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This is the archive for March 2006

Thursday, March 30, 2006

There's something odd about the Jill Carroll incident. I listened to the breaking news in between hitting the snooze alarm and gathering enough cognitive function to find the floor with both feet at the same time, so I'm not yet even sure of all the details. On the other hand, I've noticed an unusual ability to detect patterns and connections during that semi-awake, almost lucid dreaming, state.

The story of her treatment doesn't seem to fit with the videotape that was realeased a couple of months ago (and with the treatment reported by other released captives), and her release is just too out of the blue and apparently causeless to ring true. I won't even speculate on what it might be, but I think there is some story behind this that we may never hear about, beyond the usual political machinations of the kinds of people that do this in the first place.

Scratch that, I will speculate, just a little bit, now that I'm awake enough to think more clearly. I think the range of what could have happened might lie somewhere along a spectrum from some morally grey deal to gain her release, to a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome, to the whole thing being some kind of setup.

I have no evidence or sound logic to back this up, nor even any clear hypothesis, it's just a hunch. I'll be interested to see if this fades away, or if things start to come out. Either way, it's good that she's out, and lets hope it starts happening more often.

UPDATE:As I speculated in my comment, the statements she made immediately after her release were made in circumstances where she still felt she was under duress. Even if she wasn't actually still under threat, I don't think it was an unreasonable belief given that it was only moments after 3 months of captivity and isolation, and the fact that the interview occured in Sunni party headquarters. It appears at this time that my initial reaction was wrong.

Friday, March 24, 2006

...but I wasn't drunk so...

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has done us all a great service. In this day when would-be oppressors of all stripes seek to hide their real motives, the TABC has sent us a clear and unambiguous message.
TABC officials said the sweep concerned saving lives, not individual rights

The chilling thing is not that they believe it. That's always been true, it's the core principle of government, even one supposedly guided by things like constitutions and bills of rights. No, what's scary is that they no longer feel that they have to hide it. They have enough confidence in your ability to rationalize it away that they aren't worried in the least about any complaints from the Peanut Gallery.

In my last article, V for Vendetta, I talked about losing your fear of your government. But for some of you, the next step is to start fearing your government. If you plan to see the movie, watch it with this in mind: How does a society get to that point? Watch V's broadcast speech in the first half, and compare his accusations against your reaction to the TABC quote.

That is where and how it starts. Don't worry about how everyone else is reacting to it - look at how you react to it. Is fear preventing you from understanding the meaning of something even this crystal clear? Is it fear of admitting that this country is no longer the free country it perhaps once was? Are you afraid that if you admit this fact into your conciousness that you will then be helpless to avoid the avalanche of such facts that you've been able to remain blissfully ignorant of all your life?

We are not yet the society of V, even in light of this. But there are many turning points along the road to it, and this is one of them. Your reaction to this is a very personal turning point. You don't have to take to the streets and protest - that kind of thing is of no significance whatsoever, and for reasons more complex than I'll get into now, does more harm than good. What you do have to do, what there is no way to avoid doing no matter how badly you might want to, is to make a personal choice.

Your choice may not prevent this country from becoming that of V. But it will determine whether you live in it with integrity or with fear. It will determine whether you remain free - now and in the future - even within a totalitarian society.

You won't have many chances left to make that decision. Understand this, or pretend you don't. Embrace its meaning or rationalize it away. There's plenty of rationalizations available: They're just drunks and they should be locked up... They might have gone out and driven a car, or gotten rowdy and hurt someone... The law says you can't be drunk in public, and we have to preserve the rule of law... I don't spend my time drunk in bars, so it doesn't affect me...

Go ahead, choose one of those, or make up one of your own. But don't you dare, decades from now, ask me "how did this happen?". Don't you dare pretend that it was some rogue scoundrel who took over your free country and made it into a true police state complete with curfews and gulags and roving rape squads. Don't you dare. It will have been your fault.

P.S You may want to read (or re-read) a previous article of mine that talks about the same kind of thing, from a different angle: On Being Made

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I don't even know how to start without sounding like a 14 year-old girl after her first Britney Spears concert. I've been home about twenty minutes and I've been frantically pacing the house trying to digest it.

I didn't think Hollywood was capable of this. Right at the start, V is talking to Evey (Natalie Portman) just prior to blowing up a London monument, and he points to a statue of Justice. One brief line "...the imposter who stands in her place", and already I love this guy. It's primarily a movie of philosophy, as much so as the first Matrix movie, but this time they get the philosophy right.

