Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Stupendous Double Bluff

I saw The Prestige yesterday, which was a very interesting movie.

First the flaws. The character development could have stood with a bit more attention, I thought. It's hard to put your finger on exactly what's missing, but something is. Also, the whole thing comes off a bit too "cinematic," which, to be fair, I guess some might argue is part of the point. Since the main characters are magicians, then an element of mesmerism is appropriate - but occasionally it seemed a lot like show over substance. Finally, the professional rivalry theme that makes up the story could have been handled with a bit more depth. Comparisons to Amadeus will be inevitable on this point - and more's the pity because in theory the rivalry theme in The Prestige is more interesting (because the rivals are worthy of each other - it's not completely clear who's the talent and who the mediocrity). And one minor bone to pick: pretty though she can be, I'm not a big fan of Scarlett Johannson.

But all these are minor gripes. The package as a whole is stunning - in particular David Bowie (yeah, I know, I never thought I'd be giving him props for acting, but hey!) as Nikola Tesla and Christian Bale as ... well, watch and see. Christian Bale is simply brilliant - in everything he does.

[Spoilers Begin Here]

I think the main reason I enjoyed this one, though, is because the trick at the end actually threw me for a loop, and that's getting depressingly rare. I saw the tricks in The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense coming a mile away, which ruined both of those for me. It's nice to see a film that actually throws a real curve. Although, to tell the truth, I wonder how many people really thought of it as a curve?

It occurred to me when I was thinking about this that I'm a sucker for double bluffs. I can remember, for example, reading Hickory, Dickory, Death one summer in high school and being completely stumped because - embarassingly - Nigel was the only suspect that made sense, but it couldn't be Nigel, it simply couldn't, because it was too obvious! Heh. Fooled me good - because of course Nigel was the right answer (Nigel had been deliberately making himself seem like the killer as a conscious strategy), and I thought it was a neat trick that the only reason I couldn't see it was because of an overreliance on meta-dramatic clues. Hazards of an undergraduate degree in literature, I suppose. Almost everyone else I know who's read that book tells me it was obvious to them early on...

Well, something similar happens with The Prestige. I think the revelation that Alfred Borden is a twin can be fairly termed a double bluff here - because Cutter says over and over that he knows Borden does the "Transported Man" trick by using a double. There is, of course, no shortage of other, more conventional clues - but the misdirection is all the more bold for those scenes where Cutter assures Angier that the trick is a double and that he's simply too obsessed to see it. That, of course, turns out to be more or less what's going on.

Anyway, I think I'm a sucker for this particular trick.

[Spoilers End Here]

I notice from the Wikipedia article (linked above) that Christopher Priest, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, is one of Granta's "Best of Young British Novelists" selections. Not only that, but he's a science fiction writer too - a near-perfect combination (I've enjoyed every story I've ever read in one of Granta's "Best of Young British Novelists" collections). I'm not sure I'm in the mood to read The Prestige so soon after seeing the film, but I'll definitely be reading one of his other works over the summer! (Depressingly, he isn't well-represented either in IU's main library or in the Monroe County Library. But there's always Amazon!) I like stories with unreliable narrators, and this is apparently one of Priest's hallmarks.

Radio Free Chavez

Alright, so I guess it's not really news that Chavez is an autocratic thug, and this story about his refusal to renew the license of a private television station has been floating in the headlines for months now. The station in question was a haven for vocal criticism of his government, openly supported the 2002 coup against him and then refused to cover his return to power after it failed. Many would say - and indeed the media slant here seems to be - that they had it coming. Case in point:

"The order was 'zero Chavismo on the screen.' Nothing related to Chavez, his allies, his congressmen, members of his party," Izarra told The Associated Press in an interview. "When I hear the owners of RCTV talk about freedom of expression, it seems to me a great hypocrisy."

Again, the deliberate misunderstanding of what "freedom of expression" means. "Freedom of expression" doesn't mean "all citizens must represent every viewpoint equally and fairly!" No, in fact it means that citizens are free to express their opinions (provided they have the means to do so) without interference from the government. In other words, Chavez is clearly abusing his power to violate this right in closing RCTV.

