Ebola: God’s Punishment for Homosexuality?

December 16, 2014

Unknown-1Recently the Liberian Council of Churches met, with over 100 participants, to discuss Ebola. They unanimously resolved “That God is angry with Liberia, and that Ebola is a plague. Liberians have to pray and seek God’s forgiveness over the corruption and immoral acts (such as homosexualism [sic], etc.) that continue to penetrate our society.”

The “God is angry” trope, punishing nations with otherwise seemingly natural phenomena, is very common. UnknownPat Robertson similarly declared that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment of America for abortion, and Haiti’s earthquake for Satanism. But homosexuality is the “sin” of choice for such pronouncements. Is God really as obsessed with such matters as the preachers are?

It’s silly in so many ways it might seem gratuitous to enumerate them. But I will. How can any earthlings (let alone Pat Robertson) presume to read God’s mind? Who’s to say that a natural disaster isn’t, well, natural? If God so hates gays, why make so many of them?* Why are these punishments for “sins” so poorly targeted (like crushing just New Orleans), rarely singling out the individual “sinners?” (AIDS might be the lone exception.) In fact, it isn’t homosexuality or abortion per se that’s supposedly being punished but, rather, the country’s toleration of them. America today might be “guilty” of tolerating gays. But Liberia? I don’t think so.

And is homosexuality – or, rather, merely tolerating it – such a great sin that it incurs God’s special wrath? I mean, come on. images-1Even if you really really hate homosexuality, surely there are worse crimes. Would God punish Liberians over gay sex – but not over Charles Taylor‘s horrors? And you didn’t see him punishing Germany for Nazism. (True, some cities were incinerated, but that wasn’t God’s doing, it was allied bombing.)

Anyway, why punish nations with hurricanes or diseases when God still wields the ultimate stick: eternal damnation? People who really piss him off burn in Hell forever. You’d think that would fill the bill. What’s the point of gilding the lily with plagues or bad weather?

Enough. Obviously, all the babble about Godly punishment reveals more about the babblers than about God. So blinded are those babblers by their obsessions with their favorite “sins,” they can’t see the looniness of their pronouncements. If there were a God he’d be, like, LOL.

Or maybe he’d afflict them with plagues. Now that would truly be divine punishment.images

* Yes, they are made that way, and (except perhaps for certain lesbians) it’s not a choice. Homophobes might say that even so, the behavior is a choice. But what heterosexual would accept a need to abstain from heterosexual behavior? The only moral objection to gay sex is the Bible’s condemnation. The Bible also warmly endorses slavery.

Torturing America

December 12, 2014

Some things are just wrong. Absolutely, and always. Surely torture is one of them. That it’s even necessary to say this, in America, in the 21st century, seems bizarre.

Torture not only damages the victims, but also the perpetrators, and the societies that tolerate it.

images“Enhanced interrogation” was torture. Even if it did produce helpful information, it was still wrong, and should never have been done. Ends don’t justify means.

But the Senate report refutes every claim that helpful information was garnered. All the pushback to that conclusion is nothing but bald assertions, “yes it did,” without specifying exactly when and how. And meantime, as the report also documents, the CIA has lied pervasively about this subject.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, it’s also revealed that the CIA paid $81 million in taxpayer money, to a couple of bozos, for the precious advice to copy Chinese Communist torture techniques.

And even if the torture had produced good information, it would not have been worth the price paid, in shredded American moral credibility. UnknownWhen China, and Iran can, with straight faces, shake their scolding fingers at America on human rights, we know we’re off the rails. Now, when we criticize them, many will think we’re the moral hypocrites. America’s thusly squandering its role as the world’s conscience will make it all the easier for the worst human rights abusers to act with impunity. It’s a big setback to the global moral progress so painstakingly achieved. Altogether a prohibitively huge cost for whatever information (if any) we got through torture.

