Saturday, September 29, 2012

Allegiance

My oldest son and I brush our teeth together at his bedtime; for some reason this makes him brush his teeth better. Before we went upstairs to brush our teeth tonight, we checked the Pirates game. The Pirates were winning 1-0 against the Reds. Last summer we went to a Reds game and since then my son's been an adamant Reds fan for some reason. As the Pirates have orchestrated another late-season collapse, his Reds fanaticism has become tiresome.

When we got upstairs he said, "Cincinnati's going to score five runs and win."

I said, "It's important to me that the Pirates don't lose this game. If they lose tonight, they cannot win more games than they lose this season, and that will be the 20th straight season."

My son said quite seriously, "Maybe you should find a different team to like."

I ignored his advice. When we finished brushing our teeth he said, "Did you hear what I said before?"

Thanks for the advice, son. Luckily it didn't have to come to that tonight: the Pirates won 2-1.

Slush Fund Politics

You want another reason government shouldn't have discretionary spending programs? Because these programs are used to bribe the electorate.

The stimulus bill became the Obama Slush Fund, to dole out as the president's political fortunes warranted. In a completely unshocking coincidence, huge solar company grants went to firms tied to Obama fundraisers. This was the campaign appropriating tax dollars in a round-about manner. When the Mob does this, it's called money laundering and they go to prison. When the president does this, it's called job creation.

Now a new video of an Obama supporter has drawn attention to the Life Line program, where the Federales give cell phones to people.

An interesting fact about this program comes from a Dayton Daily News article. One million Ohioans are in the program out of 16.5 million participants nationally. I began to wonder what this meant. Armed with Google and my operating system calculator, I discovered the following. To start, 6.06% of all program participants are Ohioan. If the program's phones were evenly distributed among all Americans, there would be 18.9 million Ohioans. But there are only 11.5 million of them. Ohio has 164% of the phones they should have.

Of course, maybe there's something strange about Ohio, like it's especially large, so citizens are often isolated in emergencies. But it's only the 34th largest out of 50 states. Well, maybe it's especially rural? Actually, Ohio is the 10th most urbanized of all states. If you had to pick a state in which to have an emergency while not having a cell phone, Ohio is a pretty good place to be.

One woman gets 250 monthly minutes free through the program, which she says is hardly enough to use it for anything but emergencies. I don't know where to begin: should I point out she's not supposed to be able to use it for more than emergencies, or should I be amazed that she has over four hours of emergencies every month? She says she needs it for when her daughter goes to the library. But taking the phone to the library doesn't actually use any minutes. A true "emergency" phone would have 10 minutes each month, without roll-over. I can't think of a month where I've contacted 911 for more than 10 minutes.

But I've got a different definition of "emergency" than some Americans. Some would consider a kid needing to get picked up an emergency. When I was in high school and I needed a ride home, I would call collect. When the automated service asked me to say my name, I would say, "I need to get picked up." My parents would refuse the charges and come get me. Even if this is too hard for them, it takes one cell phone minute to say, "I need to get picked up." For 250 minutes to be insufficient, a family must be doing this more than eight times every day, all month long.

The Dayton Daily News article is meant to allay our concerns regarding this program. That's why the reporter notes

Reforms to the program this year included a one-time crackdown that de-enrolled tens of thousands of people in Ohio found to have more than one phone. The program allows only one line per household; requires future applicants to prove they are eligible, instead of simply attesting to it on a form; and makes people re-enroll each year instead of doing so automatically.

Next year, phone companies will have to check new applicants against a list of current enrollees to screen out duplicates.

Do these paragraphs really set anyone's mind at ease? Tens of thousands of Ohioans are inappropriately participating, proof of eligibility was limited to signing a form, re-enrollment was automatic, and it won't be until next year that they bother to check if applicants are already receiving the benefit? Yet I'm supposed to come away from this thinking, "It's not as bad as those terrible Republicans would have you believe it is"?

Railing against the Electoral College is a false response. An election based on popular vote would take programs that overspend in Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Nevada, and Colorado and give them reason to overspend everywhere. Right now only about 20% of the nation's people are targeted with administration bribes, while the rest are either in the tank or out of reach. When an additional Kansan is just as important to bribe as an additional Ohioan, these programs will see no limits at all.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Politics Has Meaning

Recently our ward had a sacrament speaker who reviewed the destruction of her family under Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge. I thought while I listened, "How did this happen?" And it happened because our parents' generation wanted out of the Vietnam War. After all, you couldn't heave a brick on an American college campus without hitting some promiscuous drug-addled rock band groupie, and who wouldn't think that was a more worthwhile use of their time?

The estimated two million dead Cambodians, that's who. But hey, we can't all be right all the time, right? That's why pencils have erasers.

Here's a pretty safe way of living a proper life: whatever the Baby Boomer generation did, do the opposite. Should you engage in casual sex? Should you participate in recreational drug use? Should you abandon nations to Communist dictators? Should you get divorced? Should you incur excessive debt? Should you murder babies? Should you demand unsustainable government social programs? Should you entrust bureaucrats to educate your children? Should you reduce your fertility rate below replacement levels?

Too many of our parents' generation thought (and still think, and raised what children they had to also think) that these are personal choices that have no external impact. They say, "Whether I wanted to go to Vietnam was up to me." But that wasn't the end of it. Millions died because America decided to lose a war it was winning. And the more Americans can hear about the real costs that come from their "personal" political choices, the more we can avoid another generation as disastrous as the Baby Boomers.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Thierry Henry, This Is How It's Done

Thierry Henry used his hand to set up the goal that kept Ireland from the last World Cup. After first denying he used his hand, he later said there was nothing he could have done about it.

