Wednesday, September 23, 2009

California and political reality just don't seem to mix.

The bad news is that the recession and California's budget shortfall has led to a lot of painful budget cuts in California this year. The worse news is that California's political elites don't even seem to understand the nature of the problem. For example, John at the blog "Cosmic Variance" points the finger at California Proposition 13:
Ultimately, we all realize that the budget problems we face stem from the poor economy coupled with the effects of Proposition 13, passed over 30 years ago. By requiring a 2/3 majority in the state legislature to pass budget actions, it has led to a tyranny of the minority, a minority of, yes, Republicans who simply will not accept any new tax no matter what it does to the future of the state.
This is the logic of ten-year-old children writ large -- if the state can spend itself into a big enough debt, Mom and Dad taxpayer will be forced to raise its allowance. In political reality, the way one justifies a bigger allowance is by using maturity and good judgement with the allowance that one already has. If the state had been able to restrain spending in the good years, it would have built up the political capital that it needs to raise taxes during the bad years. If the state had been willing to accept a little bit of pain in restraining spending and cuting waste during the good years, we wouldn't be going through the massive tidal waves pain that our current budget is giving us in the bad years.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

President Obama's Bizarro-world foreign policy

Protect democracy in your home country and you're persona non grata. Wage punitive warfare against your country's dissident ethnic minorities and you get to visit the Lincoln Memorial.

President Obama has been running a "humiliate your friends; reward your enemies" foreign policy from day 1 and it has been a total, f***ing disgrace.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

How to explain the tea parties in a way the Left will understand.

Imagine the sum total of all of the outrage and indignation that Leftists felt during the eight years of the recent Bush presidency because of the Florida recount, No Child Left Behind, the invasion of Iraq, Haliburton, torture, Social Security privatization, executive signing statements, and massive deficit spending. Now imagine how they would have felt if all of those things happened in the first eight months of the Bush presidency! That's how we on the Right feel about the Obama Administration.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Thoughts about "District 9"

  • At the end of the film, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit ascend into the sky, promising an imminent return to render judgement upon humanity.

    The older I get, the more annoyed I get about the bizarre fascination that science fiction filmmakers have for inserting Christological implications into their films. Originally, the point of science fiction was presumably to enable a general audience to explore ideas without the accumulated baggage of Western religious thought. That's why it was called science fiction: the reader is supposed to be expected to depart from the recieved dogmas and to respect new ideas on their merits. If our science fiction just ends up taking us to the same old apocalyptic end-game that we've been pondering for the last two thousand years, then why bother writing it or reading it or thinking about it?

  • The other notable element of the film is yet another highly ironic, gross-out physical transformation. Mistreat the aliens badly enough and *you* start turning into an alien. Ha ha!

    Again, the more of these that I watch, the more tedious and boring they get. The problem is that the producers and directors who plot these things out assume that the irony sells the effect, so causal explanation is meaningless. In real science fiction, it is the causal explanation that sells the effect and the irony is meaningless.

  • The rest of the film is essentially cartoon characters fighting each other over who gets to have the cartoon guns that never run out of ammo.

    Wednesday, September 16, 2009

    Does the theory of evolution preclude the existence of a divine plan for human beings?

    Jim Manzi has been addressing the question quite a bit lately. He has helpful links to his arguments and his latest thoughts on the subject at "The Corner". Here is his latest statement of exactly which position he is arguing:
    First, I am making a fact claim. My fact claim is this: The findings of the modern synthesis of evolutionary biology (MES) do not demonstrate that the universe is not unfolding according to a divine plan that privileges human beings. An informal specification of what I mean in my claim by “does not demonstrate” is not restricted to something like “does not demonstrate it because it’s possible that everything we believe we observe through sense data is an illusion” or things of that ilk, but instead is closer to the sense of “does not make it obviously unreasonable to believe it.”
    Mr. Manzi has correctly interpreted evolution's attack on the concept of a divine plan vis-à-vis organisms as an epistemological one. Unfortunately, I think he has not considered other epistemological attacks that the theory of evolution poses, since he mostly construes the theory of evolution as an attack on the logical foundations of the divine plan concept. This is, in fact, a valid epistemological charge to be countered by the divine plan theorist; if one can prove that a divine plan cannot logically exist, it would definitely be irrational to believe in the existance of a divine plan.