But 9/11 blinded us to our true national interests, making us so hysterically fearful of terrorism as to pay almost any price to thwart it. Horrible as it was, 9/11 did not harm America, or undermine what we cherish about our society, nearly as much as what we’ve done in response to it. th-2Like all the surveillance, TSA madness, hostility toward foreign visitors, curtailment of civil liberties, and distortions to our foreign policy. And torture, giving ourselves one heck of a black eye. That self-inflicted damage to America, and to human values globally, is greater than a dozen 9/11s would have done.

Legacy_of_AshesI am not of the Andrew Bacevich school, holding that anything we try to do to make the world better is futile, and we shouldn’t even try. Being proactive to improve things is the essence of the human character. But Tim Weiner’s aptly titled history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, shows that the CIA has never gotten anything right, never done anything that truly served America’s interests, while doing things, again and again and again, that disserved them. We’d be better off had the CIA never existed.

Nor am I of the Noam Chomsky school, seeing nothing good about America. images-1Yes, our country has blemishes, this is Earth, not Heaven, populated by humans, not angels. But the Chomskys are morally blind to the bigger picture. And part of what is truly great about America is the spirit of openness, self-criticism, and self-correction exemplified by the Senate report. You will see nothing like that in China or Iran (or Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, or Egypt).*

*China has just awarded its annual Peace Prize to Fidel Castro. Last year’s winner was Putin.

Building Trust Between Police and the Policed

December 8, 2014

The non-indictment of Officer Wilson, in Ferguson, for Michael Brown’s death, was justifiable. Brown had just committed a robbery and was being violent. Maybe Wilson didn’t have to kill him; but no way could a jury properly have convicted him “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

UnknownEric Garner’s case is different. His crime was the relatively minor one of evading cigarette tax. He wasn’t violent. And the police conduct clearly violated policy. How was his death not at least, arguably, criminally negligent homicide?

That grand jury failure to indict disserves not just Eric Garner but society as a whole, because it undermines confidence in the justice system, a key underpinning of civilization. It tends to validate an idea that the police are literally out of control, a law unto themselves, acting with impunity, unaccountable to the society they’re supposed to serve.

The bars are US, UK, Germany, Australia

On left: US, UK, Australia, Germany

American cops kill many hundreds annually. In other civilized countries it tends to be in single digits. Something is drastically wrong here.

With respect to black communities in particular, the relationship between citizens and law enforcement is poisonous. Rather than the paradigm of police serving people, it’s closer to one of war, at least in how it’s seen – on both sides. The mutual hostility is toxic.

Saying we’re a racist society is too simplistic and mostly wrong. Few whites are actually prejudiced. But I wrote recently of unconscious racial bias. Evolution programmed our brains to make snap judgments extrapolating from tiny bits of information; doing so could be life-or-death for our ancestors. It still can be for cops, and ethnicity is one such bit.

Painting by Norman Rockwell

Painting by Norman Rockwell

I heard someone interviewed on the radio saying police should understand their job not as making arrests, but building trust. Actually, they shouldn’t have to build it, community trust should be integral to the very fabric of policing, ab initio. But, again, particularly for black neighborhoods, not’s not what we’ve got, so it does need to be built.

I read recently about a pilot program, in one of Brooklyn’s worst crime-ridden housing projects where, with some visionary leadership, the police really did try to change the whole dynamic of their relationship with the community, into a joint enterprise aiming to improve quality of life and outcomes. Unknown-1They sought to enlist crime-prone youth as partners rather than targets. The police even knocked on doors distributing Thanksgiving turkeys.

Maybe that’s a sad commentary on just how bad the police/community relationship had gotten, requiring such extraordinary efforts to overcome. There was indeed a deep well of distrust. But it seemed some progress was made in undoing that. Crime went down. And a lot of kids who would have wound up in prison did not.

When I heard that comment about making arrests versus building trust, I thought of Israel and the Palestinians. The analogy is imperfect, but here too we see a thoroughly poisoned relationship of recrimination and mistrust. Indeed, way too far gone to be fixed with turkeys. Yet it actually doesn’t have to be this way. Israelis and Palestinians are neighbors and both would be a lot better off if they could see their way to cooperating rather than battling. images-3History isn’t destiny; people can rise above it. They could, instead of tolerating zealots stoking conflict, work toward mending their relationship and building trust, so both can improve their quality of life.

