Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Global warmi - I mean "climate change"

Megan McArdle, writing here in The Atlantic, criticizes the "scientists" (scare quotes rendered necessary by their alleged reprehensible behavior) involved in the CRU anthropogenic-global-warming email collusion/data fudging/destroying-fest. That's good; she should. She says that

...I have yet to see the makings of a grand conspiracy, rather than the petty bullying of the powerful over the weak, the insider of the outsider. I'll take the statements of this particular group of scientists with a little more salt in the future. But as far as I can tell, the weight of the evidence--and what we know about the history of the planet, and carbon dioxide--still seems to be on their side.

But here's the problem: what is the "weight of the evidence"? This group's original data set was destroyed. Inadvertantly? Possibly... but considering that they were discussing destroying it in the event of a freedom-of-information request, that too is questionable. As one of McArdle's commenters said, "One notes that, in both law and common sense, when a person destroys evidence, you are allowed to presume that it supported his opponent's case."

Sure, it's not the only evidence. But there have been problems with every data set I've heard of: new urban heat-sinks where temperature stations used to be rural, cherry-picked tree ring data, glaciers growing where not measured for an AGW paper, shrinking where the AGW boosters measured, inability to explain the mechanism behind either an ice age or a warming period, pre-1960s temperature data that dramatically smooths out temperature variance graphs, Mars warming up in the absence of coal-fired power plants and SUVs... With all this uncertainty out there - uncertainty noticed only by "skeptics" (another McArdle commenter noted that skepticism used to be considered a virtue in science, not a vice) - one could be forgiven for believing that the really bad acting on the part of these CRU folks calls their findings into question.

I used to be a geologist. In the summer before I graduated, I worked for a gold mining company, collecting rock samples from a very steep hunk of the Sierra Nevada. Here's how you collect a rock sample: you locate yourself on a map, find a rock where you're standing, whack it with a rock hammer until you can collect enough pieces of it to fill a bag about the size of a quart of milk. Mark the location on your map with a unique identifier, mark the bag the same way, stick the bag in your backpack, take it to a lab. The first step - locate yourself on a map - is VITALLY important, because if you don't know where your sample came from, you can't draw any conclusions about where the most gold is. (Samples A, B, and C, in an east-west line, show increasing gold concentrations to the west; perhaps you could put a mine toward the western extent of your sampling area; you certainly wouldn't put it to the east. But say you mislabel your bag - I did that ONCE - or you can't find yourself on the map; where do you dig?)

My map, the best one available for my field area, had 40-foot contours. Think of contour lines as the "bathtub ring" around an object - put a big irregular rock in a tub, fill the tub exactly an inch deep, and look down on it from above. The "bathtub ring" around the rock would be exactly level at one inch, and would show the shape of that rock at a height above ground (the bottom of the tub) of one inch. Now fill the tub two inches high and look down on THAT bathtub ring to see the shape of the rock at two inches above ground. Et cetera. Draw those bathtub rings and you have a contour map of the rock, with bathtub rings closer together where the rock's side is steep, farther apart where it's more gently slanted down. Now scale up: a field area five miles square or so, with the "bathtub rings" at 40-foot intervals. It's mountainous - but most of the outcrops of rock, ridges, cliffs, are shorter than 40 feet. So the map, friends, is nearly useless: you can't tell where you are from it. I could be standing next to a thirty-foot ridge of rock as steep as the side of a building, and it'd be nowhere on my map if it happened to fall between, say, the 5,000- and 5,040-foot contours.

So I had to start from a known point (say, the end of the high-center dirt road I drove to get to the area), tie off a 200-foot nylon tape measure, take a bearing with my trusty compass, and walk to the end of my tape. Mark that spot, on the ground and on the map. Go back and untie my measure, return to new known spot. Tie off measure, take a bearing, walk (or sometimes, essentially rappel, using my tape measure as a line - though the steep slopes naturally mess up the horizontal measurement)... until I could get to the area from which I was to collect a sample. Oh, and sketch in those 20- and 30-foot cliffs and ridges, for the next schmuck. Took a long time.

The point is, my model - my map - was missing a LOT of data, and in fact bore next to no resemblance to reality. I had to fill in those data as best I could, and I had to do it with an eye to the next baby geologist who would be sampling there - he or she would need to know where things were, just as I had. So I had to be (a) careful and (b) transparent. But even so, my map at the end of summer was only a little better than the one I started with, because it only improved where I was sampling; to look at my map, the next baby geologist might think, "Wow, this area here where Jamie was working sure had a lot of cliffs and ridges; luckily it evens out over here in the part she didn't get to. I'll start there!" And that baby geologist would find him- or herself rappelling down scree slopes hanging onto a 200-foot tape for dear life, just as I had.

The dangers of relying on a model, that's what I'm talking about. And when you throw in incomplete reality checks, reality checks in only the convenient or hypothesis-confirming places, and deletion of reality checks that either do not or might not agree with your model, well, the best face you can put on that is that, poor you, you're going to get all wrapped up in the model and lose the ground truth, ending up looking like a fool; the worst face is that you're trying deliberately to deceive.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

And just to clarify...

I've spent too much time today, as I did after seeing Twilight, reading movie reviews. The reviewers, almost to a wo/man, hate New Moon* - and who can blame them? It's not a movie for movie fans. It's a movie adaptation of - not even a book for book fans, but a book for fans of a specific mythos.

I am not a fool (she insists uneasily). At no time have I ever had even the sneakiest secret thought that Stephenie Meyers is a good writer**. I've had a free sample of her post-Twilight-series novel The Host on my Kindle since I finished the T-series, but haven't even been able to slog my way through its few pages; Meyers simply writes like a halfway decent fanfic "author." (I've read too much fanfiction; most writers in the genre really suck wind.) And of course I've dealt with Bella as Mary Sue, last year after reading Twilight.

In other words, it's not the writing.

As for plot, well, I wouldn't be the first to point out that there isn't much that makes sense, has any kind of inevitability, or appears to be moving forward in any of the four Twilight books. It isn't the plot.

Characterization: in short, all characters in Meyers' books appear to have come out of either a Harlequin romance or an iconography - a bad one. I remember a quote from the VERY funny Jean Kerr in Penny Candy, in which she describes her lengthy convalescence after a bad cold; she talks about how she wants to use this enforced bedrest to read a "good" book, and keeps trying to pick up some giant worthy tome - but reverts again and again to a trashy novel, even though she knows it's trashy. I don't have Penny Candy, to my sorrow, but she says something like this: "What is it with the way these characters are portrayed? If he has 'crisp black hair,' then she simply can't have 'moist red lips'; things like that just don't happen in real life. She should have 'dry pale lips,' or he should have 'limp gray hair.'" And so, no, it's not the characterization.

