Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Aaron Sorkin got it. Why can't Obama?

Of course, because this is Aaron Sorkin he has to couch the sensible things he says with assurances that he really isn't in line with those evil conservatives who say those sensible things all the time. Still, he makes sense.

When the President makes, as part of the foundation of his campaign, arguments too radical for a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal like Sorkin, that's problematic.

Monday, July 30, 2012

That's right -- I'm NOT lazy!

Because I (just might) use as much energy as an average hunter-gatherer.

Suck it, fitness freaks!

What if Palestinians had a culture of success?

Palestinians are victims. That is not just a fact, it seems to be a massive part of their collective identity.

They are victimized by countries that have kicked them out over the years (Jordan and Israel, notably). They are victimized by the country that has repeatedly defeated them and corralled them into internment camps. (That would be Israel.) But more than anything, they seem to be victims of their own sense of helplessness.

This weekend, Mitt Romney stated that the disparity between Israeli and Palestinian incomes and success is largely a function of cultural differences. Palestinians were outraged, because to them (and their supporters) the most obvious reason for their continued poverty and lack of success is the "Israeli occupation." If not for their being systematically discriminated against, kicked out of and kept away from their homeland, and generally oppressed by those with power in their land, they would enjoy as much success as Israelis have.

But you know who else has had to deal with centuries of being systematically discriminated against, kicked out of and kept away from their homeland, and generally oppressed by those with power in their land? Jews.

For hundreds of years Jews had to deal with open discrimination in Europe and the many areas in which they settled. In many cases, this discrimination could be violent and even murderous. People think of Nazi Germany and The Holocaust when they hear of violent Antisemitism, but the fact is that Jews had to deal with intense discrimination in every European nation over the centuries. The Holocaust was the worst, but by no means the only, time when Jews were murdered en masse by the native population. It is no exaggeration to say that Jews have been the ultimate victim class throughout Western history.

Funny thing, though -- they didn't develop a victim mentality because of their suffering. In fact, they thrived in the face of it. It was the very persistent success and collective refusal to be beaten down that characterized them as a people that engendered much of the resentment and hatred they faced.

The Jews had every reason to act like the Palestinians are today -- resentful, beaten down, increasingly turning to violence or supporting those who do as a means of lashing out at their oppressors. They did not. They exacted revenge for their discrimination, but it was a much more productive type than the Palestinians'.  They became so damn successful wherever they went that they just couldn't be ignored or forgotten. They did this well before there was an Evangelical Christian movement to reflexively support them. What Christian attention they got through the centuries was, regrettably, often hostile.

There were few (if any) 64-year periods in the last 2,000 years in which the Jews suffered less as a people than the Palestinians have suffered since the US recognized Israel in 1948. They have succeeded wildly anyway. That is entirely due to cultural factors (and, I would argue, Divine Providence). If tomorrow they gave up their collective identity as victims whose fate and success are subject to the whims of their oppressors and began creating the means of their own success themselves, Palestinians would begin to thrive the way the Jews have for the past two millennia. The only thing stopping them from doing so is their unwillingness to accept responsibility for their own fate.

Defining Religious Liberty Down

From Ross Douthat:
The words “freedom of belief” do not appear in the First Amendment. Nor do the words “freedom of worship.” Instead, the Bill of Rights guarantees Americans something that its authors called “the free exercise” of religion.

It’s a significant choice of words, because it suggests a recognition that religious faith cannot be reduced to a purely private or individual affair.  [snip]

I cannot improve upon the way the first lady of the United States explained this issue, speaking recently to a conference of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. “Our faith journey isn’t just about showing up on Sunday,” Michelle Obama said. “It’s about what we do Monday through Saturday as well ... Jesus didn’t limit his ministry to the four walls of the church. He was out there fighting injustice and speaking truth to power every single day.” But Mrs. Obama’s words notwithstanding, there seems to be a great deal of confusion about this point in the Western leadership class today. [snip]

