its citizens for a forced gift. That is, if the government wants to do X, it simply instructs some portion of its population to pay for X OR ELSE!
As part of its longstanding tradition of honoring liberal principles, the contemporary Democratic Party has embraced principle 5 as a means of financing their pet programs. The Big Tobacco settlement of the 1990s, the Microsoft antitrust lawsuit, the perpetual calls for investigations of price gouging by oil companies, and the propaganda campaign against "Big Food" are all examples of liberals essentially looting the economy for more funds. A convenient FAQ of the latest propaganda campaign is available here. The link to the column by Ezra Klien is especially interesting because it admits that the anti-Walmart crusade is just another liberal scam:
And because Wal-Mart so obsessively pursues the lowest possible prices, they're not only depriving their own workers of generous benefits and compensation, they're making it literally impossible for their producers to do so, as Wal-Mart won't abide by the minor cost differences that on-shore production and respectable benefits demand.
Obviously capitalism anywhere is a threat to socialism everywhere.

The best explanation of the Clintons to date

From Blogging the Bible, the Book of Genesis (author's italics):
[Rebekah's] fierce intelligence raises another point about the story. God doesn't suffer fools gladly. It's clear that Esau's chief failing is that he's dumb. He loses his birthright because he's impatient for lunch, and loses his blessing because he's not smart enough to recognize that Jacob might steal it. Jacob and Rebekah, for all their faults, are smart. Abraham, Rebekah, and Jacob—the three great brains of Genesis so far—get what they want—and earn God's blessing—because they finagle, cajole, argue, deceive, play mind games, and even use God to advance their lies. And the Lord seems to love it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Random thoughts about fiction

Here is another flashback episode from the blogosphere. Random thoughts about science fiction and other fiction that finally aggregated together.

"Stargate SG-1": The series has finally been cancelled (hat tip: slashdot). I haven't watched Stargate in years, but from what I've seen, there were plenty of lousy plot developments that could have taken the show down. Since it lasted so long, I can only assume that they finally ran out of ancient Egyptian sarcophagi filled with boogy-men.

"Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith": The thought occured to me the other day that Episode III barely has any real connection to Episodes I and II. That is, if one were to simply throw Episodes I and II out the window, Episode III actually works reasonably well as a movie on its own terms. I think this underscores the fact that for Lucas to spend most of two movies focusing on poor little Anny growing up into a seriously Oedipus-complexioned killer Jedi was a major aesthetic (not financial) blunder.

"eXistenZ": I just finished watching "eXistenZ" (notice the trendy gen-X spelling pattern there) tonight, so these are a few of my initial thoughts. Generally speaking, the movie plays a bit like a clone of "The Matrix", except that, unlike "The Matrix", the movie does not spend a lot of its time on wordy exposition of the technological and social underpinnings of its plot.

A benefit of this approach is that when the game players in the beginning of the movie start messing around with organic-looking whatsits that are used as virtual reality game consoles, the actual mechanics of whatever is happening are completely irrelevant. Another benefit is that whatever background we need to understand the plot arises naturally in more visual and dramatic terms than in "The Matrix".

Another fringe benefit of "eXistenZ" is that the lead female character doesn't transform into a stereotypical movie "girlfriend" of the lead male character by the time the movie is over (ala Trinity in "The Matrix" series).

"Kung Fu: The Complete First Season": I used to love this show as a child, so I bought the complete first season on DVD. Watching the episodes again, they do seem somewhat dated now. The idea that Shaolin philosophy is the universal solvent for dissolving all of your 19th century wild west snafus seems a bit too 70s nowadays, although this is probably because the western as such seems a bit too 70s nowadays. The one thing that impressed me about the show now is David Carradine's (aka Kwai Chang Caine aka "the Kung Fu guy") portrayal of a Shaolin Monk. The show tries desperately to portray Kwai Chang Caine as a man of peace and a guru of ancient wisdom, but whenever Caine is forced to get violent with someone, you sometimes get the sense that, yes, Caine really is this dangerous guy.

"Kung Fu: The Legend Continues": Kwai Chang Caine is timewarped into the 1990s to fight crime with his estranged son who is also a cop. Except this time, Caine is such a pacifist that he gets his ass kicked whenever he is forced to attack someone instead of defending against someone's attack. Give me a break!

