June 24, 2007

THE VILLAGE

If you haven't seen the movie The Village and you still plan to see it, don't read this post.

I don't do scary movies. I hate them. But when I saw the preview for The Village years ago, I always wanted to be brave enough to watch it. I finally did yesterday, and I'm really glad I did. It wasn't really that scary...at least not in the way a horror movie is supposed to be. On the contrary, the ending reveals something far scarier than monsters.

The Shyamalan™ ending isn't nearly as gut-socking as the revelation of opening the Box of Secrets: Utopias only work at gunpoint. A select few act as "Aristotelian gods" (what a delightful new phrase I've learned) and decide how the masses should live, but the only way they can enforce their society is through manipulation and fear. And though they think their society more moral and just than the outside world, it is a society based on lies. These things play out in the real world; I just didn't expect such a lovely allegory in this movie.

And naturally I found the exact opposite of the River Kwai experience when I looked up reviews of the movie: people hated it. Obviously I don't have the same opinion on what makes a compelling story as the majority of movie reviewers! But I personally think if they hated it, they missed the forest for the trees.

Or maybe, if I may be so snarky, they're the type of people who really think we could live in peace and harmony if we halted all progress, with some college professor to lead the way.

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June 23, 2007

ECONOMICS

My husband came home from work with a small book called A Student's Guide to Economics. He breezed through it, since he's taken more econ classes than one human should take, and handed it to me. It's a little 50-pager about the evolution of economic trends from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman. I thought it was fascinating and quite accessible, so I thought I'd mention it here in case someone else is interested in an afternoon of light economics reading!

My favorite passages came from the section "Ignorance and Self-Interest," in which Heyne writes about people who propose policy as if they were "Aristotelian gods":

They grossly underestimate the amount of detailed knowledge that has to be used to provide food and housing for the inhabitants of a city; to assure enough but not too many physicians, plumbers, poets, and airline pilots; to make electricity and telephone service available to everyone; to maintain processes of discovery that will provide new and valuable answers to old problems of discomfort, disease, and disaster.
The dramatic failure of socialism that could no longer be denied at the end of the twentieth century was not, as many seem to believe, a consequence of the fact that people are selfish and put their own interests ahead of the interests of society. It was a consequence of the fact that no one is omniscient. We put our own interests ahead of the interests of most of those with whom we interact because we know what our own interests are, but do not even know the identities of most of the people with whom we cooperate every day.
...
The basic principles of economics will not be readily understood or appreciated by people who believe that economic theory explains the operation of an essentially immoral society, one governed by selfishness or dominated by the desire of "material welfare" rather than "human welfare." ... People who talk this way literally do not know what they are talking about.

Mmmmm. And there's more deliciousness where that came from.

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June 20, 2007

DEVIL'S ADVOCATE

Surprise, surprise, Michael Moore thinks 9/11 was an inside job. The only thing he said that shocked me was at the end of his rant:

MOORE: See, I’m not very good at the physics and all that. But believe me, the questions need to be asked.

I'm amazed that he even admitted that he has no idea what he's talking about. You think that might have something to do with why he still has questions? But apparently it doesn't matter what the answer is, only that the question gets asked. Repeatedly. Reminds me of something Bill Whittle recently said (er, recently in Bill Whittle Time):

"We're just asking questions" was the official, voice-over disclaimer. You hear that too from the 9/11 Truth crowd when confronted with the lunacy of their claims. We're just asking questions... Well, in that vein I'd like to ask some questions myself. Is Michael Moore a serial pedophile? I'm just asking, and I'm sure a lot of my readers would just like to have some questions answered. I heard that Rosie O'Donnell ate a baby at a Satanic Ritual once -- is that true? Can you please provide the evidence that this did not in fact happen? Thanks. Who has murdered more hookers: Bill Maher or Charlie Sheen? Come on, you can't tell me there's no smoke there. I just want a possible explanation...

I think it's a rare gift to know how not smart you are. I've met way more people who think they're smarter than they are than people who underestimate themselves. And a sure sign of thinking you're hot stuff is to argue these stupid devil's advocate ideas.

My husband has had the delightful fortune of running into several people like this lately. These people don't know anything about economics or business, yet they claim that the Chinese are gonna screw us on treasury bonds. It could happen, I'm just sayin'. Do you know how these bonds work? Well, not exactly. These people don't know a Sunni from shinola, but they claim to know all sorts of stuff about Iraq's civil war. They don't know thing one about how corporations operate, but they sure do seem to know a lot about how well Halliburton is doing. I'm just sayin', as I shrug my shoulders and grimace, it's probably a war for oil. Your evidence? Oh, you have none. And you don't care enough to go find any either.