As I've said too many times now, it's seventeen, that's what it is: for someone like me, much older than seventeen, it's a grasping for what once seemed like a possibility, now revealed to be a fever dream - not just impossible but not even really desirable once the fever cools. For the kids of the right approximate age, I have to speak from memory, but it seems to me to be an affirmation that that bruised and battered sense of possibility, so alive in the ultra-romantic anti-cynics who think they're world-weary, could indeed be real... somewhere.

* I do find it interesting that they hate it for such varying reasons: the split between those who think Stewart is brilliant but hampered by the screenplay and those who think she's a one-trick pony and in this movie the screenplay asks her to do another trick that she's just not up to is particularly clear. Lautner gets kudos for being the "only" member of the young cast who can act, or emote, or smile naturally, or make you care what happens to him; he also gets slammed for posing, reading lines, being utterly unbelievable, etc., etc. Pattinson is a minor character, really, but because he was so important in the first movie, HE gets roundly slammed for being all emo and stuff. Dakota Fanning gets oddly enthused reviews considering how little she had to do - and honestly, put me in red contact lenses and I could smile enigmatically as well as she does. Across the board, they all seem to love Michael Sheen, whom I've never even heard of but who is evidently a "serious" actor - apparently you can be totally embarrassingly over-the-top and all the reviewers around will say you're being "deliciously campy" if you were a "serious" actor before. Some loved the soundtrack; some hated it. (I hated it.) Many, but not all, liked the cinematography. Weitz's direction was generally noted as a step up from Hardwicke's - but not in every case; some reviewers thought Hardwicke, as opposed to Weitz, really understood her subject matter, whereas Weitz is just out to make a buck. Whatever.

** But at least the Twilight books do explicitly encourage the reading of good stuff. Bella's a big booster of classical romance.

As the kids say, zomg!

For a both hilarious and oogy take on the whole Twilight series, go here. But brace yourself: while everybody who's paid the slightest attention to the books knows that Stephenie Meyers, a Mormon, pays a certain homage to her faith throughout the series, the link seeks to explore JUST HOW MUCH homage.

F'rinstance: Edward Cullen, from the books' descriptions, looks a whoooole lot like Joseph Smith. Yeesh!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Seeing New Moon

It's November, and that means it's Twilight time! The breathlessly-awaited Part Deux, New Moon, came out today; I saw it with my oldest kid at 12:30 in the morning, all the midnight showings at our local theater being sold out.

So I'm tired. But here's the thing: I'd see it again this minute if I could, and not just because I find Robert Pattinson to be what the fangirlz call "a hot mess." (Though I do.) I went in Team Edward; I remain Team Edward, but only because it's fantasy, where it costs nothing to say, "You love who you love": in reality, who couldn't see that Jacob is better for Bella? Even my son was whispering that undeniable truth to me at almost three in the morning. I'd see it again for the same reason that I saw Twilight as many times as I could get to a theater, then squee'ed like those fangirlz again when my children got me the DVD for Christmas: because there's nothing like an utterly unreal romance.

The premise, set up by Stephenie Meyers, is perfect: vampires live forever, or near enough, because they simply no longer change physically; similarly, they change mentally or emotionally only with great difficulty, and any change of that sort that they undergo is for all intents and purposes permanent. So when Edward, a 109-year-old vampire, falls in love - for whatever reason! though I appreciate the bootlegged Midnight Sun's Edward-voiced explanation, on which maybe more later - with human Bella, it's a true endless love. And Bella, who's set up in the books more effectively than in the movies as a sort of vampire-lite even as a human - pale though she's grown up in Phoenix, standoffish, super-constant, readily accepting of the vampires' world - reciprocates that love in every measure including its permanence.

Of course, anyone who fell in love at seventeen knows that the love of a seventeen-year-old is like an old-fashioned sparkler: white-hot and exciting, quickly fading, and suddenly gone. Some few seventeen-year-olds find that their loves evolve into something deeper and longer-lasting; a couple of friends of mine who started dating at that age are happily and solidly married now, twenty years later, on that account. But the dastardly appeal of Edward and Bella's romance is that the white-hot excitement never has to fade. And who, as they put yet another load of laundry into the washing machine and read yet another story to the children who have resulted from a different species of love, wouldn't want to believe in that possibility?

My favorite moments: the collective gasp through the theater when cute little TOTALLY hunky (and recently legal) Taylor Lautner gratuitously whips off his shirt to stanch Bella's bleeding head wound; even though we'd all seen bazillions of pictures of Lautner's buffing-up, it was jolly good fun to see it all together with our (mostly) commadres on the big screen. The latter third of the movie, wherein they finally let Edward ditch the red lipstick and look absolutely haggard and awful in his grief. And, even though it didn't have the *whoo-ee* of the first kiss in Twilight, the few kisses in New Moon focused less on Edward's giddy triumph at managing to kiss Bella without killing her and more on his pain and difficulty in kissing her; one kiss in particular, I can't recall which, stood out because he gives a little whimper at the end. And I'd be lying if I said that the scene in which Edward leaves Bella in the woods, when he's trying to convince her that he's leaving because he doesn't want her any more rather than because he's desperately afraid that he'll end up either killing her or not being able to protect her from his own family, didn't make me turn cold all over.

Pattinson was, I thought, spot-on as a man with no more will to live, and then, finally, after Edward and Bella's reunion, a man who's decided to live again but is terrified of the price; I've seen some reviews call him wooden or mopey, and I disagree wholeheartedly. He struck me as hopeless, which is exactly what Edward's supposed to be. Stewart's sometimes near-suicidal, sometimes inappropriate-affect Bella is harder for me to feel sorry for - probably because I actually was an eighteen-year-old human girl in love with the wrong guy once, and I lived not only to tell the tale, but to love the right guy and build a life with him. And so we get to Lautner: the right guy. He did a fantastic job making me, die-hard Team Edward as I am, wish that there were some Star Trek-esque alternative reality scenario in which he gets the girl. I bled for him in a way that I couldn't for Bella or Edward - who, after all, were going to end up together; all poor Jacob gets, in the end, is an awkward imprinting on Bella and Edward's baby daughter, a way to heal a mythic breach but hardly more than a consolation prize for a guy whose devotion never flagged.

Wonder when I can get away to see it again...

Monday, November 09, 2009

A useful illustration

Ross Douthat, writing in the New York Times, made the case that the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (today!) should be more noteworthy than it is. He said that "For most of the last century, the West faced real enemies: totalitarian, aggressive, armed to the teeth. Between 1918 and 1989, it was possible to believe that liberal democracy was a parenthesis in history, destined to be undone by revolution, ground under by jackboots, or burned like chaff in the fire of the atom bomb....Twenty years ago today, this threat disappeared."