Yes, that’s optimistic. And maybe too rational.

Campus Rape and “Affirmative Consent” – Feminism Off the Rails?

December 4, 2014

Unknown-1One in five college women is sexually assaulted – we’re told. I have a daughter in college (see her comments, below). But I’m skeptical about that statistic; kind of depends how one defines “sexual assault.” I recall one study showing horrendous spousal violence rates. Turned out “spousal violence” included raising one’s voice. What one girl considers a sexual assault another might not.

Campus rape has been a big topic since the federal government, under Title IX, faulted many colleges for insufficiently tough policies about it. images-3(How this became a federal issue I fail to understand.) And California has adopted a new “affirmative consent” standard – it’s rape if the female doesn’t explicitly say yes before and during. (It’s not required in writing, and notarized – yet.) New York has now followed California’s lead.

I consider myself a feminist. But this seems like an anti-male hysteria. images-1If previously the culture in this regard was skewed against women, now the pendulum is swinging too far the other way, with too much presumption against the male in a situation and too little consideration of mitigating factors – including female behavior.

The California rule reflects ludicrous disregard for the realities, subtleties, and complexities of human interaction. Sexual dynamics are not like contract negotiations; a lot is wordless. Just when we’ve gotten Big Brother out of gay bedrooms, we’re letting him back in to campus bedrooms through a back door, attempting to regulate the details of a sexual encounter, going far beyond merely banning what’s conventionally been understood as assault.

Further, while college administrators do have a proper concern with what goes down among students, it is hugely misguided to task them as judges and juries in what are really criminal justice matters. images-5No one would imagine a student shooting another is a disciplinary issue properly handled by school personnel, rather than the police and the courts. Sexual assault is likewise a serious crime that belongs in the criminal justice system, not campus disciplinary tribunals. Universities are not places where the writ of society’s law does not run.

This matters a lot because the constitutional protections applicable to criminal defendants are absent from campus proceedings – including “innocent until proven guilty.” Whereas in criminal trials the prosecutor has the burden of proof, a student accused of sexual assault may find himself with the burden of proving his innocence.  Furthermore, the “affirmative consent” policy deems a drunk woman incapable of consent, thus applying a concept the law calls strict liability for any sex with a drunk girl. If she was drunk, you’re sunk. And school administrators often tend to apply a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, rather than “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”

"Or after." Better get a crystal ball, guys.

“Or after.” Better get a crystal ball, guys.

All this can put a male in a very tough position – when there’s normally no independent corroboration of what happened and the words said – and when any sex that a girl later regrets can be deemed equivalent to rape. (Am I exaggerating? See pink box at left.)

And it’s not as though such campus proceedings are less consequential than criminal ones. True, a college can’t send you to prison. But it can expel you – ruining your life just as surely.

In a case of rape as conventionally understood, of course the perpetrator should be punished, one way or another. Yet, for all the scare statistics, I suspect that such crimes of violence among students are actually fairly rare, with the far more typical situation being far more murky and ambiguous; and college guys being more opportunists than they are sexual predators.

images-6But it’s not good that any student sexual encounter can blow up into a federal case, putting a big dark cloud over sex. Reminds me of southern blacks in Jim Crow days – subject to lynching if a girl cries “rape.”

It’s doubtful all this serves girls either. College adjudicators may be less keen on protecting them than on protecting the institution. A girl suffering a real sexual assault should go to the police. Otherwise it falls under the heading, “human relations.”

To me, the current climate, with differing rules applicable to males versus females, is ironically the antithesis of sexual equality and a woman-empowering feminism – its assumption seems to be that women are just helpless victims without personal agency.

The Real North Korea, by Andrei Lankov

December 1, 2014

UnknownI’ve written before about North Korea. This 2013 book changed my view. (Ideologues take note.) I previously felt that the policies of the international community – negotiating with North Korea and providing aid – only served to prolong the human nightmare. I advocated a tough-love policy of refusing to do anything that helps North Korea’s regime to cope, so the inevitable collapse would come sooner rather than later; with readiness to face up to the fallout.

