Friday, October 27, 2006

Battlestar Iraqtica? I Don't Think So

Over at Slate comes this piece explaining the parallels between Battlestar Galactica and Iraq. (This courtesy of Reason's Hit and Run- "Dorkofacism vs. Islamofacism.)

Of course, as most of the commenters at Slate note, the idea that Battlestar endorses the Iraqi insurgency completely misses the point- actually misses the brilliance- of the show. As I previously noted, the brilliance of Battlestar Galactica lies in the show's ability to raise difficult questions without providing easy or comfortable answers. Yes, what we see in Battlestar looks very similar to what we see on the news. And that's because it's supposed to, Battlestar is all about making science fiction look familiar. And yes, the themes are very relevant to the modern world, but again, this is to make the show more interesting. The current plot line about the occupation of New Caprica is no more a parallel to Iraq than any other aspect of the show has paralleled any other current event. If Spencer Ackerman is seeing support for the Iraqi insurgency in the current Battlestar plot lines then he's reading his own political opinions into what he's watching.

The big question that arises from the first few episodes of this season of BSG is whether the resistance is worth it. For all the show's admirable treatment of the moral complexities and the uncertainties of insurgency, its answer is an unequivocal yes.

Yes, there is an argument for resistance against an oppressive occupation. Whether or not you characterize Iraq as an oppressive occupation depends on your point of view- the Cylon occupation of New Caprica is just as dependent upon your point of view, but unless you're a Cylon fascist you'll find the Cylons to be oppressive. The questions raised by Battlestar is how you deal with that oppression- and the answers range the spectrum from collaboration to reduce the violence to suicide bombing. In the show's season premier, Colonel Tigh even suggests the bombing of the marketplace- not to kill Cylons, but to kill innocent humans. Tigh is rebuffed, but his point remains crystal clear. And it's equally clear what the show is trying to do- again, the show is not trying to spoon feed answers to the audience, the show is trying to make the audience think about difficult questions.

As one of the commenters notes, the amazing thing about Battlestar is that the characters on the show have no real life parallels. They're unique, just as the show is unique. To find parallels to specific current political events is simplistic and is a tremendous injustice to the thematic complexities of the show.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Parents Who Lost Their Kids For Warning Them About The Flying Spaghetti Monster

Via Reason's Hit and Run comes this piece in Wired about The Battle For the New Atheism.

Essentially, the piece is about militant and intolerant atheism, the sort that suggests that we need not treat people's religious beliefs with any more respect than belief in the "flying spaghetti monster." Here is one of the more radical (or perhaps most insane) suggestion from the piece, from biologist Richard Dawkins.

"How much do we regard children as being the property of their parents? It's one thing to say people can believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Is there something to be said for society stepping in? What about bringing up children to believe manifest falsehoods?"

In essence the piece documents those who believe that rational and reasonable people ought not to give credence to irrational and superstitious ideas, regardless of how deeply rooted in tradition and culture such ideas are. And as a libertarian and an atheist, I find such notions incredibly offensive. There is a strong argument to be made against those who seek to impose their religious views on other people through the law. (The same argument ought to be made about those who seek to impose other controversial moral values or ideas.) But there is a tremendous difference between fundamentalists and simple believers, between forcing others to believe and keeping one's beliefs a private matter between oneself, one's family, and God.

Once again, this seems to be another battle between science and religion. The silly thing is, it isn't a battle that need be fought. One can be a religious person and one can believe in God without having to compromise anything in the scientific realm. The real issue isn't religion, but faith- the belief in something that can not be proven or disproved.

Penn and Teller's Bullshit! (which I've blogged about before) has done a tremendous job of debunking ghosts, psychics, and even irrational religious beliefs. (What is an irrational religious belief? Well, one that is contradicted by scientific evidence. Belief in God is not irrational, but belief that the world is actually 6,000 years old is irrational.) When it comes to the show or any sort of skeptical debunking, the point that many people miss is that such debunking is not meant to question people's faith, but to point out those who would hold up their own faith as fact. Belief in ghosts, psychics, or God is fine, but you're asking for hostility when you try to claim your faith as fact and when you try to label your faith as science.