To the extent that the H.H.S. mandate ... and the Chick-fil-A controversy reflect a common logic rather than a shared confusion, then, it’s a logic that regards Western monotheism’s ideas about human sexuality — all that chastity, monogamy, male-female business — as similarly incompatible with basic modern freedoms. Like a belief that the gods want human sacrifice, these ideas are permissible if held in private. But they cannot be exercised in ways that might deny, say, employer-provided sterilizations to people who really don’t want kids. Nor can they be exercised to deny one’s offspring the kind of sexual gratification that anti-circumcision advocates claim the procedure makes impossible. They certainly cannot be exercised in ways that might make anyone uncomfortable with his or her own sexual choices or identity. [snip]

If you want to fine Catholic hospitals for following Catholic teaching, or prevent Jewish parents from circumcising their sons, or ban Chick-fil-A in Boston, then don’t tell religious people that you respect our freedoms. Say what you really think: that the exercise of our religion threatens all that’s good and decent, and that you’re going to use the levers of power to bend us to your will.
Read his whole post.

Shocker: Environmentalists find conclusive proof for AGW where it doesn't exist

Belief in AGW (Anthropogenic, or human-induced, Global Warming) is a premise for most environmentalists' arguments. They often think that this is a conclusion, but it definitely seems to be a pre-existing belief on which they base their arguments.

More evidence that this is so comes from the most recent BEST (Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature) project, which claims conclusive prove that human greenhouse gas emissions account for the vast majority of warming in the past 250 years. There is, to put it mildly, no solid evidence for that position, however.

I've never understood why so many people are freaked out that the Earth has warmed over the past few centuries. We know that the 18th century was deep in the last Little Ice Age. (George Washington was able to carry thousand-pound cannons across a solidly frozen Long Island Sound during the Revolutionary War, for crying out loud. It was cold.) So even if the temperature today was the temperature it was before that Little Ice Age, it would look like things had warmed up even though they were just coming back to "normal." That is, the natural climate cycle spanning millennia would just be continuing like it has for millions of years.

It seems implausible in the extreme to say that the millions of tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses humans of put into the atmosphere over the past 100,000 have had no effect on the climate over that time. But given that a single large volcano eruption emits at least as many greenhouse gasses and particulates as the UK and the US did during the Industrial Revolution, I think it's safe to say that what effect we have on climate is relatively negligible.

Breaking news: ObamaCare doesn't include magic fairy dust to make everything better

If it did, it would be able to magically fix the shortage of doctors it stands to massively exacerbate.

This is a point that I and many other opponents of ObamaCare brought up before. Access to insurance is not the same as access to care. The uninsured already frequently have trouble finding a doctor. ObamaCare will do nothing to fix that problem, and will likely make it worse. The newly insured will lively have only one reliable source of medical care: the emergency room. Where they currently go anyway. Except now it will cost even more to get them their care, because of the inflationary effects of ObamaCare's mandates.

So, to recap: ObamaCare will provide virtually no increased access to care and will jack up the price of health care for everyone anyway. Gee. Glad we passed that bill.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Cribbing from Ayn Rand

What should you expect to happen when you block a huge oil pipeline from your neighbor and closest ally from coming into your country?

If you're a Democrat, apparently you expect your neighbor to just shut down the project and not work with your biggest geopolitical rival.

Alas, reality doesn't conform itself to Democratic demands. China's major oil company CNOOC is poised to acquire a large stake in the Canadian oil company Nexen.

Why would Nexen even consider selling itself to a Chinese company? If you're a Democrat, it's a complete mystery. Canada betrayed us. There's no other explanation. If you live in reality, this was an all too obvious, and obviously foreseeable, consequence of Obama blocking the Keystone pipeline earlier this year.

Is it this administration's intent to bring Atlas Shrugged to life? It's eerie how closely events under this President track with those in Ayn Rand's opus.

More oil + more gas = a cleaner planet?

Absolutely, if history is any guide. Walter Russell Meade does it again in the fourth part of his analysis of the effects the shale oil and gas boom will have on the globe. Up for analysis this time: environmentalists.