My husband and I decided it would be more pleasant to discuss these issues with Markos Moulitsas than with any one of these devil's advocate people. At least you know where you stand with Kos and you know he will bring his A game. But how do you carry on an intelligent discussion with someone who thinks Manufacturing Consent might be how the world works but doesn't know anything about business, the media, or even Noam Chomsky himself? Noam who? And what's a blog? Yeah, you're a prime candidate in a debate on the media's stranglehold.

Devil's advocate arguments are the refuge of the intellectually weak. If your whole side of the debate consists of question marks and I'm-just-sayin's, then you need to work a little harder. And you need to stop holding strong opinions about things you don't understand.

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June 17, 2007

LOVE AT FIRST LINK

Matt Sanchez asked the other day about the Deskmerc quote I keep up over on the sidebar: "While our troops go out to defend our country, it is incumbent upon us to make the country worth defending." I know that Deskmerc wrote it in my comments section a long time ago, but I can't find it and think it might have been back on blogspot, and all of those comments are long gone. But it so impacted me at the time that it became sidebar-worthy.

A google search comes up with quite a few hits for the quote, which means Deskmerc has made a name for himself!

I emailed him to joke that he was getting quite famous, and he emailed me back the following explanation behind the quote:

A physicist (Robert Parks, I believe, I may have him confused with someone else) was asked before a congressional committe in the 80's about the Superconducting Supercollider. Reagan had authorized federal funds be spent on the project ("Go deep", he said, and everyone assumed that meant "Build it.") The committee was asking the physicists all sorts of questions, such as "Will this cure cancer? Can this be used to defend the country? Are there any practical applications for this multibillion dollar device you want the taxpayers to fund?"

The physicist (I'm paraphrasing here) replied with "No, it will not cure cancer, and there are likely very few practical applications to the SSC. And it will not help defend the country. What it will do, is provide a tool to increase our knowledge of the universe around us, and in doing so, make our country worth defending."

So that kinda stuck on me for a long time, sitting in the background of my head waiting for some more context to pounce, I suppose. And along came a war in 2003 and many folks of many political stripes engaged in the "chickenhawk" accusation. If you aren't military, then you should have no opinion on the war, that sort of thing, and if you support the war, then you should go fight it!

But that's asinine, of course, and we all know that. Many people have no reason to join the military and fight, they can't or they just aren't up to it, and not everyone is. But there are different kinds of support that anyone can engage in, and probably the most important one is simply to be a good citizen, work hard at your job, whatever it may be, produce good products, turn out well rounded students, keep the gas flowing at market prices, mow lawns, sweep streets, babysit technical illiterates on the phone because they have purchase technology four times smarter than they are, was cars, fix cars, answer phones, WHATEVER, just do a good job. Do they BEST job you can, no matter how small, because in the end, it does matter to the guys on the pointy end of the stick.

I found, that after coming home in 92, that I could have cared less in many respects who won the recent election (Clinton? Who is he?) What mattered to me is that I came home safe, we did our job, my family was there when I stepped off the plane, and cheeseburgers hadn't been legislated out of existence. What sort of country will this current crop of military men come home to? Will it be a country where nobody did anything because we're too busy yelling at each other to accomplish anything, or will they come home at least to a place where everyone did their jobs?

There are guys out there who are getting blown up, stabbed, shot at, run over, dragged around. They put up with it because that's the job (anyone who joins the military not realizing this is an idiot) and the job is very satisfying, in the end, especially when we kick ass and win all the time. But what's more satisfying is that part when you come home and everything is still there (except when they build a new mall or something, and you wonder how the hell kids can grow up so fast these days) The only way that can happen, that coming home satisfaction, is if everyone does their part back home. Without that, what's the point in fighting in the first place?

So, while these guys go out and get shot at to make sure I can still have a job myself (I doubt certain Islamist factions would allow monster datacenters to be operated with impunity, especially if it has lots of porn, if they had their way) then I can damn well do my job the best I can. Like it or not, agree or disagree with the fundamental reasons for going to war or even fighting in general, these guys lay it on the line every day. Its not a rationalization, its an objective fact: without a military, none of us would be here. Its an uncomfortable fact for some who advocate for Departments of Peace, but that is the way of things. The least any of us can do to thank these people is to make the best of the jobs we can do, not litter, and keep the cheeseburgers coming.

We can all disagree on fundamental points of policy. We can even advocate withdrawing if that is the wish of the plurality. It is, however, a disgrace be a slacker, because for the professions that cocoon slackers from the rest of the world, slack is not an option.