But this is a different sort of issue from faith itself. And is it really a problem that people have faith? Well think of it this way- in the same way you can never prove God does or does not exist, you probably can't prove whether or not your wife has been cheating on you. If you're in a healthy relationship, you're going to trust you're wife and put you're faith in the notion she's not cheating on you. Now this is different in some ways, but in the end you're still talking about faith. Yes, harm can come from mischaracterizing your faith as fact or forcing your faith on someone else, but is there a real harm in merely having faith or teaching it to your children? I doubt it.

The point about children made above amounts to a call for thought police- imagine, the government deciding what our children can and can't believe and what values they're to have. In a free society, we all have the right to hold whatever beliefs we want to hold, and absent a Marxian destruction of the family we all have the right to teach values to our children.

Some philosophers will point out that science is the new religion, but the problem with this argument is that science is valueless. Questions about morality, about right and wrong, are questions that can't be answered scientifically, and religion is one place people look for those answers. Does it really matter of people's moral codes come from a secular humanist view of the world, from Moses and Jesus, or from a flying spaghetti monster? In the end, the important debate is the debate about values, not the debate about where those values come from.

Just as science is often misunderstood by ghost hunters, psychics, and proponents of intelligent design, faith is equally misunderstood by some scientists. Faith and science can coexist, provided each maintain it's own role. Faith is inherently personal, while science inherently concerns the entire world. Faith directly concerns values, while science is valueless. And most importantly, neither faith nor science provide public policy mandates, whether we're talking about gay marriage or global warming.

Friday, October 20, 2006

So We're Going To Turn Into Elves And Orcs?

Is This For Real?

The descendants of the genetic upper class would be tall, slim, healthy, attractive, intelligent, and creative and a far cry from the "underclass" humans who would have evolved into dim-witted, ugly, squat goblin-like creatures.

Are you serious?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Lonely Conservative Who Wants To Smoke Pot? (Or The Voice Of Reason)

Yet again the lonely libertarian comes to the defense of President Bush and the conservative movement. This is from Professor Long's Comment Board and just demands a response.

First, let me just say I'm not posting to challenge the writer on debatable issues. For instance, whether or not we're safer because of the war in Iraq is not a question with a right or wrong answer- reasonable people can disagree. And I'm not qualified, nor do I have the time to post a thoughtful response on the subject. No, I'm posting here to point out the misinformation disseminated as part of these sorts of writings, misinformation that doesn't add to debate, but takes away from it.

The president claims authority, as commander in chief, to throw American citizens into military prison for years on end without any hearing, civil or military, that would allow them to confront the charges against them. He claims the power to wiretap Americans' conversations without warrants, in direct violation of congressional commands.

These are the sorts of statements that get people riled up and when it comes down to it, just plain aren't true. The Bush administration never the authority to throw American citizens into jail without any sort of hearing. The debate about this issue has focused on the adequacy of the hearings and proceedings provided, not that there were no proceedings at all. Additionally, the wiretapping program used by the government only involved phone calls made or received by suspected terrorists overseas. While the statement above isn't exactly false, it does distort the true nature of the program.

The president remorselessly seeks to undermine the principle of progressive taxation. Under cover of patriotism, he promotes vast tax cuts to the rich at the expense of policies that strengthen the common ties that bind us together as a community.

Tax cuts do not mean the system of progressive taxation is being undermined, as tax rates have been raised and lowered throughout the history of the income tax. Many libertarians and conservatives would undoubtedly be happy if Bush did seek to eliminate progressive taxation, but we’re not that lucky. Conservatives believe in tax cuts because they believe lower taxes strengthens the economy and make all Americans better off. And the rich get tax cuts because the rich pay taxes. Tax cuts for the poor would be a symbolic measure only with little economic impact. Principled positions on tax policy should not be cast in such an diabolical light, at least not without evidence.

Instead of securing these principles, the president and his party view the suppression of votes indulgently and propose new requirements for voting that will make it still harder for the poor and the elderly to exercise their democratic rights.

I’d be curious to see evidence of this. And identification requirements are hardly evidence of draconian measures. This is one of the places where criticism of Bush gets ridiculous. On one hand he is accused of stealing elections and on the other hand he's accused of making it too hard to vote.

The administration's denial of reality reaches a delusional peak in its refusal to acknowledge basic science describing the massive climate change now under way. Against the advice of all serious experts, the government has grossly failed in its responsibility to our descendants. It has consistently sought to undermine the Kyoto treaty and refused to encourage energy conservation. We insist on a clean break with this shameful record. Our government should be taking the lead in reducing greenhouse gases, recognizing our responsibilities as the world's leading polluter. We should be investing massively in energy sources that carry out a commitment to environmental stewardship and help restore our manufacturing base at the same time.