Miroslav Klose scored with his hand yesterday. He told the referee and the goal was disallowed.

That, Henry, is what you could have done about it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Please Take Our Money

A few weeks ago I read a story about how NFL fans are staying home because the home viewing experience is better than the stadium experience. In that story the reporter wrote of how the NFL is responding to this.

Tickets to see elite performers will never be cheap, but the NFL is pushing "a ticket price for every fan" -- flexibility to meet the demands of those in every income bracket.

"The NFL was as close to a one-size-fits-all pricing structure for a long time as you find in sports," says Marc Ganis, who has consulted on projects related to more than half of the NFL teams as president of Sportscorp Ltd. "They're now creating far more price points and of greater range."

What the reporter doesn't mention is that this is called "price discrimination" and it allows the supplier to turn consumer surplus into producer surplus. Charging prices closer to the consumer's maximum willingness to pay is good for the producer, not for the consumer. This isn't the NFL providing better service to fans, it's the NFL taking more of their money.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Leave Harry Alone!

I don't know Harry Reid. I don't think his political positions are in line with my idea of individual responsibility and sovereignty, but in the past I've been willing to concede he's probably a nice guy. (Extended family members of mine who either lived in Nevada or actually know him directly are less willing to concede this, but that's their opinion.)

Harry Reid has been trying his best this summer to undermine the benefit of the doubt I'm willing to grant him. It started when he claimed, on the strength of no evidence whatsoever, that Mitt Romney paid no income taxes for 10 years. In this Reid is either slandering an innocent man (a crime) or--by not releasing any supporting evidence--withholding evidence of a crime (also a crime). He can't get around the first crime by claiming legislative privilege because his accusation was made in an interview in his office before it was made on the Senate floor.

After this happened, I went to stake priesthood meeting, where our stake president told of an experience he had with Elder Neil L. Andersen that amounted to being told "Take it easy on Harry Reid."

On the way home from that meeting, I mentioned to my friend that this was probably in response to the whole Romney tax issue. My friend said he'd actually heard the stake president tell that story before Reid started accusing Romney of paying no taxes, which means Elder Andersen was talking to the stake presidents apropos of nothing.

Today Harry Reid said Mitt Romney had "sullied" Mormonism. Now, the part of his comments where he says people shouldn't judge the religion based on Romney alone, I totally endorse. No mortal should be the standard by which the work of God is judged; all Mormons since Joseph Smith have at different times been bad examples to greater or lesser degrees. But when Reid sits in judgment of who is or isn't a good Mormon, he's completely out of line. (Ironically so, too, given how many Mormons would be willing to point an accusing finger his direction.)

Anyway, as frustrated as Harry Reid has been this summer, I feel a need to pass along my stake president's request: give Harry some slack. He's making some high-profile mistakes this summer. Just be glad your mistakes are much less public. I know I am.

Give Me a Minute While I Whip This Out

I was going to quickly blog about something less fun, and then long-suffering reader Angela saved you all by asking a great question.

"What are your thoughts about nursing discreetly in church meetings? It seems to be an unspoken rule that women shouldn't, and I'm not sure why.

The easy answer is: because we bought you some dope recliners! Now use 'em!

But "Mother's Lounge" aside, we have a bit of a phobia regarding non-spouse propriety. I believe I've written before (but nobody cares enough for me to link to it) about the weirdness of heterosexual friendship in the church. I can spend an hour chatting with a fellow dad while we hold our babies, but I'd better not chat with a mom holding her baby.

It's too bad, because there are lots of couples that have a wife I'd be friends with if it wasn't for her unfortunate choice of a husband. And about half the married women in the church can't seem to distinguish between a greeting and a pickup line. You can say hello without having to make out with me.

So I think it's seen as unacceptable to nurse in public because there are men around, but what's weird is I'd bet it would still be unacceptable to do at a Relief Society function. And for that I have no explanation.

Will things change as all the old folks die? Maybe. A few Saturdays ago my wife and I had to wait out a Primary activity in the foyer with another mom, and the other mom nursed while we waited. She was completely covered, but she didn't go to the Mother's Lounge and she didn't ask if it was okay with us. Now, that's a far cry from mid-sacrament meeting, but it's a start.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Great Moments in Higher Education

The semester began one month ago. A student attended for the first time today. He explained to me, "I got August and September confused."

What do you want to bet he's going to ask for credit on all quizzes he's missed so far?

In other model-student news, the girl who was going to bring a note from her employer for the three classes she would miss ended up missing five classes and has brought no note.

Finally, I have a student who is going to miss class on Wednesday because of Yom Kippur, but when he was in my class last year he wasn't one of the students who had to miss the exam that was on Passover. Do you think he's a recent Jewish convert, or is he just now aware of the ability to use Jewish holidays as an excuse to miss class?

You Can't Eat In Here!

A few weeks ago, an American University professor right here in the Nation's Cesspool brought her child to class and ended up breastfeeding during her lecture. People were outraged. I reserved judgment until I could find out the most important piece of missing information: is the professor hot?

In my view, she's not, so what she did was inappropriate.

All this comes from the sexualization of breasts, which are not sexual organs, but which are awesome. Anything we can do to make it more common-place for a lady to whip out a boob in public, I say let's do that!

Of course, the sad thing is that it's always the boobs you don't want to see that you'll end up seeing.

I feel the need to be sort of serious at least once in this post: I think breastfeeding in lecture is unconventional but fine. I think the students freaked out because they've probably never seen that before; more Americans are from smaller families and these college students probably have spent no time around infants. It's a little strange that some universities have hosted top-free protests, but using a boob for its actual purpose instead of as a political tool has gotten the administration's ire up. Just like how college students fornicating is not as big a problem as college students procreating seems to be. Breasts are for milk for babies, and this lady's pair did their job. Controversy over.