Lankov convinced me that this simply wouldn’t work. For one thing, a North Korean collapse would be intolerable to China – likely giving it a flood of refugees and the loss of a “buffer state,” replaced by an enlarged U.S. ally next door. So toughness by the U.S. and friends would be negated by stepped up Chinese support.

Moreover, even a total quarantine of North Korea wouldn’t likely do in the regime. It did survive economic collapse and famine in the nineties. The repression is that strong; and the starvation even of millions wouldn’t faze the regime – with the guns to tough it out.

imagesLankov also clarified some realities about North Korea. America’s chief concern has been the nuclear issue, and for two decades we have unsuccessfully tried to cajole the North to denuclearize. They never will. Because nuclear blackmail is all they’ve got to extort goodies from other concerned nations. Without nukes, North Korea would have nothing. And the Kim regime believes that denuclearization would leave it naked to U.S. military force. They think Saddam would still be in power if he’d really had WMDs; as would Khadafy if he hadn’t given up his nuclear program. Maybe true.

images-2A second reality is that Kim and his regime are not crazy, much though it may appear so, from their utterly dysfunctional economic policies and provocational bellicosity. Rather, Kim and his ruling elite are hostage to the remorseless logic of the cul-de-sac into which they’ve gotten themselves. They’re riding the back of a tiger and know they’d better not fall off. So if the warmongering seems risky, it is a risk calculated with extreme rationality. Kim and company understand that a real war is the last thing America and South Korea want, so they can get away with a lot of provocation without triggering Armageddon – while the true purpose of the behavior is to complement the nuclear blackmail, making North Korea look like a threat that we’ll pay to pacify.

images-1The Kim regime is stuck with the economic system it’s developed over decades, and can’t change it. Westerners seeing reform just around the corner are always wrong. As Tocqueville said, revolution happens not when the commoners are most downtrodden, but when they can glimpse a better life. What finally brought down Soviet Communism was Gorbachev’s attempt to reform it. North Korea won’t make that mistake. Unknown-2Tocqueville again: “a sovereign who seeks to relieve his subjects after a long period of oppression is lost unless he be a man of great genius.” Kim Jong Un must be smart enough to know that, contrary to their boastful propaganda, his is not a dynasty of geniuses. And that his fate in a post-Kim North Korea won’t be pretty. Any “reform” would risk that prospect.

So, what is the answer? This tough-minded commentator is almost embarrassed by it, but Lankov convinced me that only a soft approach makes sense. The North Korean system cannot endure forever, as the contrast with the prosperous South inexorably widens and becomes more known, despite the regime’s best efforts to tar the South as a hellhole of poverty and oppression. images-3And while spontaneous revolt from below can’t be expected, evolution in the thinking of the elites is inevitable. Its hastening should be our aim, simply doing all we can to expose North Korea’s intelligentsia to truth and reality. Sooner or later, something is bound to give. It may be (as Hemingway famously described going broke) gradual – and then sudden.

How Not to Save the Planet – Naomi Klein’s “This Changes Everything”

November 27, 2014

imagesGlobalization. Trade. Market Economics. Capitalism. Corporations. Economic growth. Writer Naomi Klein hates it all. Her book, This Changes Everything, argues that global warming’s terrible effects require junking that “neoliberalism,” for a different and more humane economic model. What, exactly? Don’t know.

Kleinites think globalization, trade, and capitalism worsen poverty and inequality. That’s just as factually wrong as climate change denialism. UnknownIn the previous century – despite all its upheavals, the Depression, world wars, Russian and Chinese craziness – worldwide average real dollar incomes rose five-fold – 500%. The average person wound up five times better off than at the start. Poverty ranks plummeted. That didn’t happen through socialism.

Klein believes the only thing trade, capitalism, and “extractive” industries produce is profit – the only reason they exist. It’s just “greed.” There’s no recognition that industry produces stuff people want. Fossil fuel extraction is profitable because it creates energy we need and use (which Klein hates too).

images-1She demonizes free trade without understanding it. Yes, it does make some people richer – a lot of people. Trade happens only when both sides benefit. That spreads prosperity. Freer trade enables poor people in developing countries to sell their products in richer ones. Protectionism keeps them out – and poor. So does “buy local.”