It was the Senate that refused to ratify the Kyoto Accords, by a vote of 95-0 in 1997. President Bush refused to consider Kyoto when he took office because of the massive costs that Kyoto compliance would entail. Additionally, there is no consensus that massive climate change (whatever that means) is underway. Many would argue that avoiding taking drastic steps that would harm the economy is reasonable given the uncertainty of science surrounding future climate predictions and the impact man has on global warming. Again, I don't mean to get into typical global warming mode, only to point out that it is unfair to call the administration's position on the issue unreasonable.

We refuse to confine our criticisms to personalities. We believe that the abuses of power that have been commonplace under Bush's rule must be laid not only at his door -- and the vice president's -- but at the doors of a conservative movement that has, for decades, undermined government's ability to act reasonably and effectively for the common good.

It’s a disservice to paint the conservative movement with such a broad brush. (Just as it would equally be a disservice to paint the liberal movement so broadly.) There are many conservatives who feel betrayed by the Bush administration and who agree with liberal criticism of the Bush administration’s broad and overreaching use of executive power. A strong executive is not a conservative tenant.

Finally, on a more personal note, I do tend to agree with many of the complaints made in the letter about unchecked executive power. However, I don’t think these complaints are unique to the Bush administration- see the Clinton, Regan, Nixon, Johnson, and Roosevelt administrations. This is, in a way, what our system is and it’s disingenuous to only place blame at the feet of the other side. One can't oppose Bush's approach to the strong executive on supposedly principled grounds while looking back on history with no criticism of FDR. That is politics, not principle.

Again, I'm not posting to argue about policy. Policy debates are good for the country and should always be encouraged. My problem is not just with the various bits of misinformation, but with the overall tone of the letter. I'd feel the same way about a similarly toned conservative letter accusing all liberals of being anti-American, warning us about the "homosexual agenda," and accusing Bill Clinton of abusing executive authority.

The problem is that such letters encourage a bipolar political system and encourage group-think. Obviously a letter to like-minded individuals is not meant to foster debate with the other side, but it shouldn't foreclose discussion on your side. Rather than any discussion or any individual thought, what you get is two opposing ideologies with people believing whatever it is they're supposed to believe once they find which side they're a better fit for.

I have a problem when the motivations of a rational political movement are called into question. There is a big difference between calling the opposition wrong and accusing the opposition of bad intentions.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

One Joint Is Worse Than 6,000 Beers

A nice short read from Jacob Sullum on Potheads, puritans and pragmatists: Two marijuana initiatives put drug warriors on the defensive.

What's most heartening is the comments coming from the conservative commentators at TownHall. They all seem to recognize the problems of prohibition of the futility of the war on drugs in general. Maybe there's hope after all.

More Tales From War On Food

This one from today's New York Times: Glorious Food? English School Children Think Not.

It's nice to see the mainstream media take into account what the people affected by junk food bans actually think. In England and Wales, new regulations which took effect in September have replaced unhealthy hamburgers, french fries, processed meats, and sugary drinks with more healthy options for school lunch menues. Additionally, many of the schools are banning off campus fast food lunches. What are the responses of parents?

“They shouldn’t be allowed to tell the kids what to eat,” Mrs. Critchlow said of the school authorities. “They’re treating them like criminals.”

Mrs. Critchlow has become a notorious figure in Britain. In September she and another mother — alarmed, they said, because their children were going hungry — began selling contraband hamburgers, fries and sandwiches to as many as 50 students a day, passing the food through the school gates.

And most telling is the story of Andreas Petrou, an 11th grader:

“It’s rubbish,” said Andreas Petrou [of the new school menu]. Instead, en route to school recently, he was enjoying a north of England specialty known as a chip butty: a French-fries-and-butter sandwich doused in vinegar.

Petrou insists that no amount of explaining will convince him that a French fry sandwich is not a decent meal. If confronted with the school food, he said, he will do what all his friends do: gather as much bread as he can, “put half an inch of butter on each slice,” and call it lunch.

I think the story speaks for itself.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Popular Mechanics Is Like Totally A Front Organization For The Bush Administration

The Popular Mechanics follow up to their 9-11 conspiracy debunking.

