Not the game

April 8th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve made every attempt to shelter myself from all coverage of the government shutdown debacle, but now having finally stumbled upon a bit after most of the wee ones are already tuckered out, I can only ask one question:


Abortion. We’re arguing about abortion.

Sorry; I’m having an Allen Iverson moment.

But no, seriously—very little shocks me; this one comes close. While an energy apocalypse looms and in fact may not even be our biggest problem right now, important-looking men and women in important-looking suits and lady suits are earnestly—ok, ostensibly earnestly—arguing about abortion.

Someone tell me what year this is. Really, I have no more words.

The ultimate brain drain?

April 8th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

In the wishy-washy political diatribe in my last post, I did kinda sorta argue one actual opinion: that political lobbying is a waste. Let me clarify.

Most people worry that lobbyists have too much influence. I worry that they have too little. That is, lobbies that actually try to change the status quo are not effective enough to justify the resources they use. By joining the fray, these groups only expand the reach of lobbying, an arena where they are at tremendous disadvantage (usually) and will probably only lose. All that time, all that money, all that attention, all those intelligent minds, all that passion for… marketing? There just have to be more direct ways those resources could all be put toward the desired ends, no?

There’s a logic that goes like this: If you have a tangible cause with tangible solutions and a strong coalition, you shouldn’t need to beg the government to intervene on your behalf. If it’s funding that you need,  build up your coalition and raise it yourself. If you can’t, maybe it’s not so valuable after all. If your limitation is illegality, break the law. The government does own more guns, but the government is not monolithic, nor sentient, nor a “thing” at all; only people and maybe well-trained monkeys can pull triggers. If you’re confident that you have the hearts of the masses and the results to justify the action, prove that you’re right, and make the laws adapt.

This is obviously overreaching. Back in the real world, some groveling for government attention is necessary. A private organization might be able to raise enough money on their own to provide that school lunch program, but it can’t enforce a carbon tax*, no matter how well they’re organized. Still, just because the structure is unattainable in practice, the approach doesn’t have to be, and we shouldn’t mimic the supplicant role as individuals.

The broader problem is that political involvement, generally speaking, is a brain drain. And I’m not necessarily talking about the person who copyedits press releases for the Sierra Club. Although most of us will never have an appreciable effect on the lawmaking process—oh, what; a vote?—we go to painstaking lengths to develop and refine our political beliefs and greater lengths yet to convince others to adopt them. Most of these efforts have little or no effect, and there is a significant probability that our judgment is poor anyway. Even those who wield enormous influence on a large circle of peers can barely budge the needle with their advocacy. (Consider how celebrity endorsements of causes and candidates are usually received.)

I often forget that less useful does not imply useless, but still, there’s a fine line between soliciting help and deprecating your power as an individual. Don’t become a beggar if you don’t have to, and if you know someone who wastes his time fixating on politics, tell him to quit blogging and get some sleep instead. And with that, I promise to never, ever write about politics again.


*Even this I shouldn’t necessarily dismiss. Maybe some organization could figure out a way to coerce corporations into paying for carbon emissions, but we might have to overturn blackmail laws.

Stock answers: What is my political leaning?

April 7th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

This is a new regular feature, which—like the other regular features I’ve introduced in the past—will no doubt be a one-time thing that I forget and never return to. However, the intent is that I will periodically use a blog post to answer a question that often comes up in casual conversation but is too tedious or involved for my poor verbal skills to articulate on the fly. This way, if these questions come up in the future, I can tell my conversant to get out their iPhone and read the relevant post while I drink my beer in peace. Below is an undergraduate-level wishy-washy explanation of my political beliefs. If you have not just asked me about them, there is no reason you should continue reading.

Other than “How are you?” there is no question I’m loath to answer more than “What is your political leaning?” or any variant thereof. The question is, understandably, very important to some people; it does say a good deal about one’s world view in most circumstances. I don’t dread the question because I fear argument or exposing myself as an idiot; I simply don’t have a good answer.

I find answering difficult because—contrary to confidence I sometimes project—I generally don’t know what I believe. This is the quick answer.

In the past, I’ve been called almost everything—a liberal, an anarchist, a technocrat, confused—and I would say all are accurate. Balance and efficiency are the lenses through which I generally see the world and judge the merits of actions. Maximize efficiency; understand the balance—not that we always need to maintain balance, just understand the constraints it imposes.

This is a hazy path to a lazy recommendation: Pick objectives; do what works. Isn’t that what all political beliefs come down to? I think so, but then we plate the raw components in abstract but overly-specific principles, sometimes for good reasons, like empirical evidence that they have worked in observed applications, and sometimes for shoddy ones, like status plays.

If socialism works for the pressing objectives, I’ll be a socialist. If autocracy works better, let’s do that. Right now, it’s most convenient to say I’m a bleeding-heart libertarian. I have a natural proclivity for empathy—I don’t say that to brag; I often wish I were more callous—so I’m drawn to the objectives that guide most socialists. This past weekend, in fact, I was accused of being a closet socialist (what prompted this post in the first place), and that may be accurate.

My measured but fallible reading on our current state says that realizing these objectives via responsible government intervention is hopeless. People of all parties seem pretty unanimous that the government we have now mostly serves the powerful, and we seem caught in a feedback loop that will only perpetuate the arrangement.

Given our present technology, demographics, set of problems, etc., my skewed and unsubstantiated mental calculus says that if we focus our time and resources on collective actions that circumvent the constraints of government—even if that includes the occasional criminal action— it will get us where we want to be more quickly.

Thus, right now I consider participation in elections and support of lobbies to be wasted efforts. I could easily be wrong, but I wish concerned people would spend that money effort considering and experimenting with alternatives.