    Mr. Malzi counters this line of argument in two ways. First, he salvages the notion of a divine plan from the physical evidence against it:
    It is obvious from the factory analogy that evolution does not eliminate the problem of ultimate origins. Physical genomes are composed of parts, which in turn are assembled from other subsidiary components according to physical laws. We could, in theory, push this construction process back through components and sub-components all the way to the smallest sub-atomic particles currently known, but we would still have to address the problem of original creation. Even if we argue that, as per the GA which spontaneously generates the initial population, that prior physical processes created matter, we are still left with the more profound question of the origin of the rules of the physical process themselves.
    In other words, if we suppose that God can have a divine plan for, say, sub-atomic particles, then there might be a planned consequence for organisms that ultimately emerges from the sub-atomic physics. Of course, the theory of evolution deals strictly with organisms, so there isn't much that it can do to address this point.

    Second, he argues for the possibility of goal-directedness of evolution:
    Now consider the relationship of the second observation to the problem of final cause. The factory GA, as we saw, had a goal. Evolution in nature is more complicated — but the complications don’t mean that the process is goalless, just that determining this goal would be so incomprehensibly hard that in practice it falls into the realm of philosophy rather than science. Science can not tell us whether or not evolution through natural selection has some final cause or not; if we believe, for some non-scientific reason, that evolution has a goal, then science can not, as of now, tell what that goal might be.
    Mr. Malzi correctly realizes that the existence of a plan presupposes the existence of a goal that is the purpose of the plan, and so the goal-directedness of the divine plan needs to be salvaged along with the plan itself. Unfortunately, in doing so he has walked directly into an epistemological trap. I believe that George H. Smith makes this point clear in "Atheism: The Case Against God": the theory of evolution does not challenge the logical possibility of a divine plan very well, but it does make a very good case against the meaning of the concept of a divine plan. In order for the concept of a divine plan to be a meaningful concept, we must have some data at hand to differentiate "divine plan" from "no divine plan". Otherwise, why should we consider it rational to believe in the existence of a concept that cannot be differentiated from non-concept?

    The evolutionist could therefore say "I graciously yield that evolution does not logically disprove the existence of a divine plan. However, what the theory of evolution is really telling us is that we have no possibility of discovering any of the details of the divine plan vis-à-vis organisms. When we examine the available evidence of organisms living and dead, we find no way of connecting our findings to any non-natural cause whatsoever, so we have no guidance as to what the divine plan might be. You may still wish to believe in the existence of a divine plan for organisms, but I see no reason to grant that belief the imprimatur of rationality until you can establish some detail of the divine plan that can distinguish it from the non-existence of the divine plan."

    The pro-Obamacare Democrats are desperate.

    You can tell that liberal Democrats are desperately afraid of losing a political battle when the party line starts shifting dramatically. For example, last week's conventional wisdom was that this year's tea parties were "astroturf" bought by special interests. Last week's opinion of the blog "Cosmic Variance" is a typical example:
    The possibility of a “single-payer” healthcare program has fallen off the table. I’m not sure exactly how or when this option became untenable, but it shows how quickly the efforts of pharmaceutical and insurance companies can reframe a discussion. After all, there are billions upon billions of dollars at stake, which is precisely why it is such a profound issue for our long-term fiscal health. It is not at all surprising that these companies are spending millions to defeat meaningful reform. The essential goal of this reform, after all, is to reduce the amount of money our nation spends on health care (while improving overall care). Which is not at all in the interest of these companies. What is astounding is that they are actually succeeding in derailing the discussion into lunacy.
    This week, the party line on the tea parties flipped 180 degrees opposite to what it had been. The tea parties are no longer hired mercenaries who were bought and paid for by special interests. They are now spontaneous demonstrations of the racially aggrieved population-at-large:
    The national debate on health care reform has turned ugly, with some leveling charges of racism against opponents.

    A Congressional Black Caucus member said Tuesday fears the revival of America's worst days of race hatred.

    "I guess we'll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside, intimidating people," Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said when asked whether Rep. Joe Wilson's shout to President Obama that "You lie," reflected the sentiment of racists.

    "And you know that's the logical conclusion if this kind of attitude is not rebuked," Johnson said.

    New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd also found Wilson's heckling of Obama to be racially motivated, writing that Wilson really meant, "You lie, boy."

