Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto Gets Screwed

It sucks to be Pluto. The International Astronomers Union (or some such high fallutin sounding organization) has officially declared Pluto is no longer to be considered a planet. Damn Unions! According to the article I read, by the definition they agreed upon, Pluto failed to qualify because it did not "clear the neighborhood of its orbit", if I am remembering correctly. It seems it fails to do that because Neptune creeps into that neighborhood in the course of its orbit. Left unexplained in the article (and perhaps by the Union) is why it is Pluto that doesn't clear its neighborhood rather than Neptune, or both for that matter. It strikes me of evidence of the hubris and fascistic tendencies inherent to Earthlings, who seek to de-planetize Plutonians as justification for our maltreatment down the line of any life forms that should emerge there. And everyone knows we are in the pockets of the large and influential Neptune lobby (or cabal, depending on your perspective), which explains why they skate through unharmed.


The Hatcher was in attendance at RFK for Ryan Howard's 48th home run, tying Mike Schmidt for the Phillies single-season record. Notice I didn't say that I saw it. I took the three older boys, and learned a hard lesson - buying two rounds of beers for six-year olds prior to the third inning leads to a bathroom trip every five minutes. (Actually I bought them waters - it was very hot and humid.) They can usually last about six innings before they get really bored, so after five innings I take them for a bathroom break, and we re-position to a section closer to our exit. I am watching the top half of the sixth, not five minutes after they just went, and Joey is practically jumping out of his shoes saying he has to go again. The Phils have already scored one run in the inning, and they have 2 on base with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard due to bat with only one out. Utley battles the pitcher, fouling off at least three pitches while running the count up, until he finally flies out. He's killing me - just make the out right away and let Howard bat before my son is standing above his own puddle. Joe is meanwhile alternately kicking the seat in front of him, grabbing and holding himself, jumping up and down, and giving me the long drawn out "Daaaaddyyyy, I really need to go." Hold it, Joe. Up comes Howard - a few pitches into the count and he starts fouling a few off. Great! OK, Joe, let's hit the restroom. Of course I have to lug all three at this point, and Jake is fast asleep, so I have him flung over my shoulder. I am walking backwards up the stadium stairs to catch at least one more pitch. It's a non-event, so I turn to catch up with Joe as he heads into the bathroom. One pitch later Howard sends a rocket into Center Field. I heard the crack of the bat, at least.


“Who wants to be called an isolationist or a nativist by the corporate Right, and a racist or a bigot by the multicultural left?”

You risk both, of course, if you think our immigration has gotten out of hand. It is an interesting political topic, not least because neither party can seem to totally embrace or decry the status quo. The quote above is from a great little book called “Mexifornia” by Victor David Hanson, a classics professor at Fresno State, and here is a quote that cuts right to it from the same book: “The Wall Street Journal and the Chicano studies department often agree on open borders, even as reactionary Pat Buchanan and ultraliberal Marin County yuppies conclude that enough is enough.”

If schendenfreude is what motivates your view on any given issue – there is a lot to like about the status quo no matter what your political stripes. Consider, for example, the elite Californians, so concerned about the environment, restricting their families to 1-2 children so as to limit the population bomb, trying their best to keep any new power plants from being built, hoping for “smart” or “green” growth, driving their hybrid vehicle, and doing their best to maintain their sense of racial sensitivity. In come the Mexicans, with their 5-7 kids, their 1979 Toyota trucks that trail a cloud of black smoke from a corroded muffler, the strain on the infrastructure of the state that calls out for more power plants, more roads, less greenery. What’s not to enjoy about that dilemma?

But from the other perspective, as Hanson points out, "although the free market Right gets an influx of cheap labor, in addition the “tax-conscious right also got thousands of unassimilated others who eventually plugged into the state’s nearly bankrupt entitlement industry and filled its newly built prisons. (Almost one-quarter of California’s inmates are from Mexico, and almost a third of recent drug trafficking arrests involved illegal aliens)."

Lot's of interesting stuff in this book. Hansen himself grew up near Fresno as the kid of a farmer in a community that has always had its share of Mexican immigrants, many of whom he retains as friends from childhood. Most of his friends have assimilated nicely, but he fears that the change in attitudes towards the education of immigrants spells doom for the ability of those coming in now to assimilate. They are encouraged to focus on the racism that holds them back in the US, even as they make multiples of their income from where they fled. At the same time, they are encouraged to take pride in the glories of Mexico, a country that it is far more restrictive to immigrants from its southern border than we are to ours. He also notes, interestingly enough, that it is almost exclusively Mexican Indians who come to the states, as opposed to those of European descent; so where's the racism?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Parcel Post for Militia -Who Will Sign for these Missiles?