Football Is Lame

Last football season I began to clearly see the sport for the semi-artistic brutality it is. During the past off-season the bounty controversy killed whatever feelings I had left for football. Now a new season is upon us, and I don't really care at all.

I've heard conservative radio hosts complain that liberals "want to destroy football." I don't pretend to know whether this is true, but I know liberals can save their effort: football is killing football just as efficiently.

Lots of sports have the threat of injury. There's a difference, though, between breaking a wrist or a leg, and losing mental capacity. Football authorities say they are serious about protecting players, but they refuse to change the game in ways that would clearly reduce the problem (a return to the more rugby-like game football used to be), and they even take concrete steps to place players in harm's way, such as locking out the top-flight officials over a comparative pittance.

I continue to check the score of Steelers games, and I did watch the BYU/Utah game, but that is more out of loyalty to the institutions (the City of Pittsburgh and Brigham Young University) than out of entertainment by the game. Our family's desire for a field-based sport of skill has been replaced by soccer. My kids and I watch a couple soccer matches a week online, European and MLS. None of us are missing football in the least. And I'm fairly certain that we will make no effort to watch this coming Super Bowl.

This is how, in just two seasons of college conference realignments, professional labor disputes, and rampant injuries, football has made a former big-time fan into a somewhat hostile abstainer.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

"Here and Now," Not "Someday If Asked"

From Hugh Nibley's Approaching Zion:

The objection to the law of consecration is that it is hard to keep. We want eternal life in the presence of God and the angels, but that is too high a price to pay! God has commanded and we have accepted, but then we have added a proviso: "We will gladly observe and keep the law of consecration as soon as conditions make it less trying and more convenient for us to do so." And we expect Atonement for that?! We are clearly told in the Book of Mormon that when God commands us to do something, no matter how hard, he will open the way for us if we put our hearts into it: "For I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them" (1 Nephi 3:7). How fortunate for Nephi that the Lord did not ask him to observe the law of consecration! And perhaps he should have prudently waited until the coast was clear before going back to Jerusalem for the plates.
Pp. 593-4.

What's In Store

One of the mysteries of this election is why the president wants a second term. He has not outlined a vision of what he hopes to accomplish. Even in the current environment, where any idiot could say, "I want to lower unemployment," he hasn't even done that. Maybe he wants to continue all those policies he implemented in his first term? Except there weren't any of those. Aside from nationalizing a sixth of the economy, against the wishes of more than half the nation, he's done absolutely nothing.

As I was wondering again about this recently, I had a thought that might explain all this. Sure, the president has things he hopes to accomplish in a second term; he just can't campaign on them. Given his habit of governing by fiat (and claiming a distaste for the fact he is required to do so to get anything done), I think a second term would prove to be very active, indeed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Taxation is Slavery With a Time Machine

Time is an endowment from God to all men. Adam Smith points out that you have a certain amount of time available to you, and you decide how to apportion that among your many pursuits. John Locke argues that mixing your time with a common resource is what makes the resource become private property.

When you work for private property and then that property is confiscated, the time you worked is also confiscated. You worked for the seizing agent. What's more, if a tyrant comes and says, "If you work tomorrow you have to work for me," you can decide to not work tomorrow and so still remain free, but if the tyrant seizes the products of the work after the fact, you have no ability to withhold the work.

Taxation takes the product of labor, which is taking the labor itself. Thus taxation is slavery, but with the slight aesthetic improvement that it is slavery with a time machine. No one's in chains because they didn't know at the time that the work wasn't for themselves. After all, you have fewer slave revolts if you don't tell the workers they're slaves until after the work is done.

Do I have the right to enslave others for my benefit? Of course not. Could I give this non-existent right to my agent, asking him to go enslave someone for me? No. If I didn't have the right myself, I couldn't give the right to anyone else.

Whence come the rights of government? They are expressly delivered from the sovereign people to their agent. (I know it's unsophisticated to expect words to have meaning, but that's what the words say and they are yet to be repealed.) We cannot charge our agent with a task we have no right to perform ourselves. I cannot enslave, so the government cannot enslave. Which means the government cannot tax.

Every counter-argument I've heard has been based on utility. "But if the government can't tax, how can..." they begin. And I don't listen to the rest, because it's nonsense. You can't cite the awesome things you do with ill-gotten gains as justification for the evil manner in which you obtained the gains. "But it's nice to have fancy roads," you say. Yeah, slave-owners usually end up with some cool things.

"How else would we get pyramids?"

You must build from rights to permissible actions, not from worthwhile actions to permitting rights. As Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito noted in their Obamacare dissent this summer:

The dissent's exposition of the wonderful things the Federal Government has achieved through exercise of its assigned powers, such as "the provision of old-age and survivors' benefits" in the Social Security Act, ante, at 2, is quite beside the point. The issue here is whether the federal government can impose the Individual Mandate through the Commerce Clause. And the relevant history is not that Congress has achieved wide and wonderful results through the proper exercise of its assigned powers in the past, but that it has never before used the Commerce Clause to compel entry into commerce. The dissent treats the Constitution as though it is an enumeration of those problems that the Federal Government can address--among which, it finds, is "the Nation's course in the economic and social welfare realm," ibid., and more specifically "the problem of the uninsured," ante, at 7. The Constitution is not that. It enumerates not federally soluble problems, but federally available powers. The Federal Government can address whatever problems it wants but can bring to their solution only those powers that the Constitution confers, among which is the power to regulate commerce. None of our cases say anything else. Article I contains no whatever-it-takes-to-solve-a-national-problem power. [pp. 14-5]
A moral right to taxation does not begin with showing it's the most effective means of funding wonderful programs.