But here's what really gets me about this whole thing:

Late Friday Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled that RCTV must temporarily leave its equipment and broadcast infrastructure in military hands when it goes off the air to guarantee that TVes would provide quality service.

Um - why exactly? For anyone who might have been tempted to take Chavez' side on this, this should be the nail in the coffin - and that is because this is what proves that it is a thuggish political move and not just a licensing issue. If Chavez has the political authority to refuse to renew a broadcasting license, then that is unfortunate, but apparently it is within the rule of law. What doesn't make any sense to me whatever is that refusal to renew a broacasting license should also entitle him to plunder the station's private property. This is the clearest sign to me that Venezuela is rapidly turning into yet another banana republic socialist dictatorship. Not only is RCTV prohibited from broadcasting because they took the wrong side in the coup (which, to be fair, can be construed as treason - they were actively calling for the overthrow of the "legal" government, after all - never mind that the government might not have been completely legal...), but they're now compelled to provide a platform for their political opponents with their own property and money? That's how you know Venezuela is becoming a slave state. "Property" is granted by the government, not the right of the owner. Now we will have four "Cubas" in Latin America (Bolivia, Venezuela, the Big Mac himself, and I guess Nicaragua is just a matter of time). Best to get that free-trade agreement up and running as fast as possible.

TOWM Quote of the Day

TOWM quote of the day comes from this excellent column by George Will:

It would be wonderful if every time someone like Paucar comes to America, a native-born American rent-seeker who has been corrupted by today's entitlement mentality would leave.

"Paucar" is an industrious immigrant who moved to Minneapolis hoping to set up a fleet of 15 taxis. Unfortunately, he found a government-enforced cap on the number of cabs allowed in the city. He fought this and won, but in a truly perverse move the cab-owners are trying to claim that their constitutional rights (erm "rights") have been violated - in effect, that Paucar is stealing their property (erm, "property") by forcing them to charge market prices rather than government-inflated prices. Of course, my all-time favorite NGO IJ was in charge of his case. In another life, I would have gotten a law degree and devoted 5 years of my time to volunteering for them.

In any case, Will's line gets right to the heart of what's screwed up about the immigration debate. I agree that immigration laws should be enforced, and I agree that the US has the right to control who enters the nation. Non-citizens do not have a right to come when they please and set up shop. However, all other things being equal (meaning if they are not sercurity risks) we should let in as many immigrants as we can - simply because there is nothing about being born here that gives you a right to be shielded from foreign competition either. I'm all for border control over security concerns; not so much a fan when it comes to economic "concerns."

Friday, May 25, 2007

Looking in on a Sick Patient

So I got talked into watching the season finale of LOST on Wednesday. Well, alright, truth be told there was a lack of armtwisting that can be fairly described as "near-total." I admit I was curious to see what's going on with the show I love to hate (see also here for an earlier, and more favorable, opinion).

And so what's going on? All the same bullshit, of course. That show never changes.

I plunge down into the middle of the "story" an entire season after I last saw the show, and of course don't feel in the least bit lost, or behind, or like I've been missing out on anything. Same island, same completley unchanged cardboard people, same "plot" that involves nothing but insoluble puzzles. OK, fine, so there are some new Dharma sets, and the characters are off doing things the immediately antecedent of and motive for which I don't necessarily know. But there was a surprising lack of disorientation jumping back in, and that's always a bad sign.

I stand by my earlier claims that what's wrong with this generally amazingly well-executed show is (a) that the characters never grow and change (or, when they do, it's hugely implausible, like Jin going from domineering racist chauvinist to super-helpful team player overnight at the end of season one), (b) that it lacks thematic interest of any kind and, most importantly, (c) that the writers clearly have no clue where things are going.