Monday, October 16, 2006

More 9-11 Conspiracy Stuff

This Hit and Run post on the South Park Conspiracy theory episode and responses from the conspiracy community piqued my interest. I started looking around the 911Truth.Org website until I found this transcript of a 9-11 conspiracy speech. Here's a sample:

It is clear that some agency-either the military or the FAA--failed to follow standard procedures on 9/11. When these procedures are followed, the FAA, as soon as it sees signs that a plane may have been hijacked, calls military officials, who then call the nearest air force base with fighters on alert, telling it to send up a couple fighters to intercept the plane. Such interceptions usually occur within 10 to 20 minutes after the first signs of trouble. This is a routine procedure, happening about 100 times a year.26 (One of the many falsehoods in the recent debunking essay in Popular Mechanics is its claim that in the decade before 9/11, there had been only one interception, that of golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet.27 Actually, at about 100 a year, there would have been closer to 1,000 interceptions during that decade.) On 9/11, however, no interceptions occurred.

Why not? The military's first story was that no planes were sent up until after the Pentagon was hit. The military leaders were admitting, in other words, that they had left their fighters on the ground for almost 90 minutes after the FAA had first noticed signs of a possible hijacking. That story suggested to many people that a stand-down order had been given.28

By the end of the week, the military had put out a second story, saying that it had sent up fighters but that, because the FAA had been very late in notifying it about the hijackings, the fighters arrived in each case arrived too late. One problem with this story is that if FAA personnel had responded so slowly, heads should have rolled, but none did. An even more serious problem is that, even assuming the truth of the late notification times, the military's fighters still had time to intercept the hijacked airliners before they were to hit their targets.29 This second story implied, therefore, that standard procedures had been violated by the military as well as the FAA.

To try to defend the military against this accusation, The 9/11 Commission Report gave us, amazingly, a third version, according to which the FAA, after giving the military insufficient warning about the first hijacked airliner, gave it absolutely no notification of the other three until after they had crashed. But as I have argued in The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions, this account is wholly implausible. Besides portraying FAA personnel, from top to bottom, as incompetent dolts, the 9/11 Commission's account rests on claims that contradict many credible and mutually supporting testimonies. In some of these cases, the fact that the Commission is simply lying is abundantly obvious.30 In addition, this third story implies that the military's second story, which it had been telling for almost three years, was almost entirely false. If our military leaders were lying to us all that time, why should we believe them now? And if our military is lying to us, must we not assume that it is doing so to cover up its own guilt?

In sum, the behavior of the military both on 9/11 and afterwards, combined with the fact that the 9/11 Commission had to resort to lies to make the US military appear blameless, suggests that military leaders were complicit in the attacks. A similar conclusion follows from an examination of the attack on the Pentagon.

This is why conspiracy theories don't work, or at least why they're not believable. Even if all the facts here are correct (and I really don't know one way or the other), the conclusion reached still requires a leap of faith unsupported by evidence. Even if we know that yes, the government lied, and yes the government has covered things up, our discussions of why the government may have done this is just speculation. Even if you can prove that someone is lying, your explanation of why that person is lying needs to be supported by some sort of evidence.

I'm not naive enough to think that the government has always told us the entire truth about 9-11 or anything else. I recognize that official explanations can often times have holes. But I'm also not stupid enough to believe an alternative explanation unsupported by any evidence.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Talk Right, Talk Left

Interesting thoughts from Ann Althouse on Rush Limbaugh vs. Air America (which appears to be filing for bankruptcy).

It's just interesting to read this from someone as nonpartisan as Ann- basically, she makes many of the same points conservatives have made about talk radio for awhile. And she's quite right about entertainment value- Rush brings that to the table, which is why I can listen to him even when I'm disagreeing with him. Of course, not all conservatives on the radio are like Rush. Sean Hannity for instance makes many of the same points that Rush makes, but is closer to Al Franken then to Rush.

My only expierience with Air America was quite painful. It wasn't just the complaints about Bush and the complaints about the war, it was how they went about it. Al Franken had this segment where he played clips (and I'm not sure if it was clips of Rush's show, or clips of Bush) and over the clips he basically would just call the speaker a liar. Rush engages in the same sorts of attacks, but at least he has fun with it, creating skits, songs and all sorts of clever nicknames. Air America never had any of that. It was like NPR without any of the interesting pieces- the fact that it was no fun to boot leaves no doubt in my mind as to why it failed.