Now, the Constitution specifically allows for taxation. So what? It used to specifically allow for more conventional forms of slavery, as well. What is permissible is not the final word on what is proper. Some things are legal and immoral, such as adultery. The government is allowed to tax, but it has no right to do so.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

I Just Gotta Rock! Except When I Don't

There's something unseemly about public emotion. People who get all worked up in public need to just calm down. And this is why it's slightly embarrassing to watch a musical artist get really into his music. I understand that music can elicit strong emotions, but when you're creating the music, you're in control. The crazy scream at the beginning of "CSI: Miami" (which was somehow predicted years before in The Who's song "Won't Get Fooled Again") might sound pretty cool, but it would be excruciating to watch Roger Daltrey actually make that noise. After all, it's all affected, like Madonna's fake accent.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How the 99% Stole From the Elite

Let's say you have a book and I want it. What determines if we make a trade (in this case, cash for book)? It depends on how much the book is worth to you and to me. If you value the book at $10, then you would be willing to give up the book for any amount greater than $10. If I value the book at $12, then I would be willing to pay up to $12 for the book. In that overlapping area, we have room to negotiate.

Let's say we agree on a price of $11. I am happy with that trade because I only pay $11 for a book I value at $12. You are happy with that trade because you get $11 for a book you value at $10. We both go home happy with surplus value.

Does it make sense for me to later complain about the cash you have? Not at all. You got your cash through voluntary exchange. You didn't come take it from me. You gave me something I valued even more than the cash.

Now take this transaction and run it a billion times and you understand how someone like Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, got rich. There was nothing nefarious going on. He was providing things that his trading partners valued even more than they valued the money they gave him.

If the 1% deserves our hatred, then so does the 99%. If the 1% did something wrong when they got rich, then the 99% did something wrong when they got rich, too. Because that's the thing about trade: both parties gain. When Jeff Bezos became a billionaire, so did the rest of us. It's just Bezos likes to hold his wealth in cash, and we hold our wealth in books and Kindles.

Getting more wealth in cash is taxed at various income tax rates. Getting more wealth in things is taxed at one sales tax rate. Receiving wealth in cash is seen as evidence of moral turpitude. Receiving wealth in things ain't no thang. We Occupy against one, but not the other.

Let's back up to the first example. What if you're so good at negotiating that our price isn't $11, but $12. Robbery, right?! No, not right. It's still a voluntary trade. I bought the book, so I voluntarily gave you the money. I have no right to come back later and complain that you shouldn't have that much money.

What if I had to have the book? You exploited me! But Americans don't understand the meaning of the word "need." As I once read in a George Will column, a "need" in America is now anything you've wanted for two weeks and still don't have. Everything has a substitute, even if it's just the substitute of not buying. (My professor Walter E. Williams once said, "Even penicillin has a substitute; you go to meet your Maker a little earlier.")

The rich got rich by making the rest of us rich. If trade is stealing, it's stealing on both sides. If the government facilitated wealth creation in cash, it equally facilitated wealth creation in things. If you don't want a graduated sales tax rate, you shouldn't support a graduated income tax rate. If you don't want your yard Occupied, you shouldn't Occupy businesses. And if you support the president's asinine notion of "asking the rich to pay a little more," then you should get ready to give up some of your things.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Next Technological Breakthrough Is Already Here

So in reading Alison Weir's Eleanor of Aquitaine, I've learned that Europeans of the 1180s ate with spoons and knives, not yet knowing of the fork. And as I ate my lunch today, I wondered what cutlery advancement of the future will make my knife/fork/spoon existence so alien to people 830 years from now. And it seems obvious: by the year 2840, everyone will eat everything with one of those camping utensils. You know, the spork with a serrated edge? The utensil of tomorrow is here now!

On Not Being On Food Stamps

For the past several months, every few weeks my parents try to convince me to go on food stamps.

I have no doubt I qualify. But I'm not interested. My parents ask, "Why not?" They say, "The system is there for you if you need it, and you'll pay it back later when you get set and start paying taxes."

Yes, the system is there if I need it. And at what point do I "need" it? When my higher-priority forms of support are exhausted.

First, the individual supports himself. If that is insufficient, the individual's family contributes. If that is insufficient, the individual's social structure (community organizations, churches, et cetera) contributes. If that is insufficient, the individual's local government contributes. And only if that is insufficient does the individual's federal government contribute.

Current federal assistance programs try to insinuate themselves further up the structure, and with the president's dictatorial gutting of welfare work requirements, they are fighting for the top spot. I disagree with this trend and refuse to go to the government just because "it's there for the taking."

I know this isn't in keeping with my efforts to bankrupt the TV converter voucher program. If I disagree with federal assistance, why not take as much as I can so the program goes broke? Because the TV converter voucher was a program that shouldn't have existed at all, so I had no problem trying to kill it. Food stamps serve a purpose and I don't want to take resources from those who truly need them just to teach the Federales a lesson.

My parents want me to take the clientela of Barack Obama. I'd rather maintain my sovereignty and use the social framework instead of upending it in favor of a check from Washington.

Truth Can Lose Elections

There's an argument made (among people who care about this type of thing) that Winston Churchill lost the 1945 parliamentary election when he claimed Labour's socialist reforms would require a Gestapo to enforce. That seemed a bit beyond the pale to most voters. What is usually left unsaid is that Churchill's statement is not just true, but necessarily true.

If government is going to dictate private action, then it must monitor private action. A socialist government without an internal surveillance mechanism is dysfunctional. Your behavior must be monitored and either rewarded or punished. That's the point of socialist policies.

Is Mitt Romney's statement about Obama voters similar to Churchill's, a true statement that will not be heard by the populace?