One commenter, a popular guy (his comment recommended by 252 readers as I write) who likes the word "specious," responded thusly:

That is utter nonsense. More like the chaff of fear that Mr. Douthat's ilk uses to obfuscate the truth. Douthat needs to go back to school and study history. It was Mikail Gorbachov that in 1988 announced that the Soviet Union would abandon the Brezhnev Doctrine and allow the Eastern bloc nations to freely determine their own internal affairs.

It was Gorbachev that ended the cold war. Not Günther Schabowski and not Ronald Reagan. It was the insightful courage of Mikail Gorbachev that ended it.

After a not so veiled dig at President Obama for not attending a 9 November ceremony in Germany, Mr. Douthat delivers this false paean:

"Never has liberation come to so many people all at once — to Eastern Europe’s millions, released from decades of bondage; to the world, freed from the shadow of nuclear Armageddon; and to the democratic West, victorious after a century of ideological struggle."

Balderdash, Mr. Douthat. Why is it that it was Mikail Gorbachev who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace and not Günther Schabowski (and never Reagn)? Why does Mr. Douthat ignore the facts of history? Because he cannot make his specious point if he adheres to the truth.

The final nail in the coffin of Mr. Douthat's specious treatise comes in a statement from his last paragraph: "Maybe we miss living with the possibility of real defeat." The problem, Mr. Douthat, is that the rise and fall of a great nation has its lesson even today. Great nations don't fall from forces arrayed against them from without. They fall from the corrupt forces that rot them from within.

Yes, America is in danger of defeat but not from external enemies. We are on the road to defeat because of the naysayers in our Congress and the hatemongers who cannot abide Barack Obama's Presidency.

And that, as Edith Ann was wont to say, is the truth.

I've reproduced virtually the entire comment, because of two things: first, the commenter's contention that Gorbachev's winning of the Nobel Prize for Peace is evidence of some kind (please see my prior post - oh please, if you're one of the few who really do believe that Pres. Obama "earned" that prize! - for how I and many others feel about the anointing of somebody or other by a few Scandihoovians - of whom, two generations removed, I'm one in part). Sheesh.

And second, gosh, I agree with his third-to-last paragraph - the one where he says a grave danger to the United States is rot from within. But in the penultimate paragraph, wherein he says that the rot emanates from "hatemongers cannot abide Barack Obama's Presidency" - that's where I think it's obvious I disagree. I believe, and I believe that I have actual history on my side, that it's the push to increase government control of individuals that is the "rot from within" we should dread. Not the people who are against increased government control; the people actually fighting to bring it about.

The commenter doesn't have history to back him up; he doesn't even have white-sheeted midnight bonfires to back him up. He has his feelings. And he signs himself "Cmdr" - that is, "Commander." Of what?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Going feckless into that dark night

The President's unexpected winning of the Nobel Prize for peace, and his inexplicable acceptance of it, beggars my ability to be sanguine... I didn't froth at the mouth when I heard, as some people did; I didn't laugh or cry about it. But I can't be sanguine.

The only explanation for it is that Oslo, at any rate (I'd assume they represent a big whomp of Europe, though clearly not our again-friends the French, nor the truly heroic Lech Walesa, whose ideology I disagree with but whose courage and persistence earned him what used to be this honor), hopes to influence American foreign policy - and just as discomfiting, that they believe they can do it, with this president. Why reward a chief executive for doing nothing except to be a different president from the previous one? Why? Because they want him to continue doing nothing. Doing something, and worse yet, urging allies to do something along with us, is so distasteful, so risky at the ballot box.

That this desire is freaking short-sighted, stupid, and transitory (wait until Norway gets into hot water; we'll see how long the "America as unexceptional parvenu" thing lasts) is beside the point. The point is that Pres. Obama was a fool to accept. He either tied his own hands or presented the near-certainty that he'll have to "betray" his neo-Viking BFFs sometime soon, squandering his presidential credibility overseas as he's squandering it at home.

I say again, as I said in election season: Why on earth THIS man? Who anointed this naif?

Charles Krauthammer looks deeper:

The corollary to unchosen European collapse was unchosen American ascendancy. We--whom Lincoln once called God's "almost chosen people"--did not save Europe twice in order to emerge from the ashes as the world's co-hegemon. We went in to defend ourselves and save civilization. Our dominance after World War II was not sought. Nor was the even more remarkable dominance after the Soviet collapse. We are the rarest of geopolitical phenomena: the accidental hegemon and, given our history of isolationism and lack of instinctive imperial ambition, the reluctant hegemon--and now, after a near-decade of strenuous post-9/11 exertion, more reluctant than ever.

Which leads to my second proposition: Facing the choice of whether to maintain our dominance or to gradually, deliberately, willingly, and indeed relievedly give it up, we are currently on a course towards the latter. The current liberal ascendancy in the United States--controlling the executive and both houses of Congress, dominating the media and elite culture--has set us on a course for decline. And this is true for both foreign and domestic policies. Indeed, they work synergistically to ensure that outcome.


In Strasbourg, President Obama was asked about American exceptionalism. His answer? "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Interesting response. Because if everyone is exceptional, no one is.

In other words, our president considers himself elected to preside over our decline.

I am not ready to decline.

Physical decline, our culture of youth notwithstanding, is the right and proper condition for the elder whose grandchildren are old enough to fetch and carry, responsible enough to want to be helpful; it's a well-deserved rest after a lifetime of striving. Whether it's the right and proper condition for a nation, I can't say - but certainly, when decline overtakes a nation as it overtakes an otherwise vigorous person stricken with a wasting disease (like France, with its life-sapping repeated revolutions focusing on egalite at the expense of liberte) or a sudden double-amputation (like Britain, losing so many of its people and God knows how much of its treasure to war twice in two generations - with Churchill's speeches still echoing down the rubbled streets of London, Britain no longer had legs to stand on), it's a tragedy, not something to be sought. What's the deal with the neo-Vikings? Have they utterly forgotten themselves? Or are they so envious of the vigor of those who are still vigorous that they have to do their best, in grand Leftist style, to even the field at their low level?

Not that Vikings were like us. Vikings took what they wanted; we keep trying to give back what's thrust upon us. We're the perfect hegemon, not, as Krauthammer says, just the accidental one: we're the hegemon who never wanted the job, who is terribly uncomfortable with it, who, while repeatedly and sometimes wearily stepping up to fulfill the responsibilities of it, is constantly on guard against the nation-state equivalent of the droit de seigneur that goes along with it.

Be careful what you wish for, Europe.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Illustration of expediency

No children, please. I use some inappropriate language below.

I've avoided writing about the Polanski horribleness because it all seemed so rarified to me - how could anyone in his right mind believe the ridiculous celebrity "defenses" of Polanski's actions? They can't even really believe it themselves, can they? Goldberg's "not rape-rape," all the "but he's so GIFTED" junk, coupled with the "and now he's old, and it was a long time ago, and anyway the victim - um, I mean the woman in her forties he... um... had unspecified (by me) relations with three decades ago, anyway, she wants to drop it, right?" All that. It's all, to my mind, veddy veddy P!ss Christ: we the hoi polloi are simply not sophisticated enough to understand the art (of the p!ss, or of the defenses). All we know is that it stinks.