Environmentalists are addicted to a Malthusian worldview. They seem unable to relinquish the fundamental premise that there is (or soon will be) a massive shortage of resources, and that our only hope as a species lies in a radical reordering of our political and economic systems. And this addiction blinds them to a the reality that an age of renewed fossil fuel abundance is a good thing.
The shale boom hasn’t turned green success into green failure. It’s prevented green failure from turning into something much worse. ... [T]he real winner of an oil and gas shortage is… coal. ... The US and China have oodles of coal, and rather than walk to work from our cold and dark houses all winter, we’d use it. Furthermore, when and if the oil runs out, the technology exists to get liquid fuel out of coal. It isn’t cheap and it isn’t clean, but it works.

The newly bright oil and gas future means that we aren’t entering a new Age of Coal. For this, every green on the planet should give thanks.

The second reason why greens should give thanks for shale is that environmentalism is a luxury good. People must survive and they will survive by any means necessary. But they would much rather thrive than merely survive, and if they can arrange matters better, they will. A poor society near the edge of survival will dump the industrial waste in the river without a second thought. It will burn coal and choke in the resulting smog if it has nothing else to burn. [snip]

An age of energy shortages and high prices translates into an age of radical food and economic insecurity for billions of people. Those billions of hungry, frightened, angry people ... will butcher every panda in the zoo before they see their children starve, they will torch every forest on earth before they freeze to death, and the cheaper and the meaner their lives are, the less energy or thought they will spare to the perishing world around them.

But, thanks to shale and other unconventional energy sources, that isn’t where we are headed. We are heading into a world in which energy is abundant and horizons are open even as humanity’s grasp of science and technology grows more secure. A world where more and more basic human needs are met is a world that has time to think about other goals and the money to spend on them.
Read the whole thing.

Why is capitalism important?

Charles Murray does an excellent job answering this question in an article answering a slightly different question: why are capitalists so reticent to defend capitalism's tarnished reputation? (His answer to the second question boils down to capitalism being decoupled from virtue, so not only are capitalists more likely to behave badly, but moral capitalists lack the vocabulary and philosophical framework with which to criticize them.)

But his answer to the question at the heart of this post is wonderful enough.
Capitalism is the economic expression of liberty. The pursuit of happiness, with happiness defined in the classic sense of justified and lasting satisfaction with life as a whole, depends on economic liberty every bit as much as it depends on other kinds of freedom.

"Lasting and justified satisfaction with life as a whole" is produced by a relatively small set of important achievements that we can rightly attribute to our own actions. Arthur Brooks, my colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, has usefully labeled such achievements "earned success." Earned success can arise from a successful marriage, children raised well, a valued place as a member of a community, or devotion to a faith. Earned success also arises from achievement in the economic realm, which is where capitalism comes in.

Earning a living for yourself and your family through your own efforts is the most elemental form of earned success. Successfully starting a business, no matter how small, is an act of creating something out of nothing that carries satisfactions far beyond those of the money it brings in. Finding work that not only pays the bills but that you enjoy is a crucially important resource for earned success.
He then lays out a very compelling case for limited government.
Making a living, starting a business and finding work that you enjoy all depend on freedom to act in the economic realm. What government can do to help is establish the rule of law so that informed and voluntary trades can take place. More formally, government can vigorously enforce laws against the use of force, fraud and criminal collusion, and use tort law to hold people liable for harm they cause others.

Everything else the government does inherently restricts economic freedom to act in pursuit of earned success. I am a libertarian and think that almost none of those restrictions are justified. But accepting the case for capitalism doesn't require you to be a libertarian. You are free to argue that certain government interventions are justified. You just need to acknowledge this truth: Every intervention that erects barriers to starting a business, makes it expensive to hire or fire employees, restricts entry into vocations, prescribes work conditions and facilities, or confiscates profits interferes with economic liberty and usually makes it more difficult for both employers and employees to earn success. You also don't need to be a libertarian to demand that any new intervention meet this burden of proof: It will accomplish something that tort law and enforcement of basic laws against force, fraud and collusion do not accomplish.
What a great test.

Can you imagine how many worthless or positively harmful laws would be avoided if its proponents had to reasonably prove that X law will expand people's ability to pursue happiness in a way that tort law enforcement of basic laws against force, fraud, and collusion do not? I don't doubt that many people will still be able to justify plenty of stupidity on those grounds, but there would be so much less of it in the laws than there is now.