"The Passion of the Christ": You can tell that liberals view this movie as a major propaganda success of the religious right because they have launched a campaign to pressure Mel Gibson to renounce the movie as part of the price of his "rehabilitation". The latest contribution to this campaign to come to my attention is from Rob Reiner. This is just the standard liberal "art of war"; the cultural equivalent of trying to convince Saddham Hussein to give up WMDs by launching a few cruise missiles at one of the dictator's unoccupied palaces.

The mass negative response that liberals have launched against "The Passion of the Christ" is, of course, a load of baloney. My understanding is that "The Passion of the Christ" is a faithful movie adaptation of the Gospel of John. So, if "The Passion of the Christ" is anti-semitic, the Gospel of John is anti-semitic, but you'll notice that liberals aren't exactly ripping the Gospel of John out of their bibles in protest of anti-semitism.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Historical Ignorance

The Leftist myth of World War I as the war fought about nothing is perpetuated in this recent opinion column:
The events in the Middle East are often compared to 1914 and the start of World War I. That war -- the Great War, the war to end all wars -- is actually the all-purpose war. It not only began for what seemed like a trivial reason (the assassination of a non-head of state), but it was fought with tenacity and brutality for what now seems no reason at all. In the end, millions died and the world was utterly changed. Why?
Was World War I really the first Seinfeldian war? Of course it wasn't. Anyone who has ever had the slightest inclination to actually learn something about World War I knows that the victorius British Empire blamed the war on German militarism. And anyone who has ever read about World War I in any detail knows that there was the issue of a Balkan power struggle between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. If the German militarists knew anything about the likely outcome of the war, they knew that a German victory would almost certainly lead to an Anschluss of Austria significantly sooner than the historical year of 1938.

The reason why Conservatives are big on comparing the Middle East to the Balkans lately -- President Carter's National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski presciently lumped the two together into one big Eurasian Balkans -- is that liberal public opinion about the Balkans post-1918 matches liberal public opinion about the Middle East post-2003. In the standard two-word formulation of foreign policies articulated for the general public, liberals across the West were more than happy to adopt a policy of "total neglect" with regard to these areas.

Hitler knew that this was the case. Notice that the Western policy of appeasement abruptly stopped once Hitler lost interest in taking over parts of the Balkans and decided to attack Poland. Stalin knew that this was the case as well. The very thought that the Soviet Union would have dared to besmirch its sterling international reputation by instructing its subordinate communist parties to overthrow the Balkan states would have had liberals laughing out loud in 1945, but Stalin did it and got away with it.

Fast forward to 2006 and even the intellectual coherence of the appeasers of 1938 has disappeared. For example, the contemporary Left has actually fractured into two factions holding diametrically opposed views about what is happening in Iraq. Some parts of the Left believe that the violence in Iraq is due to popular resentment of the the American occupation, and if the Americans troops leave the country then the violence will essentially vanish. Other parts of the Left believe that Iraq is careening towards an inevitable civil war fought along sectarian lines, and if the American troops leave then the inevitably escalating violence in Iraq will at least not be taking American lives. The Left obviously just wants the American troops to cut and run from Iraq -- damn the consequences -- and can't decide on which cover story will sell with the American public.

The only sensible definition of a planet

The IAU has finally voted on a definition of a planet which is fated to only prolong the Great Planet Embaressment of 2006.

The only sensible definition of a planet is a celestial object satisfying these conditions:

  1. It must be in orbit around the Sun.

  2. It must be large enough that it takes on a nearly round shape

  3. In the case of a non-gaseous planet, an astronaut standing on its surface must not be able to achieve escape velocity by jumping.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A few musings about 21st century counterfactual history

Seeing this article about how the Democrats plan to run on "security" this fall made me wonder what the "War on Terror" would look like if Al Gore had been elected in 2000 and reelected in 2004.

Of course, it wouldn't technically be a war since Democrats believe terror is primarily an international law enforcement problem. It also wouldn't be anything to do with "terror" per se. Democrats don't believe the United States can wage war on an emotion. So in this alternative universe, President Gore would have been likely to have committed the United States to a long term "Extended Criminal Prosecution of Members of Al-Qaeda".