But now we get to this, in which Patterico quotes at length from a WaPo chat with Tom Shales, Columnist:

Tom Shales: Hello, Dunn Loring, I didn’t want to sign off without trying to answer your question. I didn’t realize I had written a column defending Roman Polanski and minimized his crime – are you sure it was me? I mean, I? There is, apparently, more to this crime than it would seem, and it may sound like a hollow defense, but in Hollywood I am not sure a 13-year-old is really a 13-year-old.

It was, indeed, he, back in summer '08; he claimed that Polanski was never charged with rape. Goldberg believes this too, on the grounds that Polanski copped not to "rape by use of drugs," which was one of the charges, but to "unlawful sexual intercourse." ("Unlawful sexual intercourse" speaks to his iconoclastic artistic sensibilities, dunnit? After all, all genii make their own rules, including sexual mores; even Heinlein said so. Pfah.) But in the snippet Patterico reproduced and I re-reproduce here, Shales again minimizes the crime with his "I am not sure" statement about the nature of Hollywood 13-year-olds.

Now. I am not stupid. I know that Goldberg meant, "It was statutory, not violent." (Technically true but ABSOLUTELY false in that Polanski's 'luuding the kid up certainly diminished her capacity to fight back - so he didn't have to get violent with her. Smart man.) I know that Shales means, "A 13-year-old model in La-La Land is not exactly the same in her life experience as a Kansas small-town 13-year-old; look at Drew Barrymore, after all." But for God's sake, is either of these observations ANY kind of defense?

From Patterico's comment thread:

35. When twenty year old street thugs go to war over drug turf that’s ‘children dying from gun violence.’

When an ideologically select forty year old rapes a thirteen year old ’she’s not really a child.’

Orwellian doesn’t begin to describe Shales and his ilk..

Comment by ThomasD — 10/6/2009 @ 11:22 pm

And that, in a nutshell, is expediency in the service of ideology and tribal (celebrity, that is) identity. It's... well, like P!ss Christ, no matter how often and how passionately you put it forth as Great Art, at root it's gross. And everybody knows it.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Executive != Diplomat

What was he thinking?

Once I was my company's representative in a civil trial; I sat beside our outside counsel for three days listening to testimony on a matter of no importance herein, but of great important to my company both at that moment and in future, with regard to the precedent the judge's decision would set, and tried my darnedest to help our counsel interpret that testimony. She was very very smart, well versed in the law and in the particular subject of the trial, and a terrific presenter and cross-examiner; she did not need my help. But it's part of the process, I gather, to have a company rep present, and I was it.

So one guy was on the stand, and suddenly something he said set off big alarm bells in my head. I scribbled a question for our counsel to ask on my notepad and pushed it across to her, and on cross, she asked it. The guy answered - but it had been a while since I'd heard the alarm bells and jotted the question, and frankly his answer meant nothing to me - I hadn't written down the ramifications of what I expected his answer to be, because in the heat of the moment I was sure they'd be obvious. So there stood our counsel, thrown off by a meaningless answer to a question she hadn't planned to ask.

Fortunately she was no rookie; she shook herself a little, shook it off, and continued with the line of questioning she'd had planned. But after we finished for the day, she spoke sternly to me. The gist: Never ask a question unless you KNOW THE ANSWER FIRST. Court is not discovery.

And a President, the Chief Executive of the United States, is not a diplomat; he does not "do" diplomacy. In matters of high-level diplomacy (that is, matters that require the imprimatur of a head of state), the real diplomats do all the heavy lifting ahead of time, and the President shows up when the deal is done, to pretend that he or she is actually negotiating something but actually just to show how important this event is.

So what the heck, Mr. President? What on this earth could make you squander so much - so much time, credibility, resources, to risk your personal safety and that of your whole entourage, et cetera, et cetera - on the freaking Olympics? When you apparently didn't have them in the bag, so the perception would be a big V-for-Victory for the O-for-Obama team?

The Olympics? They were worth it? (I'd ask the same about the stupid global warming bash-the-Western-world-fest at the UN, but what's the point? To his side, nominally at least, "climate change" is indeed something requiring the attention of heads of state - even though none of them actually act as if they believe it.)

<rubbing temples>Oi veh.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

You'd expect more from a supergroup

I was ironing today, something I do once a month whether we need ironed clothes or not.

(Actually, at least twice a year I get to skip my monthly ironing day, because my priceless mother-in-law is visiting and does it for me - way better than I do it, too, ironing not just the things that have been crumpled like tissue paper but even the children's clothes, which is something I'll only do at Christmas and Easter.)

Anyway, I had my "epic win" playlist going on the old iPod, and "Wildest Dreams" came on. Asia... ah, Asia. Asia was the band that introduced me to (putative) hard rock, back in 1982. (Yes, I know it's prog.) My taste in music in my first two years of high school was heavily influenced by the fact that I was living, breathing, eating and drinking musical theater; then I moved to a much smaller school with a great drama teacher but a very small pool of performers. (We tried, in my junior year, to put on Stop the World, I Want To Get Off, but had to cancel the whole endeavor because the only guy to try out for the male lead was also instrumental to the football team's prospects, and his priorities were more with the team than the ensemble. A lucky thing, too, because I was cast in the female lead role, and I was NEVER going to get the difference between a German and a Russian accent, much less be able to do those AND British AND whatever-all other accents that part required. It's rather a silly show anyway...)

So, with only musical theater in my head, I tended to go for the bubble-gum pop in my radio listening. (Radio: that thing in the car that sometimes plays songs, often plays commercials, and too often plays happy talk.) But then a guy stuck his Walkman headphones over my ears and cranked up some Asia, and suddenly a new dawn... um, dawned: hard rock could be melodic! Who knew?

Back to my ironing. I'm singing along to "Wildest Dreams," and we (John Wetton and I) got to the part about "They recommended euthanasia for nonconformists anywhere." Now, this afternoon was not the first time this line had bugged me, but for some reason it bugged me especially today; recall that this was the Reagan era, and that the chorus of "Wildest Dreams" says, "They fight (they fight) for king (for king) and country," and the only king they might've been referring to was Reagan, the clown-king of "progressive" fantasy. And what struck me was this:

Who created reeducation camps? Who undertakes "diversity" and "sensitivity" training? Who spearheaded hate-speech rules on campuses and elsewhere? Who goes immediately, in these times, to accusations of racism when policy disagreements occur?