Partly, Klein hates trade because of what’s traded – our “wasteful, materialist, consumerist lifestyle.” (“Consumerism” is buying something someone else disapproves.) Consumerism, extractivism, and economic growth are what cause climate change. We’ve heedlessly raped the planet, and global warming is our “comeuppance.” We’ll be cooked, and drowned by rising seas, unless we stop making electricity with fossil fuels, driving gasoline cars, flying planes, etc. Unknown-1The political right, Klein says, realizes this, and hence rejects climate change science because it blows up their ideology of market economics and unrestrained capitalism. (While Klein loves climate change because it feeds her ideology of blowing up market economics and capitalism.)

Yet science tells us that blowing them up won’t halt climate change. If tomorrow we stopped everything – cut carbon emissions to zero – global warming would continue, only slightly slower than if we do nothing. Klein acknowledges this.

So does she welcome other approaches? No. Klein sees any answer that smacks of technology as just “doubling down” on what got us into trouble in the first place –  like geo-engineering to remove carbon from the atmosphere, or cool the planet by blocking some sun radiation. images-2Replacing fossil fuel power generation with nuclear? That’s so capitalist/industrialist. And if global warming will hamper food production, how about genetic modification techniques that boost crop yields? GAAAA!

While bashing right-wing science denialism, Klein does acknowledge denialism on the left – mentioning the anti-vaccine movement – but denies the science telling us genetic modification is safe and beneficial. And nuclear energy is such an obvious no-brainer in terms of climate impact that many greens are finally embracing it. Klein is actually somewhat persuasive that geo-engineering is problematical, but urges banning further research. Who’s anti-science?

Further, if climate change will mean big trouble, wouldn’t having more money to deal with it help? But Klein hates economic growth, writing zingers like, “having more money won’t help you if your city is under water.”

Unknown-3Ha ha. Well, actually, it would. In fact, Klein bemoans that richer people can escape warming’s ill-effects. The Netherlands has already started raising buildings in anticipation of higher sea levels. Such efforts are costly, and Klein foresees trillions needed. Without economic growth, where will the money come from? Simple: guilty energy companies must pay. But she also says they should be stopped from drilling – so their trillions in future earnings won’t exist.

Klein’s hatred of economic growth (shared by climate zealot Bill McKibben) is also bizarre in light of their anguishing about inequality, poverty, and human deprivation. Growth does make the rich richer, but makes the poor richer too. How can they expect to beat poverty without a bigger economic pie? Just by redistribution? Seriously? With a billion or so people still living on less than $1 a day, I have no patience for those with cushy lives who superciliously call for ending economic growth. (And they are the ones charging capitalists with callousness.)

images-3While Klein wants to dismantle “the system,” her alternative is never clear. But it is clear that stopping the industrial market economy and consumerism would (far from her dream of ending inequality) drastically shrink the economic pie, creating mass unemployment and impoverishment. Klein fantasizes that unemployment would actually be solved with all the new clean energy jobs. How those jobs would be supported, without a consumer economy, is a mystery.

By the way, poorer people tend to have more children – and higher populations are bad for the environment and climate.

Klein faults most environmentalists for misleading people that some modest lifestyle tweaks will suffice. But, reviewing the book, science writer Elizabeth Kolbert (though generally sympathetic) says Klein peddles a similar “fable” in failing to explain just how much energy consumption and consumer spending would have to be cut. images-4Kolbert references a Swiss study predicated on a target “2000 watt society.” Americans currently use 12,000. The only hypothetical person in the study under 2,000 was a woman living in a retirement home with no TV or computer, traveling only rarely, by train.

So Klein’s program is really to give up modern life; while she vilifies politico/economic “austerity” policies, the austerity she herself advocates is far more draconian. What writers like her (and James Howard Kunstler) seem to want is everyone living on small farms, growing their own food, eschewing manufactured goods, and riding bicycles. Probably 80% of today’s Americans would literally die. Pre-industrial farm life was no bucolic paradise.