The other interesting thought to pop into my head? Ann takes much of the same approach to blogging as Rush takes to broadcasting. Yes it can be informational, but it's also supposed to be fun.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

South Park, Skepticism, and 9-11

For those of you who may have missed it last night, the new South Park episode did a great little take on 9-11 conspiracy theories. It wasn't that the government was behind 9-11, the real conspiracy was trick the gullible 1/4 of the American population into believing that the government was really behind 9-11. In an insane way, it makes a lot more sense than most conspiracy theories. (And in reality, it would be a lot more difficult to debunk.)

Penn and Teller did a show on conspiracy theories, and in that show they talked about there being a difference between being skeptical and "just making shit up." It's an important concept far too many of us don't seem to get.

Being skeptical simply means questioning what doesn't fit with a scientific understanding of the world. I say scientific, because there are two ways we can look at the world. One is to demand evidence- this is the scientific model- and the other is to rely on faith. Skepticism and faith inherently collide, but this is not much of an issue if faith is restricted to your belief in God. The existence of God could never be scientifically proven or disproved, so religious beliefs ultimately come down to whether or not you have faith.

When it comes to everything else in our lives we are either skeptical or have faith (or we don't care at all). We'll use 9-11 as an example. Skepticism about 9-11 would mean questioning the explanations given by the government and the media. Ultimately, if you took the time to look in to the issue, you'd decide scientifically as to whether there were any other explanations which made more sense.

Faith means you are not looking at an issue scientifically, rather, you are placing a belief beyond the need for proof. Again, note the distinction. There is a difference between being skeptical of what George Bush says, and having faith that George Bush is a liar who will always lie to the American people. Skeptics search for evidence, while those that rely on faith don't need evidence. When it comes to 9-11, the official explanation is the only one that makes any sense. All the conspiracy theories, at some level, rely on people making shit up. Again, not trusting the government in general is being skeptical. Believing that the government was involved in the 9-11 attacks, absent any evidence, is making shit up.

More On The Lonely libertarian's Global Warming Position

Writing the last entry got me thinking as to why I take the stance I do when it comes to global warming. It's simple really. As a libertarian, I'm skeptical of claims associated with government regulation. I have no real scientific interest in whether the world is warming, cooling, or not changing- what I care about is public policy. So for me, and for most of us who are not climate scientists, the global warming debate is not one about science, but about public policy.

From what I understand, more scientists have come to the point of view that yes, global warming is occurring, and yes, man made carbon emissions do contribute to global warming. I believe there are still skeptics out there, but we'll go with man made global warming as the majority view.

Here is my problem- I'm unclear how we get from global warming science to public policy recommendations. As far as I understand, there is not scientific agreement on the three following points:

1- To what extent is man responsible for the current global warming trend?

2- How much warmer is the earth going to get?

and 3- What will be the effects of the earth getting warmer?

They all go hand-in-hand, really, but each report I see in the media on global warming seems to say something different. And given that there is no consensus and no agreement on these issues, how is a Mansfield public policy about global warming supposed to be formed? The policies we have recommended to us are a variety of measures designed to "reduce the effects of man made global warming," but there is nothing remotely scientific about any of these proposals. And how can we possibly balance the economic costs of proposed regulations when we have absolutely no idea as to what the long term gains of such a regulation might be.

If someone tells you "the debate is over," they're dead wrong if they're talking about global warming policy. Once again, don't let science scare you out of making policy choices that all Americans are rationally capable of making.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

And Then There's This Asshole ...

The lonely libertarian has been enjoying Season Three of Penn and Teller's Bullshit! and I thought I would check out the internet to see if I could find any criticism of the show.

This is what I found, from a group called Logical Science, criticizing a first season episode of Bullshit! where Penn and Teller debunk global warming.

Episode 13, season 1 of Penn & Teller: Bullshit! was about "Environmental Hysteria". In short, they try to prove global warming is a fraud. We would just like to point out that Penn Jillette is a research fellow of the ExxonMobil and Industry funded CATO institute which has strong minarchist leanings. This gives Penn Jillete a conflict of interest when it comes to any topic that might require government regulation. During the show he puts Tobacco and Oil funded lobbyists against hippie college protesters. Well funded professional lobbyists vs. kids who probably just graduated from highschool isn't exactly a fair match. For a fair match he should put those lawyers up against any of the scientists on this massive list.