Hint: it ain't Reagan's side, no matter how far from Reagan the American Right might've come.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The monsters are the monsters

One of my favorite blogs, NeoNeoCon, was discussing how one's political viewpoint can be changed (that's the story behind the first "neo" of NeoNeoCon's handle; she was raised on the Left and subscribed to that point of view until 9/11, whereupon the already-extant long slow erosion of her confidence in progressivism pretty much turned into a landslide). One of the commenters, who it appears was born a conservative and remains one today, said this:

I’m not a “changer”. However, an incident in 8th grade (1982) revealed to me that I viewed things differently than my teachers and couldn’t knuckle under like the other kids:

We were assigned to read “Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” (What I now know is some high-grade Rod Serling red-baiting agitprop.)

In it the aliens (the monsters) coerced, manipulated and used psychological warfare to turn ‘average racist gun-owning psycho Americans’ to turn on their neighbors so that the aliens could walk in without a beam fired.

In the class, the (now I know) sever lefty, feninist teacher sneered “Now who were the real monsters?” And all the little sheep dutifully said “the racist average gun-owning Americans were the real monsters!”

I raised my hand and stated: “No way, the monsters manipulated them. There were monsters. The monsters are the monsters!” Then the wrath of the class and teacher fell upon me. The teacher claimed I was juvenile and couldn’t understand the ‘nuance’ of the story. The class devolved into a shouting match with me yelling “The monsters are the monsters!”

It was ugly. It was a true learning experience. I got into fist-fights with the little bastards for a week after that; was constantly ridiculed, even by the teacher, and got a low grade in that class, but I stuck to it.

If you just keep your moral bearings and remember “the monsters are the monsters.”, liberal bullshit falls apart instantly.

Just don’t forget: The monsters are the monsters.

I've reproduced his or her comment (I'm pretty sure "his," but one wouldn't want to assume) in its entirety. Let's do remember. Because, remember how after every terrorist attack of any scale, we hear apologists tell us, sometimes in so many words, that the terrorists were driven to their action by our actions? In essence, that we are the monsters?

Please note that I am, and all should be, very cognizant of the difference between the story's scenario - monsters acting specifically to produce a crazed reaction from humans - and what we are repeatedly accused of: we are ourselves, products of many centuries of a particular sheaf of cultures and cultural practices. The simple fact of our difference from the terrorists, or perhaps the fact that we dare to act different from the terrorists in accordance with our differences from them, is said to be our sin.

No. The monsters are the monsters.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A simple plan

So here is a story from KVAL in Eugene, OR, about a woman with terminal cancer. Her doctor "offered hope" (for more time, as I understand it, not for remission or recovery) in the form of an expensive chemo drug. The Oregon Health Plan denied her request for that drug, but offered "comfort care" including - of course, it being Oregon - assisted suicide.


Saha [the spokesperson for the plan] said state health officials do not consider whether it is cheaper for someone in the health plan to die than live. However, he admitted they must consider the state's limited dollars when dealing with a case such as Wagner's.

"If we invest thousands and thousands of dollars in one person's days to weeks, we are taking away those dollars from someone," Saha said.

Uh-huh. If they don't consider whether life or death is cheaper, on what basis are they making this decision? They prefer death, or opiate haze, to an extension of life? Saha says that if the woman believes they're only willing to cover her suicide, she's misinterpreted their letter. Clearly. The article says right there that they'll offer "comfort care" (that would be the pain pills Pres. Obama has gotten into such hot water over) too. But that spokesperson can't claim that the plan doesn't cover assisted suicide. And the woman appealed the plan's denial of the drug twice, losing both times, so obviously if they somehow misspoke, they did it three times.

(The drug company that makes the drug is offering it to her for free now. God bless 'em. I assume they've done so with some conditions, such as her allowing them to collect data on the progress of her cancer. It seems to me that they have every right to ask such a thing in return for the charity they're offering, and that she has every incentive to give it. I know I would...)

My question: How can anyone who knows about Oregon, who knows about Massachusetts, who knows about Canada, who knows about Great Britain, believe that this little story isn't a vision of the United States' future, if government becomes primary health care provider? Why is it that those on the Left insist that history doesn't repeat itself? It isn't as if what they're proposing hasn't been tried.

Oh, except in this one respect: if the US goes the way of Canada and Great Britain, there'll be no more US health system to rely on: no more hideously-expensive-to-develop US drugs that Canada can buy at a deep discount and crow about offering cheaply; no more new surgical techniques invented and tested in US operating rooms that can eventually be learned by foreign doctors; no more life extension research that can maintain a Stephen Hawking or a Robert Heinlein far beyond their "natural" span; no more super-NICU techniques that can sustain a baby weighing less than a pound, giving that baby a shot at not just life but normal life (and raising US infant mortality rates in the process, because a one-pound baby only has a shot at life, even here).

There is rationing in health care now, just as there's rationing in, say, real estate (in good times!) and hybrid cars (when gasoline gets expensive): demand exceeds supply. But who decides? What's better, a bureaucratic process far removed from the beneficiary, a bureaucratic process closer to the beneficiary (that would be private insurance, wherein individuals can decide how "Cadillac" a plan they want to pay for), a lottery? If Oregon objects to spending $4000 to add a month to this woman's life, but is happy enough to cover her $100 death (a prospect that makes me shudder even as the economics make plenty o' sense), what on earth gives anyone the idea that the Federal government won't offer the same care, or lack thereof?

Please, Texas, it's in your Constitution: pull the secession trigger before this horrible thing takes effect. I have two anchor children...

Friday, July 24, 2009

And now to answer the actual QUESTION...

Sorry, Anonymous; I got onto my soapbox there. You asked about sustainability and I went on and on about the environmental movement, leaving out several areas you mentioned specifically.

Okay, here's the thing: conservatives do not, in principle, object to paying for necessary services, such as garbage collection and waste management, such as disposal fees for hazardous wastes, such as water and air quality monitoring. They expect that the costs for whatever filtering-style processing a business must do in order to meet reasonable and agreed-on standards will be passed on to them, the consumers. What they (we) take issue with is this type of situation:

"Save the spotted owl!" was an environmental rallying cry in the Pacific Northwest; logging was destroying the birds' habitat, it was claimed. When pressed, however, environmentalists taking up the owls' cause admitted that the owl itself was not so much the issue; it was that old-growth forests were being logged, and the owl was a convenient "face" for the forests. Human beings were going to lose their jobs, the price of wood was going to rise for all buyers, and all under the auspices of "saving" a critter.

