Futures and Options

Just another town along the road.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On Second Thought…

Couldn’t resist passing along this nicely put bit of exasperation:

I keep hearing about how smart Obama is because he has the wisdom and judgment to implement policies that contradict his campaign positions now that he is in office and has all the facts before him. I agree — that is evidence of his intelligence. It makes him almost as smart as the people who believed what he now believes back when he believed the opposite.

You know, I actually have more respect for those folks who complain that Obama isn’t liberal enough than those who celebrate the wisdom of his fickleness. The former at least have some consistent political opinions; the latter (including a distressing portion of the press) are apparently just mesmerized by the sound of our good President’s voice.

posted by Strix nebulosa at 10:43  

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Relationship Between Economic and Cultural Liberalism

…”liberalism” used here in the modern-day sense. Please watch this fascinating discussion between Peter Robinson and Charles Kesler. All five parts of the interview are worth viewing, but I found this segment particularly enlightening. Kesler’s thesis is that the progressive notion of economic rights that came alive under Wilson and especially FDR had the effect of liberating citizens from what were formerly considered core virtues — what we today call “family values” — which were largely indispensable in exercising one’s economic freedoms (providing for yourself and your family). Indispensable, that is, until the government took it upon itself to provide those basic economic necessities to everyone. With old-fashioned individual virtue no longer a prerequisite for economic survival, individuals were free to explore beyond the bounds of traditional morality. In short, the New Deal made the Sexual Revolution possible.

As Kesler acknowledges, some of the evolution of traditional “family values” is attributable to changes in the overall economy that made it more conducive for women to earn a living.  But the Sixties, he argues, went far beyond mere recognition and acceptance of changing economic realities; the progressive movement at its core was an outright repudiation of traditional morality, made possible by the creation of the welfare state.  Much to think about there.

I suspect that libertarian-minded readers might disagree with this analysis, as it posits a definite link between traditional morality and economic freedom.  But I would note that Kesler’s worldview does not require a government-imposed morality (which libertarians find repugnant).  Rather, traditional morality was and is a tool to cope with economic realities when those realities are not taken care of by the government.  So government need not impose moral virtue; it need only keep its nose out of individuals’ economic business, and individuals will turn to virtue of their own accord.  The perversion of progressivism is that it removes the need to deal with economic reality, and so we find traditional virtues cast aside as no longer necessary to survival.

Incidentally, I find the Uncommon Knowledge series to be one of the best things on the web. Robinson doesn’t try to hide his conservatism, but he nevertheless elicits some challenging and enlightening commentary from his always impressive guests. Never a waste of time to watch his interviews.

posted by Strix nebulosa at 10:42  

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Well, it’s definitely a change, and I certainly believe it…

At the beginning of this month when the US Government effectively bought a controlling interest in General Motors, Obama had this to say:

What we are not doing, what I have no interest in doing, is running GM.  They, and not the government, will call the shots and make the decisions about how to turn this company around.

Unless, of course, calling those shots and making those decisions means they need to close a plant within a prominent Democrat’s district.  It seems that Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has “convinced” General Motors to delay the closure of GM’s plant in Norton, Mass.  Nevermind that this is precisely the sort of thing that Obama promised us would never happen.

Overall though, I really don’t see how this can possibly go wrong.  I mean, it’s not as though this sets a precedent for using GM as a means of administering pork-barrel projects to a congressman’s home district at the detriment of the remainder of the country.  And it’s certainly not as though a politician would ever ignore the larger picture if doing so could enlarge his own piece of the pie.

Oh…  This is the real world, isn’t it.  Yeah, we’re screwed.

posted by Zenmervolt at 10:53  

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Another choice quote from Sotomayor

H/T to Discriminations for bringing this to my attention.

I already explored some reasons for criticizing Sotomayor in a previous post, but it looks like we have a couple more gems from from someone who is nominated for one of the most mentally-demanding positions in the world.  In describing her experiences in college, Sotomayor said in a 1996 speech at Princeton:

When my first mid-term paper came back to me my first semester, I found out that my Latina background had created difficulties in my writing that I needed to overcome. For example, in Spanish, we do not have adjectives. A noun is described with a preposition, a cotton shirt in Spanish is a shirt of cotton, una camisa de agodon [sic], no agondon [sic] camisa.

Now, I’ll admit to not knowing enough Spanish to even ask where the bathroom is, but I still know enough to understand that even when the construction is, “a shirt of cotton”, the word “cotton” remains an adjective, whether in English or in Spanish.  To be sure, the point which Sotomayor is attempting to make, that differences in standard grammatical construction between two languages represent additional challenges beyond mere vocabulary for people who learn a second language, remains reasonably valid.  However, Sotomayor’s method of expressing this point can only be described, charitably, as “inartful”.

In a delightful case of sabotaging her own point, Sotomayor had earlier said:

Most people never go back to basic principles of grammar after their first six years in elementary school. Each time I see a split infinitive, an inconsistent tense structure or the unnecessary use of the passive voice, I blister.