Well, mostly. It gets nothing really wrong, it's only sins are those of omission, and a slightly misplaced focus. The back-story eventually comes out that this is a right-wing government, with (too frequent) references to the oppression of gays and Muslims, and one minor mention of the "war that America started" being a fundamental catalyst that led to Britain's current state. It is also integral to the story that his particular vendetta is against those individuals who were instrumetal in running a prison camp that would make Josef Mengele proud, where he was imprisoned, tortured, and made the subject of horific medical experiments.

Looking only at this backstory, V's actions, and at the targets he has in his sights, might lead an audience to come out of the theater thinking that government per se gets off the hook - after all, it is only the actions of a small right-wing group abusing their power and carrying out a grotesque plan to seize and hold absolute power that have led to this.

That would be a mistake. His words tell a different story. His explanations of what he is doing and why consistently go to the larger picture, to the fundamental things that make those individual atrocities possible. To principles.

The movie is too subtle on this, and even undermines it to a small extent, but it is implied throughout: It is government itself that is capable of such atrocities. It is government that enables them, that creates them. It is not right-wing or left-wing governments alone that seek absolute power, it is not a few evil men that abuse power. It is the existence of that kind of power in and of itself, power that continually strengthens itself, becoming more and more attractive to those who want to use it, that makes it inevitable that it will eventually fall into the hands of those, both great and petty, to whom such atrocities are means to their ends.

V does not spare the huddled masses. They share the guilt - they allowed it to happen, even asked for it to happen. Still, his vendetta is not directed at them. He is not a terrorist, even though he is repeatedly described as such both within the movie and from without by many real-world reviewers. He is not out to terrorize the population, he is after the real power. Like a true individualist, he will give them hope, and eventually free them - despite their complicity - but as a side-effect of pursuing his own interests.

This movie is as much about a personal attitude of freedom as it is about freeing the country, the people. He comes out of the prison transformed, physically mutilated, but no longer afraid of death. Evey goes through a similar, though far less horrific, experience and is similarly transformed - physically, but much more important emotionally - to the point where even old friends don't recognize her face. It is this that allows her to do what she does at the end.

It does more than allow it, it makes it inevitable. This is what governments should fear - not the actions of those who decide that integrity is that "last inch" of their lives that they will never give up, but the decision itself. Integrity can only be voluntarily abandoned, it can never be taken by force. It is the one thing every individual has the power to keep, even when they no longer have the power to preserve their own lives. It is this realization that strips government of all power, that leaves the wielders of its instruments at the mercy of those whom they try to control.

This is what the movie is ultimately about. "People should not fear their governments, governments should fear their people." Once people decide they have nothing to fear, then governments have everything to fear.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

I had my first contact with the medical system in many, many years on Friday. Very few things in this country are more depressingly Sovietesque than the FUBAR'd mess that is health care today. You've surely heard the scaremongering that nationalized health care would make going to the doctor or hospital every bit as bad as going to the DMV.

Well, they're wrong. It's already that bad, with the big difference being that the professionals in that system are intelligent and aware enough to be obviously and painfully aware of the black hole they're being inexorably sucked into. I saw it in their faces, and in their reactions to some politically incorrect comments during my ordeal. Some had the look of death row inmates whose only remaining hope is to get it over with.

I could go into all the details of how fucked up the system is, but I won't. There's really no point in wallowing in it. But I did make one notable observation:

You definitely, positively, no exceptions, need to show an official state-issued picture ID to buy Robitussin. You do not, however, need to show any form of ID whatsoever to receive medical treatment, be issued a prescription, and to purchase controlled drugs.

Lots of people fret over what use details of their "confidential" medical history will be put to, and to whom it will be revealed. It seems that this observation presents an obvious solution to that worry.

Unless, of course, you are one of those people who think that a low co-pay for doctors' visits is something you get from anything resembling "insurance".

Saturday, March 18, 2006

This commenter over at Richard's place, judging from his previous comments, is not some commie pinko. At least he's taken pains to differentiate himself from the left, so I'll assume he puts himself somewhere on the right.

He's living proof of the idea that politics can never solve our political problems. He's on the right, but he accepts all of the left's premises, hook, line, and sinker. Those principles are, fundamentally, collectivist metaphysics, zero-sum economics, and altruistic ethics. They're all right there in his arguments, if you care to lift up the rock and see the worms that live underneath. You can't make the arguments he did without those premises.

Strip away all the sound and heat, and what you are left with is the fact that the only disagreement between the left and the right is over what is the best way to implement communist principles.

But those principles - collectivism, altruism, and zero-sum economics are the root cause of our political problems. Politics itself is only possible under those principles. The elimination of those principles - the only problem in politics that matters - is not possible starting from those principles, any more than the problem of being trapped in a hole can be solved by digging faster.