Currently 46% of American families have no federal income tax liability. But 100% of families have at least one vote. And as Milton Friedman explained in his book and TV show "Free to Choose," spending someone else's money is inherently wasteful.

At the same time that the number of people paying taxes has gone down, the number of people receiving benefits has gone up. Record numbers receive food stamps. Not surprisingly, the government wants the program to grow more. The number of people receiving disability payments is at a record high. Millions receive extended unemployment benefits, and over 100,000 people receive both disability and unemployment benefits at the same time. All told, nearly half (49.1%) of all households receive federal assistance.

This isn't to demonize these recipients. This is just to show that, assuming rationality, these Americans could support increasing the scope and scale of government if their received benefits outweigh their share of the bill. Which brings us back to the fact that, for 46% of households, their share of the bill is zero. Given the incentives they're facing, it makes sense for this large segment of the electorate to support further government expansion.

This is what Romney is saying. And there's no denying it. You can obfuscate and say, "Romney's attacking the poor and the needy." Romney says these voters think of themselves as victims, and in a round-about way, they are. Not victims at the hands of business or society, but victims at the hands of grievance merchants who have destroyed their humanity and sold them the notion that they are just pets to be taken care of by the most humane handlers available. Pointing out the victimization of the victims is not to say they are at fault. The president's campaign (which is all this administration has ever been) has spent four years convincing their supporters that, but for the grace of government, they'd be dead in a ditch. Is this an overstatement? The president's campaign website STILL has its "Julia" feature, showing how a woman doesn't need parents, spouse, or children, as long as she has the government to take care of her.

Could Mitt Romney have lost the election with this statement of his? It's possible. But did he say anything untrue? Absolutely not.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Gold Star Parenting

Talking with my parents last night about some issues our kids have, I said, "If we were normal parents we'd just say it's TV's problem to fix or their teachers' problem to fix, but since we don't have TV and we're the teachers, we're screwed."

At least I've never had this problem: D.C. policy are after a 6-to-7-year-old robbery suspect. Noteworthy points in this short article:

  • A group of prepubescent kids was roving the neighborhood after 8 PM on a school night.
  • The kids made a patron nervous enough he needed to call the cops. This makes me think of the kids from "Peep Show." (Both videos contain swearing.)
  • This kid already weighs close to 100 pounds? What the hell is going on in the world?!
  • Is the kid dangerous? "It warns the public not to take action but to call 911 if the boy is spotted." Cell phone robbery might just be this kid's warm-up.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Family Holiday

Seven years ago today I picked my wife and two kids up at the Kansas City airport and we were all officially Kansans. Since then, September 14th has been a family holiday.

This year I had to teach an early afternoon class, then we went to the DMV to get license plates for our new car. (The secret to successful family holidays is doing wonderful things together.) Then the DMV told us it was impossible for us to get license plates, then we called our dealership and they told us we had to do it through them (though two weeks ago they let us not do it through them when we bought the car), then we ate supper at Chick-Fil-A, dessert at Nathan's Dairy Bar, and watched The Adventures of Tintin on DVD.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is the Coming Collapse's Event Horizon in Our Past?

In history class we learn that Rome fell in 476. (According to a Google search, we'll soon be learning about in movie theaters, as well. And the movie poster uses Thomas Cole's Destruction. Awesome.) But to a Roman living in 476, it wasn't the end of everything, it was just a bad couple of months. I mean, after all, there was a Roman Emperor until 1806.

So has America already collapsed? It's intriguing, but I don't think so. What concerns me, however, is that we might have crossed the collapse's event horizon, the point at which the collapse became inevitable.

In the past four years, the Federal Reserve has created $3 trillion. Whoever wins the election will have a hell of a time avoiding the "fiscal cliff." And by January it might be too late to stop Iran's nuclear program.

People talk about this election like it will make or break us. But it seems more likely that this election won't matter. The election that broke us was the last one.

Obama's Problem Is Not of Romney's Making

The president has a national security problem. It starts with belittling our allies and caving to our enemies. It continues with his complete lack of engagement on foreign affairs. If there's no one to bow to, he's not interested. And it concludes with the administration's embassy staff releasing a statement blaming someone's use of speech for the angry mob in Cairo.

Mitt Romney said the administration's statements are disgraceful, and he's right. After the Cairo incident, the American ambassador to Libya was killed. Obama supporters are trying to spin this as Romney politicizing the death.

He wasn't speaking about the deaths. He was speaking about the entire administration policy that culminated in the ambassador's death.

I know the president likes to shift blame for everything to everyone else. It's Bush's fault the world's Muslims hate us*, it's Bush's fault the economy isn't recovering, it's Boehner's fault we're approaching the fiscal cliff, it's Republican's fault he can't get his agenda passed, and it's all of our fault we're not inspired by him anymore. But who can he blame for his response to Arab Spring? It is too new to blame Bush and too foreign to blame Congress.

When political decisions lead to deaths, it's not politicizing those deaths to acknowledge the connection. The deaths were already politicized when the administration helped bring them about.

Now we're hearing the attack in Libya was a pre-planned terror attack. Maybe if the president attended at least half of his security briefings, it wouldn't have taken the nation by surprise.

Oh, how dare I politicize the political decisions of a politician! Have I no sense of decency?!

* These protesters say they are acting on behalf of Islam, that this is their religious obligation. The relative absence of Muslim disagreement gives me pause before I pass along the standard talking points about "this is just a few bad apples." If it really is just a vocal minority causing trouble, where are the overwhelming counter-demonstrations?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Junk Food and Anorexia

We all stand in need of constant nourishment for both body and spirit. The trouble is that we are not allowed to forget the hunger of the body; it will always remind you that you are in need of nourishment. But what about the other? We think the hunger of the mind can wait, but if we separate the mind and body, we nourish neither. Both are susceptible to junk food and anorexia: TV supplies the junk food, the school the other.