    On Tuesday evening, former President Jimmy Carter said in an interview with NBC that "an overwhelming portion" of those who demonstrate against Obama are doing so because the president is a black man.

    Friday, September 11, 2009

    Yet another retreat for ObamaCare

    Yesterday's conventional wisdom: Of course the new health care reforms would not provide coverage to illegal immigrants. Only a racist, scare-mongering, scum-sucking Republican stooge of the special interests would so blatantly lie by suggesting otherwise. How dare you, sir! Censure! Censure!

    Today's conventional wisdom: Gee, it looks like illegal immigrants could get coverage under the new health care reforms after all. Maybe we should fix that.

    Thoughts about the newly released film "Gamer"

    • The one element of this film that anyone will remember a year from now is its "MacGyver moment". At one point in the film, the hero chugs a pint bottle of vodka. Ten minutes later, he vomits into the gas tank of an automobile, urinates into the same tank, and then hotwires the automobile and gets the engine to start. Is this at all possible?

    • Another important fact is that "Gamer" is essentially two films interwoven together. One film is about a man (nicknamed "Kable") whose brain has been turned into a cybernetic implant for controlling his actions, thus turning him into a remote-controlled warrior forced to fight for his life in a giant, live action, live ammo war game. From Kable's point of view, the film is a surreal meditation about the meaning of dominance and perversion in the twenty-first century.

      The second film is a ridiculously banal satire of America's toxic media culture. In this second film, technological geniuses are all "slackers" and all journalists are scum-sucking bottom feeders. Our two representative gamers are a seventeen-year old kid and a morbidly obese, perverted man who spends his time sucking down fists full of buttered waffles in front of the computer sceen (presumably in his mother's basement). This perverted guy is so disgusting that I had to cover my eyes when his scenes came on the screen.

      Why would the directors ruin a reasonably intelligent film by inserting a series of clichés? The only answer I have is that the directors had no understanding of the real meaning of what they were putting onto the screen. They seemed to have believed that the plot of their film would utterly mystify the average member of their audience, thus requiring the directors to beat their audience over the head with the central plot points. That parts of the film are well done can only be considered a lucky accident.

    • I think it should be clear that "Gamer" is a casualty of the "Age of Lucas". The chanted mantra that every film critic hears from the public at large is that the proper enjoyment of action films requires the viewer to turn of his brain and just enjoy the visual spectacle. The problem is that large portions of this public are finding it difficult to turn their brains back on again when the films are over. The directors of "Gamer" knew this and adjusted their film accordingly.

    Wednesday, September 09, 2009

    Because the George W. Bush approach to domestic policy was such a brilliant success....

    I just stumbled across an interesting article which illustrates why Obamacare is doomed to destruction. The problem is that President Obama has been trying to sell the plan in exactly the same way that President Bush tried to sell Social Security reform in 2008. See if William Saletan's description of Bush's effort rings a bell:
    Why is President Bush's Social Security reform plan heading south in the polls? Maybe because he's selling different messages to different audiences and some audiences are overhearing messages meant for others. He's telling older people that nothing relevant to them will change. Meanwhile, he's telling the younger people who are propping up the system that it's a dead end and he'll help them get out. This is why Republican "town halls" that were supposed to boost the plan in the polls failed so miserably. The town halls were for the younger folks, but the older folks showed up. Oops!

    Tuesday, September 08, 2009

    Just when you thought that you could safely ignore "Star Wars" for the rest of your life...

    ...a new debate about elements in the films pops up on the internet. In this case, it's the question as to whether the Rebel Alliance should have used insurgency tactics against the Empire. io9 has a nice summary of some points of view, starting with the blog post from "Abu Muqawama" that started it all:
    Why didn't the Rebel Alliance pursue a strategy of insurgency in their rebellion against the Galactic Empire? I would argue that they pursued a strategy of conventional war against the Empire and forwent every aspect of insurgent strategy and tactics. They finally came around a bit in the end by co-opting the Ewoks onto their side. Why hadn't they pursued that strategy on a larger scale?

    Instead, they simply staged two conventional assualts on the Empire's center of gravity: the Death Star. Although both attempts were successful, I think they got lucky. I think they would have been better served had read their Mao and followed his maxims.
    Yes, the Rebel Alliance did launch of strategy of conventional warfare against the Empire. They waged conventional war because they could wage conventional war.