Remember the partial hysteria in America over the militia “movement” in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing? I think it may have even nabbed a Newsweek or Time cover – fear the overzealous bigoted rural white guy! Of course there was no “movement” to speak of, but in any event I got to thinking back to those days in the midst of the Israel – Hezbollah war.

Hezbollah is a terrorist militia inside Lebanon. Now, one could understand that a large government might not be keeping track of a small bunch of spirited hunters buying combat fatigues and running around playing war games in Michigan, but how exactly does it go unnoticed by the government when a militia takes delivery of a couple thousand rockets?

The answer is that it doesn’t go unnoticed – it just goes unpunished because the government doesn’t have the ability to stop it. In fact, the recent cease-fire triumph of diplomacy, which calls for the Lebanese army/government to disarm Hezbollah, was dampened a bit by the candid admission of the government that it isn’t capable of disarming Hezbollah. Why this fact wasn’t obvious to everyone from the get go is beyond me – do you think the Lebanese government was saying to itself “of course we can disarm them, but they really aren’t a threat to anyone until they get at least 10 thousand missiles, so we’ll just sit back and keep an eye on them.”

Government has famously been defined as a monopoly on violence – that is, the state typically grants to itself the exclusive right to smack people around when they aren’t obeying the law. There are of course legitimate governments – where the leaders and the laws they enact are chosen, ultimately, with the participation of the governed (in varying degrees). And then there are illegitimate governments – where the leaders grab that coveted monopoly on violence because they are just flat out better at it than all would-be competitors. And then there are organizations like Hezbollah, which technically are not in charge of the government, but which might as be; John O’Sullivan from National Review online made this point earlier this week:

This structure — an electoral “party” allied to a terrorist militia — was pioneered in its modern form by Sinn Fein-IRA in Northern Ireland. It is now being imitated in places as far afield as the Basque country in Spain and in Lebanon. It means, of course, that democracy cannot really function. If such a hybrid party loses the election, its milita can bring out the guns. Everyone knows that and shrinks from opposing the terrorist party. So Hezbollah will not need to win elections, merely to frighten those parties that do win into going along with its, er, policy preferences. Making Sinn Fein-IRA a respectable partner in the “peace process” continues to provide terrorists everywhere with a roadmap around democracy and toward power.

Maintaining an illegitimate monopoly on violence is only possible if you are willing to spill a little blood in the cause. As one writer pointed out:

Hezbollah has a crucial advantage over any competitors for ultimate control of the south —… the sheer will that motivates it to fight and die for its cause. Are French and Italian troops willing to die for the enforcement of Resolution 1559, calling for the disarming of Hezbollah? To ask the question is to answer it.

Seems like that is a problem beyond Lebanon, arguably for most of the Middle East – countries not already being run by Islamofascists are beholden to them. The Iraq “insurgency” seems to be about that very same thing – the cost of letting a legitimate government get established in the Middle East is the threat that other constituencies in other countries might be so bold as to think, with a little help from the West, they too could taste a little freedom. So Iran and Syria funnel as many of their lunatics as possible into Iraq to make hey – even if it fails to stop Iraq from eventually achieving stability, it at least increases the cost of Western intervention, and therefore dampens the potential contagion effect, which is what they fear most.

We are seeing the Arab world embracing the dominoes theory in reverse – we contested communism incrementally in country after country for fear of it taking hold and spreading from there – the Middle East fascists are contesting democracy incrementally in Iraq for fear of it taking hold and spreading from there.
One could argue that the U.S. effort to transform the Middle East via Iraq is hopelessly Utopian, but that argument rests upon a comparative assessment of the strength and desire of the enemy versus our own, rather than as an a priori fact. If the idea was hopelessly Utopian independent of the actions of others in the region, why would they be so keen to screw things up in Iraq? Clearly they fear that if they don’t act, they do so at their own peril.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

White Man's Burden

I just finished that rare book, which has something in it to poke the pretensions of people of all political stripes. It’s called the White Man’s Burden, by William Easterly. He is an economics professor at NYU after a long career with the World Bank, and his book deals with the efforts of the West, through foreign financial aid, military aid, military intervention, imperial conquest and colonization, and decolonization, to aid the “Rest.” All these efforts have generally failed to raise third world countries out of poverty, and indeed have in many cases arguably contributed to their ongoing poverty. The book does not have flattering things to say about the prospects for long-term Democracy and peace in Iraq, if history serves as any guide.