Giving President Gore the benefit of the doubt, we can still assume he would have braved the "harsh Afghan winter" and sent American troops into the land that had driven out both the British and the Soviets. So the Taliban are still toppled in the counterfactual scenario. What would be next? Invading Iraq certainly seems out of the question. Given that a major charge that the Democratic Party throws at President Bush is that the United States is not doing enough to capture Osama bin Laden, a President Gore's post-Taliban plans would probably involve fewer American troops in the Middle East and more American troops in Afghanistan.

So, by 2003, President Gore would be just barely holding together the decaying sanctions regime against Iraq despite the revelations of the Oil-for-Food scandal, and in the mean time a really big chunk of the active duty United States military would be flying around in circles across the Hindu Kush mountains looking for new goatherders that haven't been interrogated yet. But lets assume that President Gore wins a counterfactual reelection in 2004 anyway. What would the world look like by now?

Iraq wouldn't be a problem. Saddham plays games with the U.N. weapons inspectors, Gore launches air strikes on abandoned warehouses in Baghdad. Saddham promises to behave. Gore tells us what a bad man Saddham is. Rinse. Repeat. Liberals guarentee that 2004's new, improved, fool-proof Oil-for-Food program will work the way it is intended to work. Does Saddham have nuclear weapons? The counter-factual CIA spends the 5 years between 2001 and 2006 noting that Saddham is 5 years away from a working atomic bomb. Let's give President Gore the benefit of the doubt and assume that Saddham hasn't nerve gased Tel Aviv by 2006.

North Korea wouldn't be a problem since they'd be happily continuing work on nuclear weapons while we feed their population for free and give them free civilian nuclear reactors. Perhaps Kim Jong Il would have continued with his 2006 missile test launches anyway; since President Gore never withdrew the United States from the ABM treaty, there wasn't much he could have done about a test launch in any case.

Iran wouldn't be a problem either. They'd be happily continuing work on nuclear weapons while we feed their population for free and give them free civilian nuclear reactors. Remember, normalizing relations with Iran was a key priority of the Clinton Administration that was successfully carried out by our counterfactual Gore Administration.

Israel would probably be much that same as it is today, except, of course, we'd be truely puzzled as to how Hamas managed to get their hands on so much Iraqi weaponry during 2006's joint Hamas-Hezbollah confrontation with Israel.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Bugs Bunny Democrats, MAC Daddy Republicans, and other thoughts

  • Bugs Bunny Democrats are all carrot and no stick. Although, as the Clinton administration proved, Bugs Bunny Democrats can get flattened by anvils thrown by terrorists only spring back to life again, good as new.

  • A lousy idea that's been floating around the internet lately is the propect of a McCain-Lieberman ticket in 2008. McCain is a long-standing favorite candidate for a party switch, probably because his big-government streak makes him the current MAC (i.e. a Minimally Acceptable Conservative, or the least Left conservative that is still considered "mainstream") Daddy of the Republican Party. Lieberman has already technically switched parties, although Lieberman still considers himself to be a loyal Democrat, so the idea that Lieberman would run with McCain for the Presidency is totally bizarre. Republicans probably aren't in a big hurry to contract a fresh case of "Tyler-Fillmore" disease anytime soon as well.

    You can expect various forms of RINO-DINO (i.e. Republican/Democrat In Name Only) presidential tickets to be proposed between now and election day 2008. Conservatives have seen it all many times before: the mainstream media expects liberals who run for president/prime minister/chancellor to run unabashed liberal administrations once elected while conservatives who run for these offices and win are expected to neutralize themselves by establishing "unity" administrations.

  • Another wacko idea floating around recently is a partition of Iraq into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish zones of some kind. First of all, Iraq isn't an American puppet state, so the United States can't just tell Iraqis to radically redesign their constitution and expect them to do it. That's assuming that they would even listen to such a request after all of the trouble and effort it took just to get the first constitution written and enacted; it seems much more logical that the elected Iraqi government would treat an American request that it commit suicide instead of fighting the insurgents with contempt.

    The depressing thing here is that a key lesson of Vietnam, namely that purposefully delegitimizing a state under duress can lead to its collapse, has been totally ignored by those floating this partirion plan. What is even more depressing is that the lesson of 1938 Munich, namely that a "Balkans" consisting of one powerful authoritarian state surrounded by a number of weak states is inherently unstable, is also being completely ignored. As Victor Davis Hanson wrote last week, "In short, if we wish to learn what was going on in Europe in 1938, just look around."