Personally, I bristle when someone mangles a common idiom.  Furthermore, style guides frequently caution against being excessively prescriptive with regard to split infinitives as there are often cases where a split infinitive is superior, both in clarity and grace, to it’s ostensibly grammatical counterpart.  As if that weren’t enough, her distaste for the passive voice is likewise misplaced; in legal or technical writing it is often desirable, if not strictly “necessary”, to omit reference to an agent that is performing the described action.

As before, the point which Sotomayor was attempting to make stands reasonably valid.  Clear and concise writing (which is generally achieved through mindful consideration of proper grammatical style) is vitally important to effective communication.  However, we once again see an example of how Sotomayor’s own writing falls short of being clear and effective.

I recognize that grammatical errors are part and parcel to the human condition and I do not expect that anyone will always be completely without error in his or her speech; however, the examples above are such as should have been well proofed and I do not believe it to be at all unreasonable to expect that Sotomayor would understand that Spanish does indeed have adjectives and that the proper English idiom is “bristle”, not “blister”.  A person who is being considered for a seat on the US Supreme Court simply should not produce writing that suffers from such elemental flaws.

posted by Zenmervolt at 07:54  

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Wait, you mean it costs money to give stuff away?

From the Associated Press via Yahoo!

Jolted by cost estimates as high as $1.6 trillion, Senate Democrats agreed Tuesday to scale back planned subsidies for the uninsured and sought concessions totaling hundreds of billions of dollars from private industry to defray the cost of sweeping health care legislation.

Apparently Senate Democrats have forgotten that goods and services actually have to be paid for.  They must have also missed the fact that the country is already bleeding money with record deficits.

Then again, given the ratio of what is paid for to what is going to be financed through deficit spending, maybe they’ve simply decided to exercise the same level of fiscal restraint as their constituents did before this whole mess started.

Several officials said the Congressional Budget Office had issued a cost estimate of $1.6 trillion, with only about $560 billion paid for.

Just put that $1.1 trillion on the credit card and worry about it later.  What’s the worst that could happen?

posted by Zenmervolt at 16:33  

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reinventing Capitalism

Seen the new “GM reinvention” commercials? Leaner, greener, faster, smarter? Struck me as a bit creepy how closely that mantra matched the Left’s monolithic vision of the automobile industry. Almost seems as if the commercial could have been paid for by the Democrats in Washington.

Waaaaitttt a second….

posted by Strix nebulosa at 16:24  

Friday, June 12, 2009

On moral busybodies

Those who would seek to mandate anything for another person’s “own good” would do well to remember the following quote from C. S. Lewis:

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

posted by Zenmervolt at 18:47  

Friday, June 12, 2009

Welcome to the California Confederacy

First of all, for everyone who thinks that “confederacy” means cotton and slaves:

Main Entry:
14th century

1: a league or compact for mutual support or common action : alliance
2: a combination of persons for unlawful purposes : conspiracy

With that out of the way, the California predicted in Heinlein’s novel, Friday, may well be here already.  The article in The Economist points out some of the inherent problems in democracy and shows how these issues have come to a head in California:

California has a unique combination of features which, individually, are shared by other states but collectively cause dysfunction. These begin with the requirement that any budget pass both houses of the legislature with a two-thirds majority. Two other states, Rhode Island and Arkansas, have such a law. But California, where taxation and budgets are determined separately, also requires two-thirds majorities for any tax increase. Twelve other states demand this. Only California, however, has both requirements.

If its representative democracy functioned well, that might not be so debilitating. But it does not. Only a minority of Californians bother to vote

So, first we have a problem resulting from an overly-restrictive method of budgeting that is compounded by the fact that fewer than 50% of Californians can even be bothered to vote.  The article then continues:

Those voters, moreover, have over time “self-sorted” themselves into highly partisan districts: loony left in Berkeley or Santa Monica, for instance; rabid right in Orange County or parts of the Central Valley. Politicians have done the rest by gerrymandering bizarre boundaries around their supporters. The result is that elections are won during the Republican or Democratic primaries, rather than in run-offs between the two parties. This makes for a state legislature full of mad-eyed extremists in a state that otherwise has surprising numbers of reasonable citizens.

This leads to a situation in which the minority party will almost always have an effective veto power during budgeting sessions.  With the self-segregation and gerrymandering this creates a situation in which compromise between parties is discouraged and the end result is gridlock where obstructionist politicians of the minority party are often re-elected by their districts because they are so visibly “fighting” the “opposition”.  And this is just the problems with the representative portion; there are problems inherent to direct democracy as well:

Representative democracy is only one half of California’s peculiar governance system. The other half, direct democracy, fails just as badly. California is one of 24 states that allow referendums, recalls and voter initiatives. But it is the only state that does not allow its legislature to override successful initiatives (called “propositions”) and has no sunset clauses that let them expire. It also uses initiatives far more, and more irresponsibly, than any other state.