The book got me thinking about an old debate I had with Professor Vic, wherein he argued that if we concentrated more on direct foreign aid, we’d need less in military protection. Essentially we could buy our way out of other countries regarding us as the Great Satan. (It’s been a long time since we had this conversation, and so my apologies if I am remembering it incorrectly, but nevertheless the argument I recall him making, if not accurate, is still made by many, including Senator Murray from Washington shortly after 9/11). Easterly’s arguments in the book certainly do not support that view – in fact, there is some evidence that support from the West actually leads to worse governance in the recipient countries, which leads to political unrest that, perhaps predictably (and this is Hatcher’s theory now, not Easterly’s), is offset by shrewd politicians channeling that unrest into hatred of us. But the book also makes it clear that past military interventions haven’t exactly taken countries off the Road to Serfdom and onto the Road to Prosperity; although one could argue that such was never their primary intent.

There is, for example, evidence that countries rich in oil reserves tend to be far less Democratic, with comparatively large inequality of wealth stemming from the fact that a small elite typically own and control the oil. The theory is that because democracy would spread the oil wealth around a bit through redistribution, it is fiercely resisted by those currently in possession of the wealth. They spend most of their time making sure government protects their haul. The leadership in these nations, when confronted with political unrest due to the poverty of the have-nots, channel that unrest rather successfully into hatred of the Jews or the U.S., or most often both, which are somehow conspiratorially responsible for countries rich with black gold being unable to generate any economic prospects for themselves.

After presenting this evidence, he shows that foreign aid, which has historically almost always been channeled through the local government, has similar affects. Like oil, getting it is like getting mana from heaven – it is wealth that needs no establishment of entrepreneurial talent or drive to get it (in fact, you probably won’t get it as a country unless the country lacks these more traditional factors of wealth production).

Another interesting snippet from the book – negotiated peace settlements between warring factions tend to be less successful in preventing follow-on wars when they are negotiated early, at a time when there is no clear winner yet. In short, you get more long-lasting stability if one country gets to kick the other’s ass quite thoroughly for some time. The Israel-Hezbollah war clearly fits this bill in many ways, and much of what I’ve read about the cease fire agreement is of the opinion that confrontation is likely to resume at some point in the near future. Arguably the US-Iraq experience fits into this bucket in a way – maybe we switched from kicking ass to demonstrating a light touch too soon – and that has only fostered more aggression from the terrorists. I see it this way – the intent of the light touch is to win the hearts and minds of the larger population, but that attempt is at the cost of hammering terrorists who hide behind women and children (or at the cost of hammering terrorists who are women and children). The problem is this – those inclined to hate the US will do so independent of what they see – and will be especially susceptible to any and all anti-US propaganda. They might see the light touch, but who are they going to believe – their own eyes or Al Jazeera?

Finally, one thousand points to the Bayou Barrister, who answered the trivia question about the most deadly conflict since WWII – the Congo Conflict. Nearly three million killed in the conflict, and the timing? The late 1990s. I should have predicted the Bayou Barrister would get this one – his TV only gets the Military Channel. If this is news to any liberal out there, you have a lot of heart bleeding to catch up on.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mel Gibson

So the boys escaped with the Wife of Hatcher one afternoon on vacation, while I minded the baby. When Charlie woke up, I took him up to the boardwalk to do a few rides. Meanwhile, the kids were busy at some store making me a craft-related birthday surprise for the following week. I meet them on their way back to our rented condo, and Jake, the four-year old, comes running up to me proudly keeping the secret and blurting out “I’m not telling you what we made for you, Dad.”

Bill, the wise six-year old keeper of secrets, knows that Jake’s statements has already given Dad a clue into his birthday present, and with krinkled brow, scolds Jake: “You’re not supposed to tell Dad that we made him anything.”

Jake, with a brief look of contrition aimed at Bill, quickly breaks into a smile when he figures a way out of this mess, turns to me, and says: “We didn’t make anything for you dad.”

A couple of days later, Joey lets the cat out of the bag, starting a story by saying “When we were painting daddy’s coffee mug …” He doesn’t finish the story because he realizes the gaff, as does everyone else at the table. With my birthday still days away, wanting to preserve their believing the surprise hasn’t been completely blow, I say something like “What, you painted me a roffee lug,” as if I hadn’t heard him clearly. Billy, again visibly annoyed with Joey’s revelation, but momentarily more piqued by my obtuseness, clarifies my understanding: “No, a cup, a mug.” That’s why he is the wise six-year old keeper of secrets.

The moral of the story is this: never go through the trouble, as I did, of snooping around looking for your surprise birthday gift from your kids when they are that young – eventually they’ll tell you what it is anyway.