  • A pair of beliefs commonly held by some liberals is that "the current Iraqi government is a puppet state" and that "Iraq is in a state of civil war, therefore, the United States should evacuate its troops". It seems to me that these two beliefs are contradictory. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Iraqi government is a puppet government of the United States. That means that the true government of Iraq is the United States government and that the people of Iraq are, at the very least, American subjects if not American citizens. It does not follow then that the United States should evacuate its military from Iraq because all military forces in Iraq are de facto United States military forces. In other words, one must consider an Iraqi civil war to be properly an American civil war unless one is willing to conceed that the Iraqi government has a sovereign right to a territorial monopoly of military force.

    That is a very depressing conclusion given that Democratic politicians generally addressed the American civil war with the same rhetoric that they use to discuss Iraq (i.e. the Republican President is a moron; the Republican President has totally bungled the war effort; Republicans are taking away civil liberties to form a monarchy; we should be negotiating instead of fighting; etc.)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Passing the buck: a conspiracy theory

The United Nations has finally come up with a plan for a cease fire between Israel and Hezbollah. It looks like Right-Wing blogs are not going to approve of this UN Resolution either; Michelle Malkin considers the deal depressing, for example.

The deal is depressing, of course, because there is no moral imperative to negotiate with terrorists, even when a nation like Israel launches a full scale assault against them. There is only a practical imperative to negotiate. If negotiating gives Israel more than it gives the terrorists, it might just be worth it.

But the involvement of France (the former Mandatory power in the area) in this affair has me suspicious. After all, this is France we're talking about. If it wasn't acting suspicious, it wouldn't be doing its job. My suspicion is that France is acting as a go-between in a game of "good cop, bad cop" being played with the real opposition in Lebanon: Syria. Syria, as we all know, is the regional power backing Hezbollah, although presumably Syria is funneling support from Iran to Hezbollah as well. Syria is also presumed to be a regional staging area for insurgents preparing for operations inside Iraq. So the only real way to make a deal with Hezbollah and get it to stick is ultimately to make a deal with Syria, one way or another.

What could a cynically Machiavellian American president be telling the Syrians to take advantage of the situation? Perhaps that the Israeli government has finally "lost it" this time and are going to run riot over Lebanon and Syria out of sheer fury. But the United States might just maybe be able use what little influence it has with Israel to get it to agree to a cease fire. It might also be wise for Syria to crack down on Iraqi insurgents operating in its terrority to give the United States some political cover as more United Nations peacekeepers -- perhaps some American troops previously stationed in Iraq -- move into southern Lebanon.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Just when you feel ready to start dating again...

they put pictures of a bust of a nude Hillary Clinton on the internet.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The proper lessons of Monopoly

The blog Cosmic Variance discusses the long-time favorite board game Monopoly and draws some negative implications for capitalism from the game. What I find interesting is that some of the positive implications for capitalism have been overlooked.

  • The government does not have to intervene in the economy. Winning a game of Monopoly is purely a matter of competetiveness. Skill, detailed knowledge of the economic worth of properties, the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice, and historical contingency (for example, getting possession of both Boardwalk and Park Place first) are the only ways to win. Aren't skill, knowledge, foresight, and the courage to seize opportunities while managing risk all traits to be encouraged in all economic classes?

    Here's what Monopoly would look like if government interventionism (aside from such minimal interventions as the jail or the luxury tax) is allowed. On every turn, a player would roll one die that represents his or her lobbying efforts with the city government. If the player rolls a 1, his or her lobbyists have successfully passed "rent-seeking" legislation and the player automatically wins, regardless of the state of play.

  • The flip side to this is that success in Monopoly comes from astutely managing ones assets. You won't be a success in Monopoly by spending the whole game on the Monopoly equivalent of welfare checks: endlessly circling the board doing nothing but picking up the $200 from "Go" each time.

  • Trade benefits both players. That's capitalism 101.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Lileks is the Man!

Always read Lileks after The Daily Dish. Always. Especially when Lileks writes about film:
It's Jim Backus as Jim Backus! Ever the Thurston, poor fellow. You wonder if he regarded his exile on Gilligan’s rock as a cruel insulting come-down from his earlier promise, or whether he knew he was crafting a broad comic creature from his own raw material, a character that would survive him for decades to come, a character people would imitate in 2010 when they played Monopoly and bought Park Place, lovey. Thurston was Backus’ Captain Kirk; I hope he knew it before he died.