Honesty would have been a policy behind which more conservatives could have rallied, if they agreed with the principle that we ought to seek our wood from places other than old growth. (Old growth, by the way, is not a static forest condition; like all conditions on the planet, it's transitory. By geologic standards, it's a flash in the pan.) But the more-regulation playbook seems to require certain tactics:

  • Appeal to the cute: children and animals sell.
  • When possible, use anecdote, not data, to make your point, and search as hard as you have to to find the anecdote that tugs hardest at the heartstrings.
  • When you must use statistics, present those with the most shock value. (Think "global warming" - oops, I mean "anthropogenic climate change" here.) Bury those that don't bear out your point.
  • People have short memories and little capacity for reasoning, take advantage of these facts.
  • Use the Watergate school of journalism to help you: journalists have seen the Promised Land of Changing History, and they want it bad. If you can pitch your story as an opportunity to let a journalist Change History, that journalist will probably go to the mat shouting your point and shouting down opposing ones.

Et cetera. It's not that conservatives "don't care" about sustainability; it's that they, like most humans, do have memories, they do have the ability to reason, and they resent and distrust organizations and people who seem to be trying to make an end run around them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Issues of Sustainability"

Okay, you got me, Anonymous...

I was taking a stroll down Memory Lane this fine morning, rereading old posts of mine, and to my great surprise there's a post down there with FIVE comments! Two are from my old friend Kirbside, but three are from Anonymous, who says, "I'm curious to get your opinion on issues of sustainability." He or she goes on to add,

Sustainability doesn't seem to be a very popular topic among conservatives. There appears to be an attitude that "God will sort it all out", so we don't need to worry about carbon emissions, or resource depletion, or infrastructure renewal, or ecological impacts, or even garbage collection.


From what I gather, it goes something like this: existing business structures don't want to change their established methods, so they oppose sustainable technologies and deny deny deny environmental impacts. They then convince the God-wing of the party that it's all hogwash and that God is in control.

I -get- that. Nobody wants to be forced to do something that is costly. It's up to people to demand sustainable technologies from businesses, to essentially speak with their wallets. The thing I don't get is why Republican/Conservative leaders don't actively promote sustainability, rather than ignore the issue? Why don't they care?

First let me correct a misconception: the "God-wing" is not anti-environment; in fact, serious Christians (I won't speak for other sects) believe that humans are created by God, somehow (many, including me, believe that this creation took place in an incremental fashion - i.e., through evolution, a process likewise created by God), in God's image, with an inescapable duty to be stewards of the rest of Creation. What we conservatives (taking that subgroup of American humanity apart from any "God-wing" stuff) often object to is the contention that the environment is either coequal with or actively trumps human interests. We believe that the human sphere is the business of the human sphere, and that the environment is the backdrop against which we (religious reference coming up) live and move and have our being - a backdrop that adds great value and often beauty, without which the play is impossible to produce, and that must be maintained appropriately, but which is not as important as the actors.

That said, we who believe that God takes an active interest in God's creation do tend to believe that God looks after not just us but our environment (and all aspects of creation, whether or not they benefit or affect humans). But that's not exactly the same as "God will sort it all out," since Christians believe that we are God's hands. (We just don't believe we're God's only hands. We're not that arrogant.)

So - sustainability. Depending on your definition, businesses large and small are all about sustainability; none, except those absurd dot.com "businesses" that mistook an exit strategy for a business plan, intend to put themselves out of business. Therefore it makes no sense for them to kill whatever is their golden goose - to destroy that which makes their business possible. Sometimes it's more clear than others how to create sustained production - in timber, for instance, where it's pretty easy to see that planting trees to replace logged trees helps to maintain production, and a healthy environment for those trees one day to be logged themselves. And often, growth in both knowledge and technology leads to improvement in the area of sustainability; take timber again: hand-cutting used to be the only method available for logging, and trees could be chosen one by one for their grain, size, etc. Then, with mechanized logging, clearcutting was the only efficient means, and ALL trees fell - not pretty, and less sustainable, but necessary to meet demand. Now, it's again becoming possible to do selective logging, which improves the logged forest's health because it more closely mimics nature, but is still capable of meeting demand - partly because on the demand side, engineered wood products are in much wider use than ever before, since growing super-fast-maturing trees, loggable in ten years or so, in farmlike fields, and which are then chipped and made into strong building material, is another innovation of the last few decades.

In oil and gas, it used to be that only the oil that basically bubbled to the surface was produceable. Technology grew with demand, and deeper and deeper resources became reserves (a resource is something you know exists; "reserves" is a subset of resources that denotes produceable resources, and is very closely tied to price). Oil and gas drilling has a small footprint and a small ecological cost, compared with oil and gas refining - but even though refining technology hasn't been allowed to proceed very readily in this country, air quality, for instance, around refineries has drastically improved via technological advances. (Refinery footprints haven't shrunk; I assume this is because refineries know they'll never get land back if they relinquish it, and therefore keep on occupying it whether or not their processes have or could have decreased in size.)

Mining removes bulky material - ore - from often scenic places. That stinks, I say as a person who likes going to scenic places. But coal (for instance) is an overwhelmingly important energy source in this country and elsewhere; it's energy-dense, easy and safe to transport, easy to burn to create electricity. It will continue to be produced until a better thing comes along (and no, solar and wind aren't "better" in any respect that counts in this discussion). Mining companies strip-mine where that's the most efficient way to get at the ore. But erosion problems downstream as well as public relations concerns cause them to enter an area only with a rehabilitation plan in place. And miners' working conditions have dramatically improved as well. There is a societal cost to to mining; but it's not the same cost as it was even fifty years ago.

At this point, Anonymous is hopping up and down, waiting for a chance to point out that many of these changes wouldn't have taken place if not for tighter environmental regulations and collective bargaining and so forth. I think the timing would have been different - probably quite a lot different in some cases - but that these same changes would have taken hold in the absence of governmental and union involvement, if the marketplace had been allowed to work. Here's why:

The capitalist marketplace of the conservative is not just a place where things are bought and sold; it's - very importantly - a marketplace of ideas as well. Good ideas are not judged by some Idea Board; they're evaluated by the innumerable entities, individual and corporate, that make up the marketplace, and the winners are, tautologically, the ones that win. "Organic farming" is an old idea made new again, and in the Western marketplace of ideas, it's taking hold. (It'd be a recipe for global famine if its staunchest supporters got their way and it were implemented everywhere, but heck, what's affluence for if not to indulge your personal preferences? No harm in having organic food in the produce bins and on the shelves, as long as less expensive, high-quality "non-organic" options are available for those who can't afford or don't choose the "organic" stuff.)

Hybrid cars - finally, an option better than the plug-in one! It used to make me crazy that so many electric-car advocates seemed to believe that the magical stuff that comes out of outlets in their homes was free, both to them and to the environment.

And generally improved environmental conditions - this, again, is an idea of the marketplace that has resulted in, for instance, BP's "It's a start" campaign. Regulation has forced more stringent environmental standards (sometimes ridiculously more stringent, down to "below detection limits" for compounds never definitively shown to be harmful), but it's the marketplace that makes companies take the step of doing better than the regs.