Definitely read the whole article. It's well worth your time.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Obama: "Our plan worked!"

"And by our plan I mean the plan Bill Clinton put in place 20 years ago."

Me: Great! Bill Clinton's plan. You mean the one where you buck your party by expanding free trade and reforming welfare?

Obama: Uh, no.

Me: Well maybe it's the plan where you focus on paying down the deficit instead of cutting taxes or giving money to special interests?

Obama: Nope. Wrong again.

Me: Oh! I get it! You mean the plan where you raise taxes and hope for a massive economic bubble that won't pop until you're out of office!

Obama: Yes!

Me: Awesome. Let me know if you see one of those in the next 100 days, or so.

Support this man!

Especially if you live in Maryland.

His name's Dan Bongino. He's running for the US Senate seat there, and he gets it.

Something important to remember

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as bad luck.
-Robert Heinlein

Or, as our Lord himself said, The poor you will always have with you ... (Mark 14:7)

Neither an excuse for ignoring poverty, nor for refusing to help the poor better themselves and escape poverty. Just a clear-headed acknowledgement of facts. Which are, as our second President noted, stubborn things.

Who pays "their fair share" of taxes?

If you listen to President Obama and folks on the Left, the answer is not the rich.

If you listen to people who can do math, the answer is not the poor.
[The Congressional Budget Office] reports that the top 1% of income earners paid 39% of federal individual income taxes in 2009, while earning 13% of the income.  That means their share of federal income taxes was three times their share of income. ...

CBO further reported that in 2009 the top 20% of income earners, those earning more than $74,000, paid 94% of federal individual income taxes, virtually all of the net total. That was 85% more than the share of national income they earned.

Yet, in that same year, the middle 20% of income earners, the true middle class, paid 2.7% of total federal individual income taxes on net, while earning 15% of before-tax income.  And the bottom 40% of income earners, instead of paying some income taxes to support the federal government, were paid by the IRS cash equal to 10% of federal individual income taxes on net.

That means altogether the bottom 60% of income earners, which includes the middle class, paid less than 0% of total federal individual income taxes as a group on net. Instead, as a group, they received net cash payments from the IRS on net.
Of course, the designation above may not be accurate. It's quite likely that the President and his fellow travelers can do math passably well, but just have a difference in philosophy. To them, the situation where the rich pay 3 times the ratio they take in while the rest of society pays nothing on net and actually gets paid by the IRS isn't fair ... for the rest of society. Obama & Co. clearly want the ratio to be even more stacked against "the rich," by which they mean people making over $200,000 a year.

But is that just? Is it fair? To me, it clearly isn't. I think most folks in this country would probably be strongly inclined to agree with me, if they were presented with the facts of the CBO report referenced above. The situation is not just and it is not fair. Making it even less fair won't help.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What can brown do for you?

"Brown jobs," jobs in the fossil fuel and energy industries, are exploding throughout the Midwest and Mountain West in America at the beginning of our new fossil fuel boom. Shale oil and gas deposits under formally forlorn areas of the country -- Ohio, western Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Nebraska, North Dakota -- are creating economic opportunity the likes of which we haven't seen since the heady days of the dot com boom. The main difference, of course, is that the energy boom will be real and lasting.

One of the many probable effects of this new boom is the rise in income with areas that have a lot of brown jobs -- oil rig worker, engineers, mechanics, etc. Three characteristics of these jobs is will be that they are high paying, require significant manual and technical skills, and will not require post-secondary education.  In other words, the factory jobs that were shipped overseas 30 years ago are basically returning. 

Mickey Kaus speculates that those jobs will likely create a more egalitarian social scene much more effectively than any number of Liberal policies have. Unlike the yawning social gap between the (high growth) service sector and the (low growth) finance and information sectors so common on the coasts, where many concerned citizens claim to care about growing social inequalities, brown jobs "produce social equality through the workplace itself, by allowing the uneducated to make a decent living without being anyone’s personal servant."
If true, this might provide an "objective"–in the Marxian sense–explanation for how Republicans convinced the white working class that Democrats were a bunch of elitists, the riddle Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas” tried to solve. Frank blames a form of false consciousness produced by skillful Republican manipulation of cultural issues (like abortion and gay marriage).But is it "false consciousness" if liberals actually, in practice, favor an economy that, however prosperous, is filled with jobs where the booklearned get to boss around the unbooklearned? If what you care about is social equality, not money equality, it doesn’t seem false at all.   [emphasis in original]