UPDATE: The debate continues in the comments over at Uncommon Sense. Do read them all if you are interested. Also, my earlier article "The Most Important Economics Lesson You'll Ever Learn" explains away the fallacy of zero-sum economics, and forms the basis of my argument in the aforementioned comments.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Schenectady, NY -- On Monday morning, Lucinda Gottshalk still radiates excitement from her recent realization that she would win last weekend's PowerBall Lottery.

"I told all my friends. Most of them thought I was being silly, but I think they were just jealous".

Armed with her new-found knowledge, she went down to the grocery store with the intent of carrying out an ambitious plan to make her dreams come true.

"I went into the Piggly Wiggly to do my grocery shopping, but all I could think about was getting to the checkout line and buying my tickets."

She reports that she on had managed to collect $63.72, $50.00 of which was her family's weekly grocery budget. The rest she had brought in small change she had found in the sofa cushions and the pockets of her husband's overalls while doing laundry. Through a combination of frugal shopping and self-discipline, she managed to purchase 26 tickets at $1.00 a piece.

"I scrimped a little bit on the food, but hey, once we're millionaires, we'll be able to eat anything we want, at any restaurant in town. Anyway, the kids don't mind eating macaroni and cheese every day. They like it."

She tried to talk her husband and even co-workers into investing in her sure thing, but they all declined.

"The other girls, well, they didn't know the opportunity they had. My husband is still in the doghouse as far as I'm concerned, that bastard. Said he had to get his truck fixed to get to work on Monday. Who cares about that broken down truck? Once we win, we can get a brand new truck, one for each of us. And it's not like he's going to need that dirty job down at the plant once we're on easy street!"

Her husband says that he also cited a need to make payments on their two-bedroom single-wide home, an objection his wife dismissed out of hand saying that such a residence is "beneath them now". She points to her husband's inability to provide an appropriate income to the family as impetus for her increased interest in the lottery.

"If he wasn't such a bum and could learn to make more money, we'd already have enough money to have nice things. I've always tried to do my part, I've put every extra dollar I could find in our measly budget toward things to try to improve the lives of this family".

She listed a popular real-estate course, several promising marketing web sites, and years of hopeful lottery purchases as among her attempts to gain more income.

"Those would have worked if he had just supported me in them. But no, he always had something better to spend the money on, like fixing up that old dump we live in, or just letting it rot in the bank, of all places, instead of putting that money to work for us and our children."

Gottshalk also dismissed criticism that the odds are so astronomical that any hopes of winning are futile at best. She says that co-workers at the beauty shop, where she works as a part-time bookkeeper, were trying to undermine her hopes.

"The other girls at the shop told me it was just wishful thinking. Some even tried to show me statistics. All that math stuff is beyond me. What does that have to do with real life, and with the fact that I know I am going to win? They're just trying to hold me back, they don't want to see me get better than them. Everyone who wins says they had a feeling, and knew they would win. Well, now, it's my turn. I have that same feeling, and my mother told me to always trust my feelings. I can't lose."

Gottshalk was not discouraged by the fact that she didn't actually win this weekend's PowerBall.

"I watched the drawing on TV, so I could root as hard as possible for my numbers. I didn't want to leave anything to chance. And I was really close. I had three of the six numbers on two of my tickets, and was only four away from the PowerBall number on another one. We could have won if my stingy husband would have just let me buy ten or twenty more tickets. Now that I've got some practice, I'm sure I'll do better next time."

She vows to try even harder next week, and that she will buy as many tickets as she can, even if it means selling off prized family heirlooms on eBay or sneaking into her husband's wallet for a few extra dollars.

"Our family is in a desperate situation. I don't know how my husband could have let it get this way, but now I'm going to have to do something. I just know, as God is my witness, that I will win next week. The excitement I feel from that knowledge is indescribable. I wish everybody could feel it. But only a few people can win, so not everybody can share what I have."

Gottshalk is sure that her new strategy of using her grandparent's birthdays and her childhood phone number to choose numbes will give her the edge she needs to beat out the competition. Her husband is more skeptical.

"I've got a little stash where she'll never find it. I used what may be my last dollar to buy one bullet."

He would not comment if his last bullet was for her, of if he was saving it for himself.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A new job in a new neighborhood means new places to go for daily necessities. One of the basic necessities in my line of work is caffeine, so I run out the the Circle-K for the biggest tub of it I can find.