I just love this- because they're libertarians, they have a conflict of interest when it comes to any topic that might require government regulation. Or in other words, if you're a libertarian, don't bother on protesting government regulation, as you're conflicted because of your political leanings. I wonder if they'd make the same argument about liberals who tend to favor government regulation- are such liberal groups similarly conflicted when it comes to issues that might require government regulation? I doubt it, which is why this critique smells a bit like Bullshit!

This critique goes on to make the scientific case for global warming, which is sort of beyond the point of the episode. As this critique noted, the title of this episode was "environmental hysteria," and as such it was meant to debunk, well, environmental hysteria. If hippie college protesters are out trying to "save the environment" and they have no clue what they're talking about, that would certainly be directly related to the notion of "environmental hysteria." Again, the point of the episode was not to showcase a scientific debate, but to show that there are alternative views out there when it comes to global warming and to show how clueless most people are when it comes to these issues.

Brief And Unsupported Thoughts On Iraq

I caught some of President Bush's press conference earlier today on the radio and had a number of thoughts, mainly regarding his references to Iraq. But first, John Kerry's response is here:

Saying that "we must change course in Iraq," Kerry reiterated his proposal for a deadline for U.S. troop withdrawal and "a comprehensive plan to end the civil war." He called for shifting focus "from the failed occupation of Iraq to what we should have been doing all along: tracking down and killing members of al-Qaeda."

Kerry called for setting "a clear deadline of July 2007 to redeploy our combat troops" out of Iraq and proposed holding a summit meeting of Iraq, neighboring countries, the Arab League, NATO and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to forge a diplomatic solution.

As much as Bush is bashed, do Democrats really offer anything different? The current administration would like to redeploy our troops from Iraq as soon as possible and would certainly like to end the sectarian violence. So what's the real difference here? At this point, all discussion of Iraq is about politics, with Democrats looking to take advantage of the public perception of Republican incompetence.
Depending on your point of view, Iraq is either an utter mess, or a difficult, delicate situation. But the fact of the matter is, most Democrats do not urge an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

And even those anti-war protesters who do want an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, aren't we all on the same side? Doesn't everyone want a stable, democratic government in Iraq?

This perhaps is the biggest difference between Iraq and Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, there were Americans who supported the communists. And even those in favor of the Vietnam War had to recognize that the nation we were supporting in South Vietnam was not a democratic one. Ultimately in Iraq however, we're all on the same side, aren't we? Is there anyone who wants civil war and wants Democracy in Iraq to fail?

During his speech, President Bush mentioned another deadly attack against a member of the new Iraqi government, and it just made me think, "Who here in the U.S. doesn't think that's a tragedy?" For all the rhetoric about Iraq, pro-war or anti-war, we all share similar goals for the future. We're just talking about drastically different methods as to how to get there.

Tales From The War On Food

Interesting article reviewing a number of books about the politics of food. We've also got this New York Time's piece on the psychology of snacking, and this John Stossel article about the girls suing McDonald's for making them fat.

The Times piece seems to state the obvious: We like to eat and we can eat without thinking. Several ideas for cutting down on portions are recommended, but the obvious solution of more control over what you eat in general isn't mentioned- as if we need little tricks to make ourselves lose weight.

One fact about food is obvious- it is cheap and abundant. And for some people, this represents a threat to our health, our way of life, and civilization as we know it. For most of the rest of us, food is an after thought, or in my case, a before and after thought, with maybe a mid thought thrown in for good measure. Choices about food should be left to us as individuals- they shouldn't be made by a legislature, or a judge, or anyone who thinks we're too stupid to make decisions for ourselves.

Monday, October 09, 2006

The Blog, The Speaker, and the Students

We have here a lesson as to why blogs are infinitely better than traditional media sources. I was intrigued by this story the other day, and Ann Althouse ties it all together with links to several different articles and several You Tube videos of the incident.

In brief, a speech by Minuteman project founder Jim Gilchrest at Columbia University was interrupted by protesters and violence ensued. As an interesting side note, some Columbia students are objecting to the use of student's FaceBook pages as part of the investigation. All in all, there are just a number of fun issues here.