So Mel Gibson’s in a lot of hot water. And lest my comment be interpreted as a defense of what he said, it is not. But from what I’ve read the reporting officer was basically told to edit his report and exclude the anti-Semitic comments, on the grounds that this was a drunk driving offense, and if word of what he said got out, it would create a whole firestorm. That seems like a sensible judgment call to me – if there were a dead Jew on the road 1 mile back from where Gibson was arrested, maybe those comments were pertinent to a potential crime, but a blood-alcohol test is a blood-alcohol test – you can’t blow a 1.0 and than say to the judge – “No way I was drunk – I didn’t insult any Jews when I was arrested.” I guess my question is this: is your police report a matter of public record?

That said, of course the leftie bloggers are all over the conservative Gibson for his remarks, but somehow they are all right criticizing him while expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people, Hezbollah, and everyone else who like to compare Israel to Hitler’s Germany. Go figure. The truth of the matter is a lot of people to both the extreme right and the extreme left hate Jews. But as a matter of American foreign policy, certainly the right is more in Israel’s corner than the left. I’m confident you’ll never catch Jimmy Carter saying those things, but I am also confident that a guy who regarded Arafat as being worthy of a Peace Prize is in no position to criticize a guy like Gibson. Now, lack of support for Israel does not imply hatred for Jews, but you cannot deny that in many cases, the two go hand in hand.


Hansirr commented that all my summer music picks were depressing; on retrospect they are. I think my general happy-go-luckiness has always led me to like depressing songs - it's like the only way I can experience the full range of human emotions is vicariously through the lyrics of heroine addicts. But aside from that, Summer lends itself to a feeling of loss - no other end of season is as much regretted, and no other season is as much anticipated. Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all seems apt for summer, but not for other seasons.

That said, when is the f*&$ing heatwave going to f&*%ing break!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Summer Tunes

Today is the Hatcher’s 38th birthday. In New Zealand, when a guy has a birthday, it is his responsibility to treat his mates to libations. New Zealander’s understand incentives, and so everyone feels well-loved on their birthday, with a bar packed full of far flung acquaintances only too happy to lift a free pint to your health. In that spirit, I share with you today my list of essential Summer tunes, which you must purchase and listen to in order to fully soak in the season.

I was on vacation last week in Ocean City, NJ. During the week, I watched no TV and read no newspapers. I saw only a headline of one in a store about Floyd Landis’ testosterone levels being a bit sketchy, but otherwise experienced a complete news fast. Which brings the first tune – The Lazy Sun Bathers, by Morrissey, one of those European singers whose voice lets you know from the start that his sexuality is highly ambiguous, so much so that he probably doesn’t even know what he prefers.

The song addresses, probably critically so, the indifference of the Lazy Sun Bathers to the current events of the day, with lines such as “A world war has been announced, they didn’t know.” Again, I think the guy is trying to be critical of the ignorance of the vacationer, but screw him – everyone needs a week away from it, and you know when you come back Israel and Lebanon will still be bombing each other. So I embrace the song as a vacation ideal instead of considering it a call to conscience. (As a side trivia question, to let everyone know how indifferent they truly are to far-flung sufferings brought on by war in general (as opposed to those that people hold either us or Israel responsible for), who can tell me the war that has caused the most fatalities since WWII?)

Second on the list, which is not in any order of priority, is Springsteen’s 4th of July in Asbury Park (Sandy). It captures the essence of the fleeting and magical nature of Summer at the Jersey shore, where you desperately try to steal a little piece of it to last the other three seasons, in this case in the form of extending the Summer romance beyond Labor Day, when the boardwalk goes dark. In contrast to the coastal areas of California or Florida, the beauty of the Jersey shore is its limited duration as an attraction. It is an extended version of the old time parish carnivals that surrounded you in your childhood, where in the blink of an eye a parking lot was filled with carnival rides, games of chance, and a beer garden, and one week and one blink later, it was gone. No one wants to be surrounded by carnies and drunken bikers for 52 weeks a year, but nothing beats it for 1 week in a summer. You get the sense that the Sandy of the song stays behind, so that the Boss fails in his bid to extend the romance of Summer, and that is how it should be.

And how, exactly, was the Boss likely to have lost his best gal? The answer was given years prior in the third song on the list, by the Chairman of the Board, Frank himself, in the Summer Wind. It is the only proper song to mourn the ending of the Summer.

But enough about all that crap, you need some surf tunes. To cover the early days of surfing, you need something, anything, from the Beach Boys. To cover the present, you need the same from Chris Isaak, or if he is not to your liking, Jack Johnson. My personal preferences would be Wouldn’t It Be Nice by the Beach Boys, Bubbly Toes by Johnson, and Back on Your Side or the cover of Elvis’ Return to Me by Chris Isaak.

And for good measure, no summer is complete without some Huey Lewis – my personal favorite is If This is It. Anyway, for any non-DC friends, I'll pick up the tab at a local DC bar of your choice tonight in addition to providing helpful music suggestions. Happy Birthday to me!

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