But in the end, Klein recognizes that de-growth is just not plausible, perhaps even “genocidal.” Yet still she envisions mass movement resistance overthrowing capitalism and extractivism, in favor of what she finally calls “regeneration.” Kolbert calls it “a concept so fuzzy” she “won’t even attempt to explain.” But she quotes Klein: “we become full participants in the process of maximizing life’s creativity.”

That sounds nice.

images-6We have not heedlessly or foolishly raped the planet. Extracting and using energy was necessary for lifting billions out of squalor into decent lives, and still is. There’s no free lunch. Everything has a cost; economic growth does degrade the environment and climate. We will deal with that. Economic growth will help us do so – making life better in spite of warming.

My Unconscious Racial Bias

November 22, 2014

imagesI bridle when I hear talk of persistent American racism. Sure, there is some. And, yes, after-effects of past racial injustice. But real racists today are marginal to U.S. society. The bigger picture I see is one of astonishing social change over a very short period – my own lifetime.

I grew up in a society that was indeed very racist (no, not the South), and I imbibed that myself. It took a while for me to grow out of it.

Unknown-1Most whites today see themselves as non-racist. But admittedly, psychologically, true color-blindness is still almost unattainable. Mainly I think this is because race continues to be a focus of issues – Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, etc. – so we’re unavoidably conscious of it. And scientific studies have shown that even most whites who think they’re color-blind have different perceptual, neurological reactions to black and white faces.

I see myself as antiracist (the converse of racist). images-3Knowing too well our racial history gives me more sympathy than antipathy toward blacks. I like seeing them prospering, integrated into society. I try to practice personal affirmative action by treating blacks I encounter nicer than whites. On election night in 2008, even though I didn’t vote for Obama, I felt good for America’s blacks. When the result was declared, and TV showed a black woman jumping up and down, shouting “God bless America! God bless America!” I wanted to hug her. That still chokes me up (despite the disaster Obama has been). And see my post about the “great migration.”Unknown-2

Well give me an award.

So why, the other day, thumbing through the local paper, and glimpsing a photo of a black man and woman, did my brain have a little frisson of negative feeling? Little, fleeting, but definite and discernable. Whoa, I said to myself, What was that? Would I too, after all, flunk one of those scientific tests for unconscious racial bias?

Now, I know I react negatively when seeing anyone – black or white – who, for one reason or another, seems to display some unpleasant characteristic. That’s merely natural. But that didn’t apply here. The black man and woman were well-dressed, serious professional-looking people, seemingly the kind of black success I celebrate.

Tho photo (John Carl D'Annibale, Times Union)

The photo (John Carl D’Annibale, Times Union)

Or do I, really? Was my subconscious mind making a different judgment?

Well, I’ve thought about it, and here’s my conclusion. I think my negative brain frisson was political, not racial. Though I didn’t know the pair were state legislators till I later read the caption, the photo was evocative of such a political context, and I could have guessed it. Black politicians in New York are overwhelmingly Democrats, and my blog readers know my opinion of New York’s Democratic political establishment. That’s what I think my brain saw, and reacted against, in the quick glimpse of the photo – not race, but politics.

images-1Or am I just whitewashing myself? Maybe it isn’t that simple. Certainly race and politics are inextricably entwined. I do welcome black political involvement – but not when black politicians divisively play the race card. I see that too often (one black local pol in Albany was a repeat offender). Al Sharpton’s ubiquity doesn’t help. The guilty shouldn’t tar the innocent; but maybe the unconscious isn’t given to such fine discriminations. If not biased against blacks in general, perhaps I do have a reflex bias against black Democratic politicians.

Last night we watched a documentary about the comet landing; a woman scientist was speaking. And when I registered that she was black, I perceived in myself another frisson, this time a positive one.

Now that’s more like it, I told myself.

 

Boy, Was I Wrong – Nonvoters Rule!

November 18, 2014

Before the election, I said “Obama might be forced to get serious about accommodation with Republicans, on such urgent issues as tax reform and immigration, to avoid his second term being even more conspicuously a failure than it already is.”