Simply put, right now, I believe what would work would be more libertarianism. I don’t think this necessarily makes me a libertarian. Given the right scale and set of objectives, all forms of governance seem capable of working. If some future scenario requires an autocratic, militaristic leader making snap decisions to guide us through crisis, I think I could accept this and would like to be that ruler.

Is this one long weaselly cop out? Absolutely, but it’s the best and most honest answer I can give. For now. Under present circumstances. Come to think of it, maybe this isn’t such a stock answer after all.

Suit and tied

April 5th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

After the last presidential election, us Americans were rather proud of the fact that we’d elected a black man to be our president. Not only that, this black man won his position by narrowly defeating a woman in the primary and a very old man in the general election.

That’s right; a mere few millennia after Cleopatra, us Americans nearly had our first female leader but slightly preferred a black man instead. Talk about progress!

Of course, the self-congratulation was probably not warranted, but it didn’t stop us from asking whether we’d overcome our most entrenched isms—sexism, racism, and heck, even ageism. Had we finally evolved to judge candidates on their leadership qualities as opposed to superficial characteristics?

Today’s election results from Haiti, in which a former pop star Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly was elected president, reminds me that we have a long way to go.

Martelly took the rare step in Haiti of hiring an international campaign consulting firm to transform his “Sweet Micky” alter ego into conservatively dressed presidential material. The Madrid-based Ostos & Sola company earlier had worked on presidential campaigns by U.S. Sen. John McCain and Mexico’s Felipe Calderon.

“Without his handlers, he would have been dead in water,” said Jocelyn McCalla, a senior adviser to Haiti’s special envoy to the United Nations.

Of course, a candidate’s past career is far more telling of a candidate’s character than skin color or gender. The United States is also not Haiti, and certainly, we’ve never hesitated to elect entertainers to public office. But like Haiti, we’ve only done so once they’ve put on a suit and ceased acting like entertainers.

Oddly, it’s not the substantive element of the candidate’s past—what they did to earn money—that we discriminate against. It’s their current superficial image—how well they dress, how they cut their hair, how often they say “fundamental.” We want our candidates to act like robots, and they comply.

It’s not that we will only elect people who look and dress and act a certain way. It’s that we will only elect people who willingly and fraudulently compromise their personal identity to look and dress and act a certain way so that we will vote for them. If you haven’t reminded yourself of this since the last time you considered casting a ballot, please do so now.

By no means am I trying to trivialize the big isms, but in a society where we won’t even let retired athletes go on TV to spew platitudes about the games they once played without puttin’ on the ritz first, maybe our biggest hurdle isn’t racism, sexism, or ageism, but simple formalism.


January 27th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

So is Reagan to blame for turning the office of President into Chief Fundraiser, or was that Kennedy? Teddy Roosevelt? Maybe it goes way back to Old Hickory. Anyway, this mental_floss photo archive of Rappin’ Ronnie is a historical treasure if ever I’ve seen one.

Though it’s hard to compete with the utter strangeness of a Travolta-Princess Di tango, I think my favorite is of the ’87 Miami Hurricanes, who evidently brought every white player on the roster to the photo op along with the five black ones who decided the AD’s bribe was worth the flak they’d get later on from the homeboys for posing with rich whitey. If you’ve ever seen the 30 for 30 documentary The U, I assume you also have the image of Ronald Reagan capping off a pick-six by flashing a “suck it” gesture toward the ‘Noles student section running through your head.

Man, being president is great.

If I cheer you on, will you save me a spot on the lifeboat?

January 26th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Assuming you don’t care who *lol* “wins the future,” this is fantastic to hear:

We estimate that between 2005 and 2010, nearly half a billion people escaped extreme hardship, as the total number of the world’s poor fell to 878 million people. Never before in history have so many people been lifted out of poverty in such a short period.

Read the whole excerpt, or—if you’re more ambitious than I—read the entirety of each linked article. But the point is clear: While the United EuroStates of the Western Union take to looting the instant our credit cards stop working at the petrol-gas filling station, billions of people the world over will keep on keepin’ on, as though they don’t really care how us Americans are holding up. Shocking, I know!

At least I hope I got that right. If nothing else, it’ll be a comforting thought when a desperate single mother of five has my forearm in her teeth, wrestling away the last can of kidney beans from the Walgreens shelves.

My favorite part…

January 25th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

…was when the president said, “America has fallen to 9th in the proportion of young people with a college degree.” I just don’t get why no one else clapped.


January 25th, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Del Valle, who had only 7 percent backing and raised the least cash among the major contenders, issued a statement chastising “those who thought that Rahm Emanuel’s election was a foregone conclusion.”

“Now, the voters are going to really have an opportunity to choose the next mayor of the city of Chicago,” he said.

I love the notion that eliminating the candidate who had more than twice as much popular support as any other candidate somehow made the election more democratic. I’m not saying he’s wrong; I just find the logic… interesting.

Rush Hour 4

January 19th, 2011 § 2 comments § permalink

My spiritual leader is amused by people who are shocked to find that the U.S. and China have much in common. I share his amusement; however, I wonder how much of this surprise is genuine and how much is faithful lip service to the dichotomy between the Land of the Free and the Oppressive Red Chinese State.

Of course, no matter the “system,” stripping away the labels and org charts leaves only the dynamics of power and submission, and the control is only as strong as the controlled are weak, just as has been the case with every assemblage of human beings and non-human beings in history. Once we learn to ignore the headlines, how free or restricted we are is far more local and perceptually-dependent than is often acknowledged.

If you’re confused to what I’m trying to say, so am I. Here’s a two-part illustration that I hope you find enlightening:

Part 1 (20 minutes)

Part 2 (39 minutes)

Real American heroes

January 5th, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

I support our troops. Specifically this guy.

Give the man a medal of honor.