Pearls of wisdom from Big Gay Al

Why does life imitate South Park so much?
“Look, I appreciate what you kids did. I really do. But this isn’t what I wanted. I’m proud to be gay. And I’m proud to be in a country where I’m free to express myself. But freedom is a two-way street. If I’m free to express myself, then the scouts have to be free to express themselves too. I know these [scout leaders]. They are good men. They are kind men. They do what they think is best for the kids. No matter how wrong we think they might be, it isn’t right for us to force them to think our way. It’s up to us to persuade and help them see the light, not extort them to. I will continue to persuade them to change their minds, but this is the wrong way to do it. So, I am hereby dropping my case and allowing the scouts their right to not allow gays into their private club."
It is a testament to how hysterically unmoored from the traditions of freedom and decency the gay rights movement has become that Big Gay Al would probably be ridiculed or denounced as a gay Uncle Tom if he spoke these commonsense words in real life.

No matter how wrong we think they might be, it isn’t right for us to force them to think our way.It’s up to us to persuade and help them see the light, not extort them to.

Those words express the wisdom of the Founders' decision to include Article VI in the Constitution. They also identify the folly of those in society -- mostly, but not exclusively, on the Left -- who have no patience with the process of amending the Constitution. That requires years of argument and persuasion to create a shift in society great enough to build a super-majority for change. It's so much easier to convince a handful of judges or Supreme Court justices and have them impose the change you want on unwilling people.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Obama supporter interviews her 2008 self

And she asks, "Was I really this stupid four years ago?"

Ripples at Penn State

I understand the outrage among many at Penn State over the punishment leveled by the NCAA. I get it. It will fall on the backs of the innocent. I'm not so naive as to think that all of that $60 million is coming from the football program. College funds are fungible, after all. I don't know how many extracurricular clubs and academic programs will see their funding cut in order to cushion the blow to the football program (which, let's be honest, built PSU into what it is today; it would probably be even more podunk than Illinois State without Joe Paterno), but it will be more than a few. A lot of innocent people who had nothing to do with this scandal are going to suffer from this punishment leveled at people in leadership. I understand their concerns.

The sad fact of the matter, however is that this is just another feature of evil committed by those in leadership. It is the same with the Catholic Church predatory priest scandals (to which Jerry Sandusky's actions and the CYA actions of Joe Paterno and Penn State bear an uncomfortably keen resemblance). Because the institution itself was corrupted by the scandal, the institution itself will have to bear a large part of the punishment. It would be wonderful if we could act like Arthur in "The Once and Future King" and only go after the ones who gave the orders. Alas, we cannot. There's no way to surgically target lawsuits so they only take money and resources from the people responsible. The effects of sin and evil are rarely limited. They ripple out until they touch and twist thousands upon thousands of lives.

Lake Placid Tolerance

Liberal tolerance is like Lake Placid: a mile wide and one foot deep.Basically, the Left thinks diversity is wonderful ... unless your opinion becomes a little too diverse for them. Then they attack you like zombies from I Am Legend