I guess problem (c) has been remedied a bit. The people responsible for the show were so heavily criticized in the press for this (you know, after Anu Lucia shows up and vanishes, after Mr. Eko shows up and vanishes, after Walt is one of the central focuses of season one and then exits stage left at the beginning of season two, after Shannon and Boone turn out to be completely inconsequential once they decided it would be better for Charlie to chase Claire, and so on and so on and so on) that they seem to want to make good. Now they assure us they have the rest of it planned out. We'll see.

If they've planned it, they're headed in a pretty dopey direction. I admit, the whole "flashback-that's-really-a-flashfoward-and-might-not-even-be-real" trump card threw me for a loop, and that was very cool. But again, it's just so many fireworks. There is nothing character- or theme-driven about this - it's just another clever trick. And, in retrospect, it's a pretty obvious trick to play. You know - imagine yourself a show doctor: you've been called in as a consultant to save an average soap opera. What you need is a way to really hit the audience with a curve - because they're already pretty jaded with cheap plot twists and are ready for some real answers (at least, that's what they say). So you look at the devices and, after all of maybe 20 seconds of "thinking outside the box," you say "Hey, guys, woah - what if we like - you know, instead of having flashBACKS we made them flashFOWARDS. And all the potheads in your office go "WOAH...far out!"

But OK, enough drubbing on LOST. It's fun to watch, and I was also reminded of THAT watching it Wednesday. True, I felt like I had wasted my time about 10min. afer the TV was off, but I had a good time doing it, and that's what counts.

I'm writing this mostly because I want to repeat something that I've said earlier about this - because it bears repeating. The CARDINAL sin of a show like LOST where episodes build (or, in this case, "build") on each other is not to know where you're going before you start. This is LOST's biggest problem, and I sincerely hope that television producers will sit up and take notice and STOP DOING THIS. LOST isn't even the worst culprit here. Battlestar Galactica went from being, in my not-so-humble opinion, the best show in TV history to one of the worst in a matter of about three episodes precisely because of this. They dicked around with us for awhile, keeping most story events on the same page while showing some truly stunningly subtle character development - but eventually the clock ran out and it was time for them to start telling a real story...only they realized they hadn't bothered to think of one to tell. On the other side of the coin - Babylon 5 featured a cast of mostly uninteresting characters spouting stock space-opera dialogue, but managed to be REALLY GOOD mostly because the plot was complex and planned out in intricate detail for all 5 seasons before the first episode even aired (ok, granted, the quality of the acting helped a lot too - those actors turned two-dimensional cutout charcters into real people in spite of everything). So in this vein, I thought it was worth talking about the only two exceptions to the "don't plan and be damned" rule that I can think of:

  1. Twin Peaks - It became quite clear about 3 episodes into the second season (and, in retrospect, should have been clear by the end of the second) that this train was off the tracks. The writers didn't know who killed Laura Palmer and originally had no plans to tell us, and their feeble attempts at distracting weren't working out. But this show worked beautifully all the same - DESPITE (a) network meddling, (b) lack of attention from the creator (fed up with aforementioned meddling) and most of all (c) headstrong actors who insisted on changing their characters (Donna and Cooper are the biggest culprits here). And why? Because the attention to minor details was so thorough. The truth is that even if Lynch and Frost hadn't planned the actual plot of the story through to conclusion, they had thought of the entire history of the town dating back about 100 years. The characters were so fresh in their minds, down to minor details that we never saw onscreen, that the story just worked in spite of itself. The lesson here is this: if you're not going to take the time to flesh out the plot beforehand, AT LEAST flesh out your fictional universe!

  2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer - As everyone will agree, this show worked because the characters were so well-done. And the characters were well-done mainly because the writers were so damn good! I don't think we'll be seeing many shows on TV as good as Buffy - but when these gems come along it's worth noting what makes them great. And in this case, I think there's a workable formula that lazier shows (like LOST) can adopt. Buffy wasn't planned in great detail like Babylon 5 - but it was at least planned in broad strokes. The writers might not have known exactly where they were going or exactly how things would end up, but the way I understand it there was a general plan that formed a broad outline for the seasons they filmed. The lack of specificity gave them elbow-room, which I believe paid off HUGELY in the character development department (the actors were unconstrained and able to play believable characters, and the writers were free to shift gears as things developed, which is always very important). But the general outline of a plan kept things disciplined and on track. And the end-product was truly outstanding!