On the surface, this seems like a good thing; if the people directly approve a proposition, then why should the legislature be allowed to overturn it?  My own answer has to do with the classic “bread and circuses” theory, and The Economist tends to substantiate this:

The minority of eligible Californians who vote not only send extremists to Sacramento, but also circumscribe what those representatives can do by deciding many policies directly. It is the voters who decide, for instance, to limit legislators’ terms in office, to mandate prison terms for criminals, to withdraw benefits from undocumented immigrants, to spend money on trains or sewers, or to let Indian tribes run casinos.

Through such “ballot-box budgeting”, a large share of the state’s revenues is spoken for before budget negotiations even begin. “The voters get mad when they vote to spend a ton of money and the legislature can’t then find the money,” says Jean Ross of the California Budget Project, a research outfit in Sacramento. Indeed, voters being mad is the one constant; the only proposition that appears certain to pass on May 19th would punish legislators with pay freezes in budget-deficit years.

OK, so people tend to pass legislation that is ultimately worthless for the practical purposes of running a state.  So what?  Isn’t government supposed to give the people what they want anyway?  And aren’t voter referendums the most distilled form of the people’s will?  Turns out that they’re not:

It is not ordinary citizens but rich tycoons from Hollywood or Silicon Valley, or special interests such as unions for prison guards, teachers or nurses, that bankroll most initiatives onto the ballots.


But at least the initiatives are clear and easily understood unlike the language in most bills passed by legislatures, right?

Propositions tend to be badly worded, with double negatives that leave some voters thinking they voted for something when they really voted against. One eloquent English teacher in Los Angeles recently called a radio show complaining that, after extensive study, she could not understand the ballot measures on grounds of syntax.


posted by Zenmervolt at 08:37  

Friday, June 12, 2009

For guidance, we should look to Europe

This has been a rallying cry of many left-of-center politicos.  Look to Europe for guidance.  Look at how the European Union has been a model of cooperation and of leftist ideology.  Look at how Europeans handed a resounding defeat to leftist candidates.  Wait, what?

Turns out that the end result of leftist policy is an eventual return to the right.  So yes, we should look to Europe for guidance.  If we do, perhaps we can bypass the mistakes of liberal fiscal policy that are only going to bring us right back to our starting point.

posted by Zenmervolt at 07:20  

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On the existence of natural rights

It is perhaps inevitable that when the subject of universal health care comes up proponents of this scheme bring up the idea that to deny universal health care is to deny, “the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  On the surface, this seems legitimate.  After all, being sick isn’t very lively or liberating and it doesn’t make people happy.

There is a basic flaw in this reasoning, however.  Not merely the issue of misunderstanding the fact that the phrase refers not to a guarantee of comfort or of fairness, but rather a declaration that, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are facets of existence that a government should never be allowed, through positive action, to infringe upon.  It’s not even the fundamental misunderstanding of just what it means to mandate that one person pay to support another.

Money, any property actually, is nothing more or less than a person’s life.  Every piece of property that we obtain, whether it be monetary or physical, is nothing more or less than a piece of that person’s life.  All property represents the amount of time and effort that was sacrificed to obtain that property.  We voluntarily trade portions of out lives to our employers for our pay; ultimately time and our own efforts are our only capital and all other mediums of exchange are nothing more than proxies that facilitate a more convenient exchange of our time and effort.

Because of this, any non-optional monetary sacrifice (almost universally achieved through taxation) necessarily represents a deprivation of the sacrificer’s life and liberty.  Any sacrifice is by its nature a denial of one’s own rights. If such sacrifice is compulsory, those rights cannot be said to exist in the first place. If the sacrifice of some is _mandated_ (at the point of a gun, as all governmental mandates ultimately are), then it negates the very rights that one claims to seek to protect.

Which leads us to the ultimate misunderstanding; the idea that there so-called unalienable rights exist in the first place.  The phrase as used in the declaration of independence is nothing more than poetry.  When it all comes out in the end, Robert Heinlein is right; “a human being has no natural rights of any nature.”  Heinlein’s character Lt. Col. Jean V. Dubois said as much to his students.  When challenged by a student who asked, “Sir? How about ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?”, Lt. Col. Dubois responded with what may well be the best refutation of the continued misunderstanding of that classic phrase:

Ah, yes, the ‘unalienable rights.’ Each year someone quotes that magnificent poetry. Life? What ‘right to life’ has a man who is drowning in the Pacific? The ocean will not hearken to his cries. What ‘right’ to life has a man who must die if he is to save his children? If he chooses to save his own life, does he do so as a matter of ‘right’? If two men are starving and cannibalism is the only alternative to death, which man’s right is ‘unalienable’? And is it ‘right’? As to liberty, the heroes who signed the great document pledged themselves to buy liberty with their lives. Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes. Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost.

“The third ‘right’? — the ‘pursuit of happiness’? It is indeed unalienable, but it is not a right; it is simply a universal condition which tyrants cannot take away nor patriots restore. Cast me into a dungeon, burn me at the stake, crown me king of kings, I can ‘pursue happiness’ as long as my brain lives — but neither gods nor saints, wise men nor subtle drugs, can insure that I will catch it.

posted by Zenmervolt at 21:53  
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