If "environmentalists" embraced the idea marketplace (they use it, certainly) and largely abandoned regulation-seeking, there'd be many more conservatives who would join their ranks, working assiduously to bring those ideas to fruition. Who likes the thought of living in nineteenth-century London with its yellow-gray sulfurous fogs? But convince - don't force - and your ideas have sustainable force. Or else they're not worth implementing.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The juvies

My brother-in-law steered me to this blog post about Heinlein's juveniles, presumably to tempt me into sharing my own thoughts. (He must be bored.) I have thoughts. Here they are:

Gosh. Which Heinlein juvie is my favorite? The blog post mentions several that I've enjoyed mightily through the years: Door Into Summer (though it has one creepy element), Have Space Suit, Will Travel (I still quote Shakespeare I learned first from that book), Farmer In the Sky (my mother, a science teacher and not a Heinlein fan, uses that book in an ecology unit she teaches), The Rolling Stones (first of the Heinlein red-headed twins, and my first introduction to twin-banter - great fun!), and Double Star, which I've never thought of as a juvenile. It left out Space Cadet, which I read over and over and over as I considered my eventually relinquished appointment to the Air Force Academy. And Podkayne of Mars, his earliest novel-length story in a girl's voice. And Tunnel In the Sky, and Between Planets. But which is my favorite?

Hmm. All I can say is, it varies. For fun, The Rolling Stones. For technology and sociology, Tunnel In the Sky. For heroism (which we all know by now is a big touchstone of mine), Between Planets. For foreshadowing of the infamous Three-Stage Heinlein Character, hmm, tie between Between Planets and Podkayne. For politics, Citizen of the Galaxy. For totally unrealized romance, Have Space Suit, Will Travel. For insight into an unfamiliar field (acting), Double Star, if juvie it is.

But if I had to pick a favorite Heinlein opus, it might be "If This Goes On...," a novella from his so-called "Future History" series that appeared in The Past Through Tomorrow. Johnny has it all: he's a first-stage Heinlein character with a second-stage buddy, he's Galahad with Lilith tempting him all the time (to mix my metaphors), he's no-nonsense competent but a complete doofus. He's great. And throw in a Moon Is A Harsh Mistress-style rebellion against a charismatic Stranger In a Strange Land-style pseudo-religious leader, and baby, you've got plot.

But what the non-Heinlein fan out there may be tumbling to is that Heinlein tended to stick to certain themes. Uh-huh. What of it? Joseph Bottum the blogger, referring to the ever-recurring theme of kinky sex (or maybe not kinky exactly, but certainly highly promiscuous) in Heinlein books, says, "As one commentator on Amazon notes: 'Robert Heinlein is a great author. But let’s face it. Sometimes you want to a read a good Heinlein book where characters do *not* spend most of their time having sex with their computers, children, mothers, and female clones of themselves.'" And here I depart from the Amazon commenter.

It's not that I want to read more promiscuous and/or kinky sex scenes, believe me. It's uncomfortable enough that it was my dad who introduced me to Heinlein! No, I disagree with the commenter's contention that Heinlein is a "great author." Heinlein himself, from what I gather (and I've gathered quite a lot about Heinlein over the years; his remarkable wife is the so-far-very-poorly-followed pattern for my life), would have laughed raucously at that statement. He considered himself to be a good storyteller - an artist, yes, because it was his aim and his craft to cause his readers to experience emotions of his choosing ("pity and terror," he said); that was how he defined "artist," scorning abstract forms of art as "pseudo-intellectual masturbation." Not sure I fully agree with him there, having just been pretty ooged-out by an O'Keefe exhibit at the San Francisco MOMA. But he saw himself not as "great," but as working.

If Heinlein has importance in any area other than science fiction, where his contributions are unquestioned, it should be in his values. He was a family man who couldn't have children, so he wrote (laughably ignorantly, but with great commitment and earnestness) about the centrality of the family to human society. He wrote characters who purported to be lazy but were only happy when they were working on something, and his life story indicates that he wrote from experience there; he was, by example if not by statement, a staunch advocate of a strong work ethic and (this by word and example) an unwillingness to accept charity or the dole. He believed - or I infer that he believed, based on his writing about it all the time, and on his very long marriage to his third wife after two brief youthful marriages - in commitment in relationships; even the most promiscuous sex in his books tends to result in marriage - lots of marriage. Marriage to lots of people. Almost nobody in a Heinlein book is fornicating, or not for long at any rate.

And he believed in our future. He talked boldly about humanity as the toughest, meanest, smartest critter in the universe - stated that if we were ever to meet our match, all right, we might die in the encounter, but we wouldn't die with our hands in our pockets. He believed that we should try, try as hard as we could, to spread ourselves around, to make the human race unkillable by undertaking a willing Diaspora that would scatter us too widely to be wiped out by anything. Technologically speaking, this goal is far out of reach. And frankly, I'm married to a man who wouldn't want to be a pioneer, so that even if it were possible today, I'm constrained to stay here on the cool green hills of Earth (that's a Heinleinism, for the unfamiliar). But what a goal: to defy the cold equations (not a Heinleinism but a science fiction staple) of natural law, to outlive our own extinction!

Last, I think Heinlein was an unwilling Deist. I infer the "unwilling" part, certainly. But his writing and his life seem to suggest that he wasn't like Houdini, looking for a "supernatural" survival of the spirit beyond the body; that he wasn't like Sagan, proudly declaring his atheism as he lay dying. Perhaps he was Christian; he did, in any case, appreciate the power of the Christianity story. But I think it's clear that he either did believe or couldn't help but believe that there was a watchmaker. I read my first Heinlein juvie when I was perhaps eleven or twelve, if memory serves; because I was exposed early, frequently, and comprehensively, I sometimes go back to the Watchmaker myself. Does it interfere with my Christianity? It sure does... but at least it means that even in my darkest valleys, while I may not perceive myself to be walking with my Brother Christ, I do perceive that the universe is on some level benign and purposeful. I hope that Heinlein died in at least that confidence.

I need a hero

Via Omnivoracious, a review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

The first thing we see in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is the face of the hero (Daniel Radcliffe) filling the screen, looking grim. As a row of flashbulbs goes off, he flinches, like a criminal exposed. ... [W]hat of Harry? Well, he has committed no crime, so there’s no call for a brooding mug shot. And he’s long been a star of the wizard firmament, so there’s no reason to drape him in fresh celebrity. In short, we are left to ponder this dour and heavy style, and to wonder what sort of film—and what new trouble with Harry—it foretells.

Spoken like a man who knows nothing about the wizarding world. I mean nothing - including the last ten minutes of the previous Potter film. In short, we are left to ponder this puckish and condescending style, and to wonder what sort of reviewer of an installment in an unabashed film franchise fails to realize, or at any rate to note, the ways in which this installment fits with its predecessors.