Hugh Nibley, Approaching Zion, p. 530.

Frustrated Grunts

Why do I like this song? For the 18 frustrated grunts. It's like the skeezy northern English girl version of "d'oh!". Playing to her strengths, she opens and closes the song with one. It more than makes up for her hideous black shorts, her use of the letter U in lieu of the word "you," and her weird way of pronouncing the word "first."

Identifying

In the story of Jesus and the rich young ruler, the meaning of the story depends upon with which character the listener identifies. If the listener identifies with the poor, this is a story of a rich jerk who won't treat others correctly.

This is exactly the wrong meaning. This is not a story of what others are doing wrong, but a story of what each listener is doing wrong. The purpose of the story is not to stoke your righteous indignation, but to shame you.

I hate church lessons that are presented as correction for the absent. I don't need to come to church to hear what "society" is doing wrong; I need to hear what I'm doing wrong and, more importantly, how I can change.

I taught a lesson once about how to raise daughters. Quorum members wanted to talk about what a terrible job their friends and neighbors are doing. What about what you're doing?, I wanted to ask. If you need no correction, then at least tell the rest of us the secret to your success. Don't waste our time with condemnations of NBC's programming director.

I spent some time this week looking at the painting by Heinrich Hofmann and trying to imagine what lesson I could draw from it. It dawned on me that the lesson of the story is completely removed if the listener misidentifies. Jesus wasn't trying to gin up anger at plutocrats.

A friend recently asked me how I was enjoying High Nibley's Approaching Zion. I facetiously said, "He's trying to make a Democrat out of me." But is the Law of Consecration really the province of the Democrat Party?

I completely agree that the rich need to redistribute their excess to the poor. But I completely disagree that 1. we can identify who has excess, 2. we have the right to take their excess, and 3. we can identify who needs to receive.

The great biblical example of a duty to redistribute our excess was voluntary. Jesus told the man what was right, but do the redistributing, and when the man refused to do it himself, Jesus didn't force him.

Was it because Jesus just didn't have the muscle for it? Elsewhere he reminds John that it's not for lack of strength that he's failing to impose his will on others. The desire to force redistribution comes from identifying with the poor, which I've already said is the wrong lesson to take from the story. Once you identify with the rich young ruler, you see that involntary redistribution isn't the goal at all. God can take care of the poor on His own; He wants to give you a chance to do it for Him.

Insult Update

So I've watched the video that has Muslims literally up in arms, and here is how I answer my four questions from yesterday.

1. Yes, the video insults Mohammad.

2. Yes, Mohammad would be right to take offense.

3. It is not anything that hasn't been said of other religious leaders of the past and present. Fawn Brodie wrote No Man Knows My History and the violent Mormon response was limited to Hugh Nibley writing No Ma'am, That's Not History. Word-play seems an appropriate response to an worded attack; RPG fire does not.

4. If the producers believe they are showing an accurate account of Mohammad's life, why should they apologize? This is Inquisition-type thinking, something the modern world was supposed to have left behind centuries ago. And this is why the thought police of the Left get along so famously with the aggrieved Muslims of the world: they want to silence "wrong" ideas through intimidation and shame instead of changing those ideas with argument and reason.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stoking the Anti-Americanism

Editor's Note: I originally wrote this post to run tomorrow because I was planning on being too lazy to actually blog tomorrow (yes, I'm so efficient that I plan my laziness), but then Libyans lit the U.S. consulate on fire, and I'm worried that, by press-time tomorrow, there might no longer be any American presence in the Middle East to defend. - Ed.

Egyptians stormed the American embassy with their knickers in a twist over "what they said was a film being produced in the United States that insulted Prophet Mohammad." Reuters, never one to pass up an opportunity to knock America down a peg, was forced to notice, "it was not clear which film prompted the protest."

The American embassy, though, wanted to get in on the anti-Americanism while there was still a chance. It said in a statement, "We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

There are no such people in this instance. Show me the movie and the producers and then we can talk about 1. if the film insults Mohammad, 2. if Mohammad is right to take insult, 3. why only Mohammad is protected from insult, 4. if the producers should apologize for the insult. But until an actual film is identified, there's no need to protest and there's no need for an American statement making such protests look justified.

How can a belief be hurt, anyway? A belief is beyond reach. I guess I could undermine it with countering evidence, but is that really what we're opposed to here?

Why is there only one group on earth that has a free pass to go ape-shit* when its religion is questioned? You know how many people I killed over that "Book of Mormon" musical? How many fatwas did my church leadership issue? Hmmm, let's see.... Carry the one, distribute the zero.... None. Instead, they bought ad space in the playbill for the Los Angeles production.

Yes, the Mormon church gave money to "The Book of Mormon." Because people who are confident in their position don't have to murder everyone who doesn't quite agree with them.

* No other term so succinctly communicates this phenomenon.

You Need an ID to Do That

Once my mother took my kids and my sister's kids on a train from one town to the next, just so they could have a train ride. My brother-in-law drove to the next town to pick us up. My mother left her ID in the car. When the conductor came to see everyone's tickets, he asked for her ID. When she said she didn't have it, he said she would have to leave the train at the next stop.

I took a bus from Los Angeles to Kansas City once. I had to show my ID. Other things that require an ID include renting a carpet shampooer and working.

You know what's just about the only thing in America that doesn't require an ID? Voting.