    The military confrontation in the original "Star Wars" was essentially an accident. The Empire moves a capital ship into an imperial backwater to intimidate the locals, the ship stumbles across a minor Rebel garrison, and the Empire decides to bring in the Death Star to finish the garrison off. The Rebels launch a commando raid (not a conventional raid) in retailiation and win a major victory by destroying the Death Star. In "The Empire Strikes Back", the Rebels lose another one of their garrision planets to an Imperial assault, but as we see at the end of the film, the Rebels still have a rather substantial space fleet available to them. In "Return of the Jedi", the Rebels manage to destroy the second Death Star with a series of commando attacks and manage to win a full-scale battle against an Imperial fleet. I think it suffices to say that when the Rebel fleet formations are roughly the same size and power of their Imperial counterparts, the imperative of an insurgency strategy has passed.

    The Rebel strategy is akin to the strategy of General Washington during the Revolutionary War. General Washington's strategy was to stay on the tactical defensive to preserve his army, to look for opporunities to strike blows against sub-units of the British Army, and to fight a decisive knock-out battle against the British Army if the opportunity arose. Similarly, the "Star Wars" Rebels keep the fleet intact, retreat from their garrison of Hoth when necessary, and are more than willing to hazard a major military force in fighting the decisive battle in "Return of the Jedi".

    Thursday, September 03, 2009

    Tarantino's "Inglorious Bastards": initial impressions

    I have yet to see the film "Inglorious Bastards", misspelled by Tarantino as "Inglourious Basterds", so take these notes with due scepticism. The impression that I've formed from what I've read about the plot and the film reviews that I've read is that this is intended to be a post-world war II Nazi propaganda film.

    The first clue is title. A native speaker of American or British English (or French, for that matter) with any kind of spelling competence would never spell inglorious with an extra u inserted after the first o. The only reason for this spelling would be that the author was only partially familiar with English spelling. This gives you a choice. You can believe that the misspelling is represents simple incompetence, or you can believe that the misspelling is indicative of how a non-native speaker of English -- a Nazi, perhaps -- might attempt to render the word into English. The misspelling of bastards as basterds to match the sound of the spoken word gives one a similar choice.

    The first section of the film shows us an urbane, educated Nazi officer who is entrusted with tracking down Jewish fugatives. In this case, the "Jew Hunter" manages to kill all of the Jews he has been seeking except for one Jewish girl who, later in the film, manages to inflict a violent revenge against Hitler himself and some of his top henchmen. Objectively, we see a core Nazi propaganda message: the individual Jewish girl who escapes today might be the one who assassinates the Führer tomorrow (so make sure to wipe them all out).

    Next we see the Basterds, a team of Jewish-American commandos who commit atrocities behind German lines. In the Nazi mind, this would make perfect sense. If all Jews are members of one big conspiracy, then of course American Jews would be especially enraged by the treatment of their European co-conspirators. And if the war was only started by the American Jews in order to kill, murder and enslave innocent Germans, then of course the Americans would be authorizing atrocities against German soldiers.

    The balance of the film is concerned with the Basterds and the surviving Jewish woman from the beginning teaming up to launch a successful assassination attempt against Hitler and some of his top henchmen. This is what marks the film as post-war Nazi propaganda. Instead of showing Hitler ingloriously killing himself while trapped like a rat in his underground bunker, Tarantino shows Hitler falling prey to a successful "stab in the back" of the German nation.

    Everything about this film from the Germanglish title to the evocation of the German "stab in the back" mythology screams Nazi propaganda. And yet, I'm pretty sure that Quentin Tarantino is not a Nazi sympathizer. I think the real meaning of this film is that it was intended as pure humiliation: a film that is objectively pro-Nazi, and therefore a blasphemy, that will nevertheless win Tarantino fame, money, and praise from loyal legions of sycophantic fans.

    Tuesday, September 01, 2009

    The Obamacare disaster worsens.

    President Obama is planning to make a direct appeal to the schoolchildren of America. Nothing would better illustrate the total buffoonery of the Obama administration than Obama trying to enlist children to rescue Obamacare over the wishes of their parents. My bet is that Obama has set up a special White House hotline to allow children to inform on their parents.