See Ann Althouse on the Facebook complaints. I pretty much agree with her whole-heartedly. I've got a bit more to say about the protest however. This is the sort of "campus activism" on the left that continues to baffle me. Why do you attempt to silence speakers you don't agree with? The lonely libertarian would be even more lonely if he engaged in that sort of behavior- he'd have no one at all to talk to!

I'm not very sympathetic to the Minutemen, but let the guy speak. I'd love the chance to debate the guy and ask him some tough, relevant questions. Why ruin it by standing up and being an asshole?

The theme throughout these stories? An overwhelming sense of self righteousness. How dare the school read my public facebook page, and how dare they invite a speaker with different views than my own. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the future.

"Working Class better get out the way of my car"

Ahhhhhh, you've got to love Workers Rights Rallies. Other than a college campus, I can't imagine so many people in one place just not having a clue.

More On Libertarians Leaning Democratic

Jane Galt on libertarians, Democrats, and Republicans.

As I said at the debate I was in last night: who does the average American fear more--the FBI or the IRS? The local zoning board, or the NSA? What does he fear more: the ten commandments on the wall of his child's school, or having the new addition to the house disallowed by the zoning board, the EPA, or the Americans with Disabilities act? On what does he spend more time: preparing his taxes, earning the money to pay for them, and arguing with the various tax authorities about what he owes . . . or checking for roving wiretaps?

Galt goes on to say how she'll be voting Democratic in November, but only because the Republicans have failed her completely, not because of anything the Democrats have done. More interesting comments from Galt:

People may be falsely accused of being involved in a terror plot, but at least they have a solid notion of what "conspiracy to commit terrorist acts" means. Tax law, on the other hand, is incomprehensibly complex, and the courts tend to make their decisions based less upon what is just than upon what maximizes revenue collection for the government. Securities law, environmental law, zoning questions, building codes, and so forth, are similarly flawed.

This is, perhaps, my point when it comes to arguments about the war on terror. Unless you're a conspiracy nut, you have to recognize the limited application of government application of anti-terrorist programs. On the other hand, every American pays social security taxes, every American is potentially subject to various environmental laws, and millions of Americans smoke illegal pot. Even if I agreed with the left on every civil liberty complaint they have in the war on terror, I'd still have trouble voting for someone who told me that the right to library privacy was more important than the personal freedoms violated by the War on Drugs.

Battlestar Galactica

I just had to take a minute to comment on this past weekend's season premier of Battlestar Galactica. The two-hour premier was perhaps the best thing I've ever seen on TV. For those of you who don't watch, give it a chance. It's really, really, really good.

For most of Battlestar's first two seasons, the show seemed to be on the verge of greatness. Great ideas percolated throughout, but the final product was sometimes less than fufilling. In particular, the end of season two seemed to drag as the Cylon threat became less pronounced and the search for earth was seemingly forgotten. But as we saw at the end of last season, the Cylons are back, and they have occupied New Caprica, the colony containing the last vestiges of humanity. The new season of Battlestar opens with a resistance movement fighting the Cylon occupation, and a great number of difficult questions to ask.

Last spring, I ranted a great deal about V For Vendetta. The problem with that movie was that, for a movie that was supposedly "so relevant" there was a lot of spoon fed answers and dictated emotional responses. As the new season of Battlestar opens we have issues that are familiar to the world of today; resistance movements, occupying armies, suicide bombers, and collaborators. But unlike V, Battlestar doesn't give us any easy answers. We see two minor characters take drastically different courses of action- While one becomes a suicide bomber and sacrifices himself, the other becomes a member of the occupational police force, wearing a mask and working against his friends. Obviously, these are extreme solutions, but in getting to know the characters, you understand their motivations, and it's difficult to label either of them as flat out wrong. As opposed to V For Vendetta (and most of Hollywood today) Battlestar doesn't give answers, it raises questions.

Best parts of the opener:

* Felix Gada, acting as a spy for the resistance, while keeping his role in the puppet civilian administration. And for all Gada is risking, we hear Tyrol say that he'll hang Gada when the war is over.

* Every scene with Starbuck is amazing- just beyond disturbing the way she is emotionally manipulated.

* Colonel Tigh's casual willingness to kill innocent people.

* And finally, just great acting, great writing, and an incredible job of putting the occupied colony on film and making it look realistic.