LOST doesn't suffer as much as it probably should from lack of planning - and that's because there are no real characters on the whole show. They were all walking stereotypes when the show started, and not a single one of them has grown or developed in any way that I can tell over the course of three seasons. I think plot inconsistencies show up most glaringly when characters begin to do things that are, for them, unnatural. And this is why I think LOST is still fun to watch in spite of everything, whereas Battlestar just got miserable when things went off the rails. When you have characters that you really care about and that have real identites, face real issues, and actually grow and change, like you did in Battlestar, it requires a lot more sensitivity - sensitivity it turns out most of the writers of that show just didn't really have. But with a show like LOST, which doesn't feature any actual humans, you can do whatever you want with the plot - the plastic pieces will stand anywhere you put them.

Alright, I said some time ago I wasn't going to write any more about LOST - and now I've broken my promise. It's still fun, and still frustrating in its mediocrity (because there's potential in the concept for SO MUCH MORE!!!), and still, ultimately, pointless. It was nice to have another look, but I'm as sure as ever that it's nothing for me.

Truly Odious

This truly odious column by Kevin McCullough is the best example of the dark side of conservate commentary I've seen in a long time. It's a diatribe against the porn industry - calling for (you guessed it!) as much government intervention here as possible. Leaving aside how members of the party of "small government" shouldn't really be advocating sheafs of new regulation, here are his sins:

Links an article that baldly counters the claim he was attempting to make with it

It comes at the top of page 2.

The sad thing is Jameson is right. Under Bill Clinton there was not a single federal prosecution of porn related crimes - including those involving children - for the totality of his eight years of being on top.

Um, actually no. If you bother to click the link and read the article he's referencing, you'll eventually get to this line:

But the federal anti-porn crusade proved short-lived. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he and his attorney general, Janet Reno, had little interest in devoting attention and resources to new obscenity prosecutions (which declined dramatically during the first few years of the Clinton administration).

"Declined dramatically" is hardly the same thing as "ceased altogether." For hard numbers, you can also see this article, which references a Syracuse University report:

A Syracuse University report (TRAC, 1997) shows that obscenity prosecutions have decreased 86% since Clinton and Gore were elected.

Again - a decline of 86% is hardly the same as a complete cessation. McCullough's claim that there was "not a single federal prosecution of porn-related crimes" is simply false, and it's all the more galling for the fact that he links, as evidence in favor of his claim, an article that does not support it..

Confuses private morality with justification for public policy

I myself think religion is irrational and best forgotten. But as a citizen of a free country, I am perfectly happy to tolerate religion. I will do nothing to obstruct people's ability to practice their religions in the manner they see fit so long as their doing so doesn't violate my rights. (Note to PC crowd: the word "tolerance" is not the same as "approval;" I reserve and frequently practice the right to ridicule all religions and their adherents.) Would that the religious right would extend me the same courtesy. But they do not - and here is some hard evidence:

But liberal politicians are the worst! They walk into "churches" with big Bibles under their arms, and the next day they take campaign contributions from companies that publish the unseemly graphic nature of the exploitation of women that leaves no other impression but that women can (and should) be degraded.

Yeah, way to go there, Sport! What can reading the Bible in church POSSIBLY have to do with public policy on pornography??? Now, granted, a Christian of conviction will not look at porn. But that is surely a private choice that has nothing whatever to do with policy on pornography! And what was the "policy" on pornography the passing of which when Clinton took office that McCullogh laments? Again, from the article he linked:

The most effective technique used by Trueman and his prosecutors -- and encouraged by Meese -- was "multiple-district prosecution." The NOEU would coordinate with local prosecutors to charge a single mail-order company in as many as four jurisdictions simultaneously, making a court fight prohibitively expensive. Rather than match resources with the federal government, many defendants chose to settle. Under a law passed in 1988, prosecutors could dictate a dollar amount, known as a "liquidated forfeiture" -- in essence, a fine. Under the new law, WOODWORM alone took in $23 million, bankrupting several adult firms.