The sanctity of our democratic institutions is the only thing preserving our way of life. Yet one political party continually attempts to undermine election safeguards. Is it any surprise, then, that the congressional candidate in the news today for voter fraud is from the party that works tirelessly to ease the roadblocks such fraud faces?

The article points out that property owners can vote in local elections where they own property. (There's that pesky link between property and voting that our Founders knew was essential, but that modern leaders feel is superfluous.) But this isn't about local elections, it's about congressional elections and presidential primaries.

Voter ID laws couldn't even prevent a determined fraudulent voter, but they could at least make it harder. Those who oppose such laws seek to make our elections meaningless, as fraud would become nearly impossible to detect and nearly impossible to correct.

Modern Monuments With Meaning

What's the point of the Statue of Liberty? It's to uphold and celebrate an ideal. What ideals do we hold today that are universally accepted enough that we would see a monument to one of them proposed, designed, and approved? There aren't any.

Modern monuments are all memorials of people or events. The 9/11 Memorial doesn't make any statements beyond, "It's a shame these people died." Does it give an impression of why they died, or why we disagree with those who killed them? Not beyond, "We don't think you should kill people." That's the extent of our common ideals these days.

I've always enjoyed this idea from Viktor Frankl, and now that I'm rereading* his Man's Search for Meaning, I thought it was worth sharing.

Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. (pp. 155-6, emphasis original)

What's the over-under on getting a statue like this designed, approved, and built in San Francisco Bay or Marina del Rey, without it being stripped down to representing nothing more than "be a good person"? The last defense of common ideals is to gut their meaning. Do Americans agree that responsibility is a worthwhile ideal, and do they agree on what the term means?

* I listened to it on a CD once, and now I'm reading it. So it's the first time I've actually read it, but I already know what's coming next.

I Don't Understand

I heard once that Queen Victoria refused to outlaw lesbianism, not because she was cool with it, but because she couldn't believe it was a serious thing. I don't know if that story is true, but it captures my feelings about Nicki Minaj.

She's an entertainer, right? So people who watch this are leaving entertained? Or at least they think they'll be leaving entertained, but she has repeat viewers, so there must be some real entertaining going on, right?

There are other forms of "entertainment" that I don't think fit the bill (like anything involving juggalos--Oh, I HATE juggalos so much!), but at least crap like that can be explained through a combination of nihilism and idiocy. But what's the explanation for Nicki Minaj's appeal? It's insufficient to say, "Oh, you just don't get it," unless there's actually something to get. At least Lady Gaga is trying to freak you out to make you accept people who are different from you; Nicki Minaj is just trying to freak you out because she's bored and wants to see you get freaked out. That's not a core meaning. That's just staring into the existential void together.

Friday, September 07, 2012

"Exceptional" Student Update!

So last week I wrote a post about a former student who had crazy-ass drama and wanted all her instructors to pass her without requiring her to do any work. (I don't think I can legal tell you what grade I gave her, but it started with the same letter as the name Philip if you were in an eastern European country.)

Well, two days later I log into my class website and see she's on my roll. Because all the serious students wait four days to sign up for a class.

She was in class for the first time yesterday (the fifth class of the semester). After class she comes to me and says, "I have to go to some training for work and I can't miss it, so I'm going to miss two classes next week. Do you want me to bring you a note from my boss?"

I think this semester is going to feature a lot of blog-worthy stories.

Government Doesn't Create Jobs, Consumers Do

So the governor of Michigan (I can't be bothering to check this right now, but I think her name is Graholm or Graham or something like that) wanted to point out how many auto jobs the bailout saved. You know how many it saved? Zero. Nobody in America stopped wanting cars just because GM didn't have any money.

Here's how the non-bailout world would have unfolded: GM and Chrysler declare bankruptcy. Their assets are bought at auction by foreign manufacturers. The factories continue making cars.

Why was this untenable? Because foreign-owned U.S. factories aren't union factories. This would have destroyed the UAW, the preservation of which was always the main goal of the administration.

Would some jobs have been lost? Perhaps. (After all, GM and Chrysler were losing billions each quarter, so it's fairly likely that there was some dead wood that needed clearing away.) But since there was no problem of excess supply, the new owners would be making about the same number of cars, and since their technology is not dramatically better, that would probably take about the same number of workers. Not all those union not-really-working workers, though, and that was the deal-breaker for the Federales.

Now lets talk about how many jobs the bailout cost. Tens of billions of dollars have been sunk in these companies with little prospect of return. That money came from somewhere. It came from other uses, where it would have been supporting jobs. "Oh, but what if it was going to just be saved?" Saving isn't the black hole it's made out to be. When you save, you do it by lending to someone who is spending. All money is spent in the present period (except for what is secreted away as cash under mattresses, but that probably wouldn't account for most of the bailout funds had they been left in private hands).

Finally, let's talk about lost jobs. When a job is lost due to market forces, it is a job that is not productive enough to pay for itself. These are jobs we should be keeping? These jobs are inefficient. Now, we can have a debate about the proper retraining program or the assistance package ex-workers receive while they retrain themselves, but preserving the job is prolonging the waste. What Graholm/Graham/Whatever-Her-Name-Is is really touting is the president's complete devotion to inefficient wasteful jobs that prop up one of his most powerful political overlords. That doesn't seem like the type of "leadership" we should be lauding from the rooftops. And it's a terrible symptom of America's spiral into worthlessness that this was one of the major orgasmic moments of the convention.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Daycare

Once upon a time in America, there was a problem with the high number of children being raised in daycare. Well, crisis averted, because hardly anyone is in daycare anymore. Now all these kids are attending preschool.

A girl I knew in high school is complaining today on Facebook about how seriously she takes her children's education, and as evidence she cites their year-round enrollment in preschool. One is in a 2-3-year-old class. That goes from 7am to 5pm. But, you know, that's preschool for ya.