Today's cheerful woman behind the counter, who I'd encountered for what is likely to be the first time of many, offered me a parting thought that I'm not likely to respond to very cheerfully if she keeps it up. "Have a safe day."

Let's see. What should I do if I want to take her advice? I suppose the best thing would be to go straight home and curl up in bed. Surely that offers the best chance of safe passage through the remaining hours. I won't starve, at least.

But then, I'd have to drive home. That's about ten miles of pretty unsafe streets out there. Perhaps I should just curl up in the seat of my truck in her parking lot? No, there's a lot of unsavory types there who might decide I'm easy prey. Or worse, she, or her relief sometime after dark, could suspect me of vagrancy and dial up some even more unsavory types to roust me.

Maybe it'd be best to leave my truck there and walk, very carefully, the few blocks back to work and stay there all day? My boss might go along with it if I promised to work all night.

Instead, I might think of taking the long view. "Have a safe week" might be what she really meant. I'll go home, a little danger there, but then I can remain snug and safe under my blanket for a whole week. I'd lose my job, but I'd survive the week, and most importantly, do it safely.

But then the next week would be a problem. I'd start running out of food, and my joints would be prety stiff from a week of being curled up in a nice safe ball. So maybe I should widen the context further. Have a safe month? A safe quarter? I'd need to find some kind of home-based job - one with no physical risks. No stuffing envelopes, that might get me a paper cut.

But that might not bring in enough money. What if I couldn't pay my mortgage? I'd lose my house and be out on the street. That's not very safe. And I'd still have to go to the grocery store at some point. Assuming I even had enough money to stock up, I could go to Sam's Club and by months' worth of groceries (and to Home Depot for a really big freezer for all that food). It's a big risk going out in traffic, and it's more likely I'd be mugged in the grocery store parking lot than at home, but if I limited the trips...

Since we're widening the context, lets go all the way. Look at it in the widest possible context - full context, if you will. "Have a safe life"? That has a nice ring to it. Ooops, there's a flaw there, too. The final measure of succeeding at having a safe life would only be known when it is over, when I'm dead. I'd be on my death bed thinking how grateful I was that I had a safe life... well, up until this point anyway. Still, I could die in the peaceful knowledge that I didn't die sometime prior to this. Yes, that's the goal of a safe life, the point where I could look back on my life and know that I survived it... Well, not really survived, but survived this much of it...

No, if I go back there tomorrow and she offers the same wish, I'll politely decline. Maybe I'll even wish her a good day. I'll leave it up to her to decide what that means.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I can't drive... 55! - Sammy Hagar

"By the book" slowdowns have always been one of the most effective forms of protest. I helped organize one once for some really stupid work rules, and those rules were reversed before the shift was even half over. Doing what someone tells you to do rather than what they want you to do is a great way to reveal hypocrisy and unacknowledged contradictions, not to mention pointing up the fallacy of giving orders when the real power is not in your hands.

This video pretty much speaks for itself. The most telling quote, at the end:
I'm just glad no-one got hurt.

Hat Tip: BureauCrash
Billy understated it

I watched most of "Grizzly Man" the other day. Horrified doesn't quite describe it, but it's the only word I have that gets close. Not only was Treadwell insane, quite literally so, but no-one in that move had a full grasp of reality. Even the narrator/filmmaker was just holding on by his fingernails.

I expected a movie full of liberal propoganda, but this was so much beyond that that politics isn't even an issue anymore. Not only Treadwell himself, but his ex-girlfriend and some doctor or scientist type whose name and relation to the story I missed were particularly horrific.

Watching this, I saw three people (and a few bit players) who were well along in the process of becoming animals. Not vicious, dangerous animals, but timid, scared animals without even claws and instinct to guide and protect them. It's hard to explain fully, there's no rational analogy to even relate it to. The most common facial expression was some kind of pleading stare that the camera held for long seconds, as if it was some profound window into their souls. Except that it was more like looking into the windows of an abandoned house containing no furniture or decor, only a few discarded trinkets to indicate that a person had ever been there.

The word that comes to mind for that stare is supplication. It was, as literally as I've ever seen it, a look of complete and conciously intentional helplessness. If you want to see the logical end of the idea of selflessness - not as generosity or good will, but as abandoning the self, the very idea of self - look into those faces for as long as you can stand it. That is the look they want all of us to walk around with every day.

There's no way to fully convey this in words. Words presume reason, concepts, a reality for them to refer to. That's not possible in describing this, there's no point of connection on which to attach words. It has to be seen directly, not to understand it - that is not possible - but to provide an ostensive example of something that can't be defined, or even conceived of, any other way. It's a vision of hell.