Notice that the 86% decrease in federal porn-crimes prosecutions pretty much falls out of abolishing this clear abuse of federal power. Yes, the federal courts found against the government on this in 1993 (how could they not? It's clearly a violation of due process!). So a roughly 75% decrease in prosecutions was inevitable in any case: when you used to be allowed to charge the same firm in four districts for the same (victimless) "crime" and are now allowed to do it in only one... The additional 10% or so decrease is simply a (quite correct) shifting of federal priorities. From the same Frontline article:

Simultaneously, [Reagan-era Attorney General Edwin ]Meese mandated that one prosecutor in every U.S. Attorney's office in the country be assigned to obscenity cases. He had to. At the time, career federal prosecutors regarded porn as a local matter; many of them were unhappy with the idea of porn prosecutions taking resources away from drug-trafficking or organized-crime cases.

Ya think? So, in addition to clearly abusing their power to try to bankrupt the porn industry with legal fees, the feds were also diverting resources from the prosecution of actual crimes to please their base. So what McCullough really means when he says that "not a single federal prosecution of porn related crimes" occurred during the Clinton years is that federal prosecutions of porn-related crimes ceased being a witch-hunt and fell to the levels that would have been expected at the times the relevant laws were enacted.

There is absolutely nothing whatever in the Bible that tells Christians to get elected to office and divert federal resources to punishing porn-related crimes over and above things like kidnapping, terrorism, murder, etc. Nor is there even anything in the Bible that requires Christians to pass anti-obscenity laws in the first place. In fact, Christianity is in theory a completely non-coercive religion. Last time I checked, good Christians are supposed to persuade people not to look at porn - not call in the cavalry with all its guns and arrest and imprison and/or bankrupt people (in clear violation of the Constitution, no less!) who don't share their convictions!!! It isn't any less violent or barbaric if you have the police do your beating for you, people!

Relies on specious arguments with no supporting evidence

When a rapist has been fueling his mind with the details of how to gratify himself while objectifying a woman, and then he acts on such an urge and causes actual mental, emotional, and physical trauma to an innocent woman - the liberals look the other way. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and any other candidate from any political party that would take money from this industry are complicit in these crimes.

Oh, grow up! The porn industry is no more responsible for rape than the gun industry is for murder. Videos don't rape people, people rape people. And people rape people regardless of whether they have access to videos. Despite the Clinton years and the "fact" that "not a single federal prosecution of porn-related crimes occurred during them" (READ: in fact, prosecutions continued but without the zealotry of Bush the First), and despite the advent of the VCR, the DVD player, and the Internet and comensurate easy access to porn, it is a fact that rapes have declined by more than 85% in the US since the 1970s. This, by the way, is in comparison to a 59% drop in the overall violent crime rate - so rape has been declining significantly faster than violent crimes in general.

Is it too much of a stretch to think that McCullough might have this exactly backward? That is, maybe easy access to porn calms would-be rapists down rather than eggs them on. In any case, it certainly isn't true that liberals "look the other way" when rapes happen. If I'm not mistaken, virtually ALL of the hysterical wing of Third Wave Feminism identifies itself as "liberal," and these people are certainly nothing if not "concerned" about rape (which is to say, they use it as a political weapon, much the way McCullough is "doing" - though ineptly - here).


People like McCullough are hardly human. They publish columns making claims that are demonstrably false in part through their own links, their other claims are specious at best, and they then expect the government to beat everyone into practicing the lifestyle they mandate, even if the tactics involved are clearly unconstitutional (and therefore ILLEGAL). Clearly, this is not the profile of a civilized creature. If someone runs across McCullough in a dark alley and beats him to a bloody pulp, they will have done to him no more nor less than he advocates doing to others.