It's rare when you can remember the exact first blog post you ever read from a blogger, but I know exactly how I found Deskmerc (it was his sadly defunct Cthulhu joke), and I've adored him ever since. His quote and the tank he made me are just two of the ways he's so awesome.

Spread his quote. And make our country worth defending.

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June 12, 2007

BASIC ECONOMICS

The best thing The Onion ever wrote was the Point/Counterpoint on Africa.
Point (college student): Nigeria is a land filled with culture.
Counterpoint (Nigerian): Get me out of this hellhole.
That sums up Africa and the West's relationship to Africa better than anything else I've ever seen. Except for maybe this new interview with a Kenyan economics expert:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa...

Shikwati: ... for God's sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid.

Read the whole thing to get a real economics lesson instead of the feel-good economics that Westerners think runs the world. And if you have more time, read the book Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux.

UPDATE:

Marc's right; the article is from 2005. Hardly new, though I just found it today. Oh well, the message still applies cuz we sure didn't take it to heart over the past two years.

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TRUE ROMANCE

This story (via Matt Sanchez) tickled me. Apparently a retired policeman and a retired Marine subdued a crazy man on a plane. I love that the old guys stepped to the plate. But I really, really loved what the policeman's wife said:

Hayden's wife of 42 years, Katie, who was also on the flight, was less impressed. Even as her husband struggled with the agitated passenger, she barely looked up from "The Richest Man in Babylon," the book she was reading.

"The woman sitting in front of us was very upset and asked me how I could just sit there reading," Katie Hayden said. "Bob's been shot at. He's been stabbed. He's taken knives away. He knows how to handle those situations. I figured he would go up there and step on somebody's neck, and that would be the end of it. I knew how that situation would end. I didn't know how the book would end."

I love that. "I knew how that situation would end." What utter confidence in her husband. I think that is so cool.

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June 11, 2007

DELUDED

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy sh*t we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.
     --Fight Club

Apparently a poll of 13-18 year olds found that 73% of them are Fight Club kids.

In fact, the teenage boys expected to make an average $174,000 annually. Teenage girls expected to earn $114,200.

The reality check:

Median earnings of men who worked full time, year round in 2005, the latest year for which Census Bureau statistics are available, was $41,386.
Women working full time made a median $31,858.
Fewer than 5% of the U.S. population makes more than $100,000, according to the bureau. Only one household out of six report a six-figure income, according to the Federal Reserve's 2004 Survey of Consumer Finances.

We live in a world of fine lines. I think about these fine lines all the time when I think about my imaginary children. We've taught every child in our country that anyone can grow up to be President of the United States, but I think we've forgotten to tell them that only one person actually gets to do it at a time.

Getting rich takes effort. It either takes a boatload of sacrifice and savings, or it takes extreme ambition and hard work. It's something you have to earn. That's why lottery winners usually end up right back where they started. It's why people like M.C. Hammer end up broke. If you don't get rich the old-fashioned way, you're less likely to understand what it means.

I plan to teach my imaginary kid to be old-fashioned.
And, as much as I enjoyed the movie, my kids won't be Fight Club kids.

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June 08, 2007

OPENING MY MIND...OR TRYING TO

I started reading The Closing of the American Mind with rapt attention. I was gasping out loud through the first segment. The second segment got me bogged down a little bit in Socrates and Nietzsche, but I suppose I merely proved the author's point, that college students are no longer given a basic understanding of philosophy and thought. Touché, Bloom, I had a hard time with that segment. I'm wrapping up the third segment now, and I noticed the parallels between what I am reading in the book and this article, Idiot Compassion:

The world, viewed through the liberal's gray colored, politically-correct glasses, makes no discerning judgments, or at least incorrect ones. Hence, we get addle-brained protesters picketing to save the lives of serial killers on death row or human shields willing to give up their lives to protect suicide bomber cults and Islamic terrorists. Since all killing is bad, it must be bad to kill Islamic terrorists or convicted murderers. This idiot view, foregoes the greater good and lapses into solipsism.

I also found an interesting tidbit that would've come in handy when an old friend told me my anger made me no better than Mohammad Atta and that I should read some Gandhi:

The biographies of the Buddha reveal that in one of his early incarnations, he met a murderer of 1000's of men. Acting correctly and with compassion for all sentient beings, the Buddha's incarnation killed the murderer to prevent additional suffering. That is true compassion!

Last week when I was reminiscing, I also found an old email from Bunker in which he was flipping through Plato's Republic and thought I might want to give it a try. That dovetails nicely with The Closing of the American Mind, and so I might have to sit down with a little Plato and see if I can make myself smarter.

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