I should have known better.

UnknownIn his news conference, the President refused to acknowledge the obvious, that Republicans won not due to their popularity, but his unpopularity. Instead, he said, what voters really showed is that they want both parties to get stuff done. Then he proceeded to do all he could to make that impossible.

This is the hallmark of Obama’s presidency, beginning with his first campaign promising some sort of post-partisan politics with old divisions put aside; then even before taking office, closing Republicans out of his putative love-in.

Unknown-1And so it continues. What Obama really means by working together is Republicans just giving in to him. His news conference resembled the bumper sticker, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” Just substitute “I” for “God.”

So, after over three years of slow-walking the Keystone XL pipeline, conducting reviews, reviews of reviews, and reviews of those reviews, paralyzed between economic benefits and the environmentalist scolds in his base, Obama finally seems set to coddle them and veto it.

Unknown-2The re-re-reviews have shown no material environmental problem, with the economics clearly favorable. Obama could, perfectly reasonably, give Republicans at least this one thing. But no. Instead, with dubious justification on the merits, he must stick his thumb in their eye.

Likewise with immigration. I actually favor the measures Obama is readying. But doing it by executive order is the political equivalent of suicide bombing. It is simply declaring war against the Republicans – when they’ve just decisively won an election* and will control both houses of Congress. Obama’s action (subject to reversal by a future president) will kill hopes for a permanent legislative solution, which might otherwise have been promising. (And, while perhaps not palpably unconstitutional, such a far-reaching policy initiative without congressional consultation savages the spirit of our republican system.) This will furthermore poison the air for cooperation on any other issues.

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson says Obama’s action will bring about exactly what voters hate: “overreach, backlash, deadlock, threats and lasting bitterness.” (Just like with Obamacare.)

Unknown-3

Meantime, Obama and Democrats are whining that the election results shouldn’t much count because of all the non-voters who would have voted Democratic. Of course, it’s chutzpah to presume how they would have voted; paternalistically taking people for granted. Dems made gigantic efforts to get their (presumed) supporters to turn out. But many didn’t turn out because they weren’t turned on, by what Democrats were selling. That resounding silence of voters Dems thought were theirs ought to tell the party something. imagesInstead, they continue to act as though these voters belong to them, even though the voters withheld their votes. In a sense they were voting by not voting, conveying a message Obama and Democrats refuse to hear.

Anyhow, in our democratic country, voters rule. Not non-voters.

* Far more so than the supposedly “decisive” 2012 result which, in fact, was just 51% for Obama, with a bunch of key states won by razor-thin margins.

“Edge of Tomorrow” – Groundhog Day All Over Again

November 14, 2014

images-4The space invaders have already conquered Europe. Humans hope to stop them with a reprise of the D-Day landings – complete with paratroopers (though using bungee cords rather than ‘chutes).

Major Cage (played by Tom Cruise*) is an effete PR officer who, before D-Day, meets with the commanding general – and is brusquely told he’ll be sent into combat. Why? It’s never explained.

Just one of the things that don’t make sense in this 2014 sci-fi action movie, Edge of Tomorrow. images-1Another is that any aliens capable of reaching Earth would be so technologically advanced that our battling them would be ridiculous (more so using a WWII playbook). (Am I too didactic?)

Cage is a pussy who tries to squirm out of his reassignment. But next thing you know, he wakes up in handcuffs, demoted to a combat unit en route to the D-Day beach, where they’re all killed in minutes.

End of story? No, Cage wakes up again in handcuffs. Seems he’d gotten a splash of some special alien blood that puts him in a time loop, reliving the previous day over and over. He soon teams up with Rita, a hero woman warrior; and with each repeat of the sequence (often via her killing him to reset the loop), learning from his mistakes, he ups their game.

UnknownHow is this not a total rip-off of Groundhog Day?

By the way, the title, Edge of Tomorrow, just lays there. Its “tag-line” – Live. Die. Repeat – would have made a far better title. But what do I know? I’m no highly paid Hollywood marketing maven.