Memorial Day

My brother-in-law got the following letter published in the Asheville Citizen-Times. As those of you in the know are aware, Asheville is chock-full of the Blame America First crowd, so it's an especially worthy Memorial Day entry.

Mr. Jon Ostendorff,

I am an Iraqi Freedom campaign veteran. I live in the Big Sandymush community near Leicester, NC. While a Non Commisioned Officer with the 82nd Airborne Division (3rd BCT) I was wounded several times in Iraq. As a combat wounded veteran I can say that Memorial Day means far more to me than grilling hamburgers and taking a day off from work. For my family, Memorial Day is a time to remember friends who will not come back home. For my family, it is a time to study the history of this nation and thank all who have fought and died creating this democracy. Memorial day is not a day for politics, protests, or even sadness. It is a day to honour[sic] the fallen warriors of our nation.

I admit, I haven't really done much on Memorial Day in the past. But I consider myself a patriot, and John makes a good point. Whatever you may think of the particular War in Iraq, there's no denying that freedom and stability can only be paid for in blood - and whether or not you consider this war a worthy cause, surely you must recognize not only that others in the past were absolutely essential, but also that maintaining a strong and effective military now is the best way to ensure that we can continue to live in the kind of country we choose. Happy Memorial Day, John!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

TOWM Quote of the Day

Government is the only agency that can take a useful commodity like paper, slap some ink on it, and make it totally worthless.

-Ludwig von Mises - quoted in Dr. Ron Paul's 1981 monograph Gold, Peace and Prosperity. (linked from the Mises Blog).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Highest Form of Flattery

Here's a nice bit of confirmation that Ron Paul is making appropriate waves in the Republican Primary. The head of the Michigan GOP is moving to not invite him to the next debate. Considering that Ron Paul came in first in the early text-messaging polls - ahead (but only barely) of Mitt Romney and (much more convincingly) Rudi Giuliani, this amounts to banning him. And indeed, the chair is making no secret of that:

"I think he would have felt much more comfortable on the stage with the Democrats in what he said last night. And I think that he is a distraction in the Republican primary and he does not represent the base and he does not represent the party," Anuzis said during an RNC state leadership meeting.

Well, well. If that's the kind of reaction Paul's comments provoke, and if it shoots him to the top of the viewer's polls (on Fox, no less) besides, I'd say he's doing the country a great service - by reminding the GOP leadership that their base is a lot more libertarian-minded than its managers. The neocons are NOT the party (thank God!).

One commenter on Samizdata some time ago suggested that 2008 would be the year of another Reagan Revolution. I agree - simply because (a) I have a hunch that the Republicans will win but at the same time (b) none of the odds-on favorites are worth a damn, and everyone knows it. The Democrats are all complete jokes - I just can't see the American People voting in an Obama or a(nother) Clinton. So a dark horse Republican candidate seems likely - and I expect one of fairly Libertarian stripe. 2008 could be a great year for the country after all.

The one problem with Ron Paul is that he just doesn't seem presidential to me. He doesn't have Reagan's easy confidence; he's too whiny and defensive. But his ideas are spot-on, and he's definitely got my vote if he gets the nomination. For now, though, it's fun to watch him shaking up the neocon monopoly a bit. That's a thing that sorely needed doing, so hats off to Paul for grabbing the bull by the horns (and especially for showing that fascist Giuliani the door...).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Which is Which?

To boost readership, TOWM is launching a photo contest. One of the two men pictured below is a famous Psychology professor at Indiana University. The other one is a WANNABE famous Psychology professor who's currently just a two-bit gradstudent living in a tiny house with a barefoot wife and too many kids. Both are Jewish, however.

Which is which?

OK, so it's kinda obvious - but you gotta admit...

Monday, May 07, 2007

A Question of Rights

TOWM quote of the day comes from a commenter on this thread on Samizdata:

Well one thing is for sure, a lot more cars will be sold in France in the coming months if last night was anything to go by. It will be interesting to see if he can do anything to change France at all.