Think of the hysterical reaction after Prop 8 passed in California: the Stalinist show trials, the lawsuits, the naked bigotry directed at Mormons, the sullen and suppressed bigotry directed at African-Americans. Or think of the hysterical reactions to any non-white, gay, or female conservative. Just take two examples: Sarah Palin and Clarence Thomas.
  • Sarah Palin. In 2008, she didn't say or do anything that Mike Huckabee hadn't already said or done in the campaign, but she engendered so much hatred because she wasn't following the script. She was deviating from the Left's tolerant and accepting views for the opinions women should have. When I asked my Liberal friends why they had such visceral loathing for her they said, "Well, she says such stupid stuff." Which isn't true for the most part, but even if it was that's no reason to hate people. Dan Quayle was pegged as an idiot but you saw little loathing for him. No. The hatred was of an existential nature.
  • Clarence Thomas. As a conservative, Clarence Thomas gets all kinds of hate from the Left. It's not the kind of "Your opinions are fascist!" hate that his buddy Scalia gets, though. It's more of the "You're a race traitor and a house ni**er!" atomic hatred that only gets leveled at non-whites who "step out of line" and hold opinions that the Left deems unacceptable. At first derided as a second-rate intellect by Liberals, Thomas is now angrily lauded by them as the originalist lodestone on the Court and the one laying the intellectual foundations for conservative jurisprudence for the next generation. And they hate him. Oh my, how they hate him.
Well, now you're seeing more of the Left's Lake Placid Tolerance directed at Chic-Fil-A, an openly religious company whose CEO let it be known that he favors traditional marriage. Well, you'd have thought that he was a convicted child rapist and serial killer or something from the full-throated denunciations by many on the Left. (Well, serial killer, anyway. Liberals seem to be okay with child rapists.) Tom Menino, the mayor of Boston, vowed that Chic-Fil-A would never do business there and denied them a business permit. The Muppets have severed ties with the company. NYU is looking to kick them out of the city.

Homosexual rights are the new frontier of Lake Placid Tolerance in America. The message, as always, is the same: do what we want and we will accept and love you, but do anything else and we will crush you.

To be a Pyrrhic victory, you need an actual victory.

It looked the WI Democrats could at least claim the barest fig leaf in their epic failure of a perpetual campaign to oust the people responsible for returning the state to fiscal sanity -- er, stripping public unions of the right to collectively bargaining for benefits. Sure, they'd blown tens of millions of dollars on failed efforts to oust the state supreme court justice, on a special election to retake the state senate, and -- in their most spectacular failure -- on the recall of Scott Walker. But in that final failed recall, the state senate flipped! Democrats had control of half the legislature ... for the only six months when the legislature doesn't meet ... and they'll probably lose it in the November elections this year. But hey -- they won something for that colossal error in judgment and waste of resources.

Oops. Guess not.

So, to recap, for all their money, effort, expenditure of political capital, and racking up ill will among the electorate, WI Democrats got pretty much nothing: not the state supreme court, not the governor, not even a functioning majority in the state senate. When you think about it, they got even less than that. Every dollar spent in this recall is a dollar that can't be spent for Obama in the general election. Plus, it gave the WI GOP and Tea Party a wonderful test run for their spectacularly successful GOTV (that's "get out the vote" for you non-political nerds) operation. Not only did they aid their opponents by energizing them and allowing them a test run for the general election, they actively harmed the President's campaign by sucking millions of union dollars it looks increasingly like the Obama campaign will desperately need come the fall.

Usually, when you destroy yourself so thoroughly in pursuit of your goal you at least have the benefit of calling your efforts Pyrrhic. But to have a Pyrrhic victory still requires ... you know ... a victory.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This almost works too well

Neo hiding from Lumbergh. Mixing The Matrix with Office Space. It's freaky how well this mishmash scene works.

I didn't build this post

President Obama is frantically walking back his "You didn't build that!" claim from a couple weeks ago. It may be that all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put this humpty dumpty back together again.

As the Reverend Doctor Pat Sajak has pointed out, political defining moments, "take hold most devastatingly when they confirm what a large portion of the electorate already believes. ... [W]hen voters are able to nod and say, 'I knew it,' these moments stick and do terrible damage."

This gaffe would just be a gaffe if it wasn't of a piece with so many anecdotes, policies, and actions that together paint a picture of a president who is actively hostile to free markets and small businesses. Given that context, however, it has confirmed in a neatly packaged quote a lot that so many people in America haven't been comfortable with about Obama but haven't necessarily been about to put their finger on.

"People don't stop killers. People with guns do."

An important truth to keep in mind in light of foolish calls for increased gun control in the wake of the Aurora mass murders on Thursday night.
"Gun-free zones" are premised on a fantasy: That murderers will follow rules, and that people like my student, or Bradford Wiles, are a greater danger to those around them than crazed killers. ... That's an insult. Sometimes, it's a deadly one.

Read the whole article here. It was written in response to the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, but its points are obviously still very valid.