Cage and Rita realize that the alien “soldiers” (good special effects on those weirdies!) are mere extensions of the “omega,” a central mind thingie whose destruction would be a coup de grace. Isn’t it always something like that? The human commanders don’t get it; maybe they haven’t viewed enough of these movies, such as Pacific Rim (see my review. We watch them in order to provide you with droll reviews like this. I hope you appreciate it.)

Anyhow, Cage and Rita set out to find and kill the omega; with each death and resurrection, Cage gets closer to the goal. Then an unsought blood transfusion ends his ability to loop back. So now he has one last chance to complete the mission, the hard way.

Unknown-1The logic of all this seemed shaky – especially with the omega being able to “control time” (whatever that might actually mean). If you play with time, you get tangled up. Furthermore (and typically for such flicks – see my recent review of Transcendence), most of the denouement was shrouded in darkness, punctuated by a lot of shooting, explosions, and sound effects. I had little idea what was going on. (I later googled a plot summary to find out.)

My wife and I had a disagreement. She thought the problem was with our TV, and that had we seen the film in a theater, all would have been clear. Nonsense, said I. What do you think? (One critic did call the final sequence “visually murky.”)

The Omega (best I could tell)

The Omega (best I could tell)

Anyway (spoiler alert), the omega gets whacked (with hand grenades, I kid you not), and its army melts away. Cage gets a fresh dose of alien blood, dies, and loops back again to the previous day – this time into a world wherein the aliens’ defeat is already being celebrated. images-6Huh? Wouldn’t that not have happened yet – ?

A triumphalist news announcement breathlessly declares that Russian and Chinese troops are sweeping across Europe.

That’s nice,” I said to my wife. I wonder if the film-makers put in that line with a sense of irony. Seems doubtful.

*I’m no fan of Cruise, who fronts for Scientology – a crypto “religion” not only having doctrines sillier than the usual, but a ruthless predator upon hapless victims in its clutches – scarier than any of Cruise’s movies.images-5

When I Was a Kid America Was Like Africa

November 11, 2014

images-2Waiting for the TV news,
I caught the end of “Homework Hotline.”
A little girl called in;
She said she’d come from Africa.
So the host asked her:
“How does Africa differ from America?”
“Well,” the girl explained,
“In Africa your mom lets you
Walk to school by yourself.
And your mom lets you go out
And play with your friends,
All by yourselves.”

When I was a kid, America was like Africa.
I walked alone to school,images
We played in the street,
With no parental bodyguards;
And lived to tell the tale.
Today kids are driven everywhere,
Sequestered in their homes;
A South Carolina woman was arrested,
And her nine-year-old taken away,
For having left her in a playground.
Talk about the Nanny State.

Each year a quarter million American kids
Are hurt or killed in car crashes,
Many while being driven to school;
Whereas, based upon statistics,
To be abducted by a stranger
A child would have to be left
Out on the street
For seven hundred and fifty thousand years.

images-1The South Carolina case was real (click here). We let pass parental conduct far more dangerous than leaving kids in a playground – like driving them to school. Walking would be not only safer but healthier, while inculcating independence and self-reliance. Furthermore (as the linked article notes), a child is far likelier to be molested or brutalized with a single mother’s boyfriend hanging around than being left in a public park. Yet it’s the latter that freaks people out and gets a child taken away.

UnknownHere the “nanny state” is almost literal: government decreeing how to parent your kids. In some places even smacking a child is criminalized. I was liberally smacked as a kid, and the conventional thing to say is that I wasn’t harmed. Well, it did teach me one lesson: never hit your kid. But should it be illegal? That goes way too far.

As did the South Carolina case, with the child actually taken away by the state. That itself is far likelier to harm a kid than being left in a playground – the whole foster care system is a snakepit for children. In most cases they’d be better off left with even lousy parents. The worst mom of all is government.*

We want government to protect people, but that requires power, and it’s hard to draw the line. And giving it a little power often morphs into a lot.
images-3* See also my review of Carl Strock’s book, showing how government’s “child protective services” do more harm than good.


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