Given a kid is going to be in daycare, it's probably better if that daycare tries to do some instruction, but to say that your kid's school career starts when your maternity leave ends, as another Facebook friend of mine has stated, is to gut all meaning from the term "school."

Which might not be such a bad thing. If public school is not much but a daycare where some learning happens, then why can't preschool be the same thing? The reason is that the terms "school" and "daycare" carry different values. The public sees school as a good thing, while daycare is iffy. Parents who place their kids in daycare but don't want to come to terms with that (internally or externally) get a marvelous mulligan when they can call the place school. After all, only terrible parents don't place their kids in school, right?

This Morning's Dream

In my dream, my son's Cub Scout leader (who is really African but in my dream was Hispanic) saw my kids interacting with my father-in-law and said, "It's great that they feel so comfortable with their grandfather. We have my father be the disciplinarian in the house, so my kids want nothing to do with him. When he tries to get them to sit on his knee they say, 'No, eres muerte.'"

According to Google Translate, "eres muerte" means "already death." In my dream, though, I think the kids meant, "He is death," which Google Translate says is, "El es la muerte." Stupid dream kids, don't even know how to speak their own language.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

"Exceptional" Students

I have some exceptional students. And then I have some who are just "exceptional," meaning they always need to be the exception. And I have found that the more help a student requires, the less he deserves it.

It started last year when I had a student who wanted to tell me how she was failing because of her mother's drug/alcohol/depression problems. Then another professor asked me, "Do you have [this student] in class? Is she giving you crazy stories?" I know I'm not really supposed to disclose confidential information, so I prevaricated. Another nearby professor overheard and said, "Oh, I had her last year and she gave me the same stories."

I'm not doubting her mother is having problems, or that those problems would cause some academic strain for the student. But not every semester is the perfect time to be in school; if your family is falling apart, you should defer for a while. Otherwise, the degrees given to your classmates represent real learning, while your degree represents "she had a really rough couple of years."

Students who need to reschedule exams will usually fail them. Students who need extra credit assignments will usually not do them. Students who need registration overrides will usually not attend.

This semester I had two students come to me the first day of class. Both couldn't register (the class is full) and needed me to force-ad them. The next day one of them e-mailed me that she was going to drop the class. The next class meeting, the other one wasn't there. The class after that, he showed up to tell me that he can't do the level of math the class requires and to ask me what I recommend he do. Well, my first recommendation would be to not skip the prerequisites, which he has done. And after that, there's really no other recommendation but "drop the freaking class!".

What a Terrible Day

Four-and-a-half hours at a car dealership, then four-and-a-half hours at a hospital. If one more person tries to make me sit on an uncomfortable chair this weekend, I'm going to choke a fool!

(Hospital report: things seem to be okay, so that's why I'm not going into more detail about it.)

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Decennial Car Change-Over

I married a girl who had a car. It was on its last legs, and quickly began costing a car payment per month in repairs. In September 2002 we traded it in and bought a new Ford Taurus wagon.

Our oldest was one month old then. We've had three more since. Our family of six technically fit in the car, but only by regularly using the rear-facing seats, which meant we had no room for strollers, groceries, or anything. And lately the car has begun requiring giant repairs every month. Unfortunately, we needed a new car.

Most families don't have four kids anymore, so it was difficult to find a car with enough seats. Most company's largest models seat seven, which is only one more seat than we currently need (and my wife is still hot enough that more kids are probably in our future), and is actually one fewer seat than we currently have. My wife also has an aversion to minivans, which she thinks come with subscriptions to the Mom-Jeans-of-the-Month club. (I know many of my readers drive minivans; just pull the incredibly-high waistband of your mom jeans up a tad and dry those bitter tears.) This meant we were in the market for a Honda Pilot.

I went to the dealer last Saturday and got some information. During the week we became aware of a sale at the next-closest Honda dealer, so I went there after teaching yesterday. The salesman wanted me to buy the car without test-driving it on the highway (in his defense, it was the beginning of a holiday weekend, which meant 66 wasn't moving at all; there's not really any reason to take it on the highway to get a feel for stop-and-go handling). I told him that wasn't going to happen, so I made an appointment to come back today.

I thought I could move things along by showing up with four kids. No dice. We were there for four-and-a-half hours. Eventually it came time to get an appraisal on our trade-in. Their offer: $200.

We said no. We said we would go home and see what our other options were. He took us outside to see the car we'd actually be taking home and asked what it would take to get us to buy. I told him a monthly payment figure that had come out of online calculators when I had estimated a $1,000 trade-in value. He went to talk to his finance guys and said they could do that.

At this point, my wife said, "Were we just accidentally good negotiators?" That was when I was reminded of my second-favorite Kenny Rogers song.

What the hell was this "accidentally" crap? We ended up under the monthly figure we were shooting for. This was deliberate, babe.

Several more hours went by. We had to talk to the finance guy. We told him we'd be getting our own license plate so we could get the Gadsden flag plate.

He thought that meant we were big 311 fans because they evidently have an album entitled "Don't Tread on Me." He was a very young finance guy.

More time passed. I tried to talk Pirates baseball with a salesman wearing a Pirates hat. Evidently he's from Philadelphia, and he's a Phillies fan, but the hat had a P on it, and that was good enough for him.

After several more hours, some good news: we'd be keeping our old license plates. We counted up the old plates we now have: Texas, Utah, California, Kansas, and Virginia. That's 10% of the country.

Finally, we were allowed to drive our car away.

(Actually, all without paying anything, because we'd forgotten our checkbook at home. I'm supposed to take a check in next week after class one day. Either that or skip town to Mexico. Whichever.)