He's referring to this news item. It turns out there was some limited rioting after Sarkozy's election was announced in France - but not so much. About 360 cars burned - nothing on the scale predicted by the leftist media there.

I don't know why I liked this commenter's line so well. It just seems the perfect amount of cynicism about the Socialist mindset without quite giving up hope that Sarkozy will actually change things.

The point is well-taken, though I personally didn't need it pointed out to me. Time and again we see that there is Civilization, there is Barbarism, and then there is this weird in-between sort of thing called Socialism. In Civilization, there are protected invidual rights. People know their boundaries, they stay inside them, and they expect others to respect those boundaries as well. In Barbarism, people just do what they want, without respect for other people or their rights. And in Socialism - well, there is a lot of talk of rights, and people behave as though they were entitled to things by right - but crucially the things to which they fancy themselves entitled aren't really theirs.

Consider what they're burning cars about in France. Essentially - it's because the new president has, among other things, proposed such "radical" reforms as dropping the tax on overtime, thereby making it possible for employers to keep people on the clock longer than the mandated week if that is what the company needs and the worker wants. The mob thinks it has a "right" to taxes on overtime - but of course in reality no such "right" is possible. What they really mean is that they don't want to work overtime but are unwilling to take responsibility for their choice, and so they want the government to continue to keep the option off the table so they don't have to think about it. Another one of Sarkozy's proposed "radical" reforms is removing some of the protections the trade unions enjoy. The trade unions have somehow got it into their head that they have a "right" to strike and to have their strikes be consequential. But in reality, of course, so such "right" is possible. Certainly there is a right among workers to come to a collective agreement to walk off the job simultaneously if they don't like their terms of employment. But there is no "right" to be shielded from the consequences of such a decision. Just like any other business decision, the decision to strike is (or, rather, should be) a gamble. It pays off if the company can't live without you and has to give in to your demands. But if the company can live without you then clearly you are not worth what you were asking, and your right to walk off the job does not in any way diminsish the company's equal right to bid you "adios" and hire someone more reliable to take your place.

The point is that Socialists have some rudimentary understanding of how rights operate (they understand enough to know that they are absolute and that when they are not respected the only option left is to fight), but they do not know how to tell rights from privileges. I've always thought it similar to the difference between morals and manners. That is, politeness operates like a system of morals (in that there is an enumerated code of proper behavior which each side believes it is due and owes the other), but without any real substance behind the reasoning. It's about protecting people's feelings rather than anything essential about what they are as human beings. The rule of manners is "be nice," but of course there is no right to demand niceness from people. Just as the rule of Socialism is "help each other," but there is no right to demand help from other people.

And so Socialism floats somewhere between Civilization and Barbarism. It acts civilized, but it is not at its core.

That is the trouble with fighting it, actually. It's adherents really believe that they are owed civilized treatment from the rest of us, even though what they are in actuality is highway robbers with a very specific method. They do their robbing through the legislature rather than on the road - but the same guns and threat of violence (from the police, in this case) are involved. And yet to them, the government's stamp makes it somehow moral to tell companies whom they can and cannot employ and at what rate and for how long just to keep the majority comfortable. And that makes them intractable.

So I understand where this commenter is coming from. Good luck, Sarkozy, but with that kind of entrenched entitlement mindset - the kind that burns cars just because someone who might take away their privileges-mistaken-for-rights was legally elected (by "the People," no less!) president - it's hard to see how real change will come any time soon. The People must first evolve...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

What a Relief

Well, it looks like the good guys won in France. There has been a lot of talk of rioting (in the Muslim suburbs) if this happened, but I somehow think things will stay calm. Congratulations Mr. Sarkozy. I still hate your country, but if you can manage to improve it in any way, more power to you.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Straight Shooter

TOWM quote of the day comes from Jackie Mason:

My position is that anybody who is in favor of gun control is a fucking moron.

Hear, hear!

Watch the full video here.