I'm sure Mr. A. Lane has already been inundated with hate-mail from young teenagers on this point. But I ain't no teenager, I am a Potter fan, and in spite of my undoubted redundancy, I'd like to add my two cents.

Mr. Lane. Harry flinches because that scene comes on the heels of his godfather's (perhaps more accurately, his surrogate father's) violent death and his own brief possession by Voldemort. Harry was a "star of the wizard firmament"... until he witnessed, and testified to all and sundry, the rebirth of Voldemort at the end of Goblet of Fire, at which point he became an object of scorn to the Ministry of Magic and a lot of the wizarding public. Get your background straight, goofball. If you found the film unconvincing, say that - but don't review it as if it's intended to stand alone, because it's not. Even for first-timers, it's intended as an entree into the Potter collection, not as a one-off.

As for my own review, then: I looooved it. I saw it first at midnight on opening day with my twelve-year-old, who hadn't read the book; he was a little confused, but more by the adolescent romance stuff than by the plot twists. (Side note: I'm loving these midnight premieres! It's VERY fun indeed to get up in the middle of the night and go to a movie. And the frisson of post-midnight caffeine from the big old Diet Coke only adds to my ability to suspend my disbelief!) I came out of the theater declaring it the best Potter so far, and absolutely chomping at the bit for #7 and #8.

I saw it a second time a few days later with my midnight Twilight buddy, who had read the book at least as long ago as I did, and at last achieved a little distance. A little. The Potter universe is so fully realized by now that it's no effort at all for a fan like me (meaning, I've seen all the movies and own the last one, continue to re-watch the earlier ones at my parents' house - because my dad's a bigger fan than I am - and have read and reread the books, but not committed them to memory) to achieve that suspension of disbelief; Hogwarts is familiar territory, the Burrow a second home, Neville Longbottom (who has all of maybe two lines in this movie, but I'm glad they kept those two lines in) an old friend I'm just a little too busy to sit down with right now, Quidditch a game I seem to remember watching just last season - right?

So it's hard for me to be objective, because the Potterverse is a place I'd really like to be, even with the danger of persecution and death and all. But I'll say this: This movie found a way to reveal a great deal of the book's internal action. Compare it to the horror known as Dune, in which every thought (of course the thoughts in Dune were vital to the plot, so they had to be revealed somehow) was voiced over: Half-Blood Prince took some significant liberties with faithfulness to the book in order to move the viewer through plot points that otherwise happened only in, say, Harry's head. Oh, I know that this movie could take those liberties because the franchise is solid, and the Dune people knew that they were up against insane fans and had to stick as closely to the book as possible (just as the first Potter film, and Twilight too, had to), or else alienate those insane fans who were likely to be the film's biggest money. Suffice it to say I'm very glad that at this point in the Potter narrative, when so much in the books does happen either in thoughts or out of sight, the film franchise is strong enough to maintain enough creative control over how to bring out the most important points.

Another saving grace (that phrase overstates the case, but it's the best I can do) is that there's been enough time now since the publication of Half-Blood Prince (the book) that those of us who didn't reread the book in preparation for the movie are not all that clear on the details of those plot points. I came out of the theater both times contented that all necessary items had been hit, that all necessary setups had been set up - but not remembering for certain whether they'd been respectively hit and set up as they were in the book. It was all good; the next movie can begin with impunity.

[NOTE: Spoilers below, if there's such a thing as a Harry Potter spoiler.]

Things I loved: the kids had a chance to try out some fairly subtle acting chops, and they did well at it. The teenage angst stuff that confused my kid so much was spot-on: Hermione's pain at Ron's dalliance with Lavender, Cormac's overconfident vileness (oh my Lord, was he vile), Draco's terror and doubt warring with his pride and arrogance... And a point that I thought the movie actually did better than the book: Harry and Ginny repeatedly encounter one another here and there, sometimes by accident, sometimes by design, and the viewer can see the attraction growing between them. More: at least twice, Ginny becomes the first one to break from the group (of course we all know that Harry stands alone a lot) to go to Harry at times of danger or distress. We start to see how it is that this minor character, Ginny, might actually be the love of his life - not a pretty feebly depicted cardboard cutout, as she is throughout the books (yes, including most of Half-Blood Prince), but the witch who's good enough, brave enough, interesting enough to ensnare Harry Potter.

There's scene between Harry and Ginny that's actually shocking. Harry's standing on a landing of one of the Burrow's many stairways, and Ginny, coming up the stairs, notices that one of his shoes is untied. She gestures at it and murmurs, "Shoelace," then, before Harry can do anything about it, kneels at his feet and ties his shoe. Watching it is almost like walking in on their wedding night - it's wrong somehow, too personal, to see her tenderness and his wonderment - even though they don't touch any inch of one another's skin, they don't even brush sleeves in passing, at any time in the scene.

So let's get to Harry. In this movie, Harry (who looks nothing like Daniel Radcliffe any more, oddly enough) takes up the mantle that's been waiting for him: he's the Chosen One, the only one who can destroy Voldemort; he knows it, he accepts it, and he actively participates in it. He has no idea how he's supposed to accomplish the impossible - and at the end of the movie his despair over that lack is palpable - but he's a real hero, not going forward without fear but going forward in spite of fear. Heroism, thrust upon Harry in the first four movies, reluctantly chosen in the fifth, is something he walks right into, bespectacled eyes wide open, in this movie.

Heroism is so rare in movies, especially Harry's brand: Mission Impossible without the deus ex machina, which is odd, considering that magic ought to be the ultimate deus ex machina. Harry faces killing odds without more than a brief physical flinch, because he understands (or believes he does) that the purpose of his life is to lay it down for his friends. (I certainly hope that phrase sounds familiar.) There's a similarity between Radcliffe's portrayal of Harry, which I find utterly true to Rowling's writing of him, and the My Sister's Keeper story: Harry believes in every cell of his body that he was spared death for just one purpose, to kill the creature who killed his parents and who threatens his world.

At the end of the movie, he's appalled to learn (or to think he's learned) that Dumbledore died in vain: the Horcrux is a fake. But what he doesn't yet know is that Dumbledore's death serves Dumbledore's own greater purposes, that ultimately the war can't be won without it. And that's also what Harry doesn't know about his own life: that it's not just the endgame that counts. His saving Ginny when he was twelve, she eleven, not only destroys Riddle's diary (and, we find in Half-Blood Prince, a Horcrux) but also, eventually, gives his life a new and happy meaning and focus. God writes in crooked lines.

I wish I could quit you, Lipstick...

First, a wee post to acknowledge the fact that I'd planned to let this little blog slip into an obscurity even greater than it enjoyed even in its heyday, such as it was.

And now, for something (almost) completely different. Politics is depressing me; Pres. Obama is outdoing my most pessimistic expectations in both his ham-fistedness and his no-longer-masked socialist tendencies and policy prescriptions. And there's a new Harry Potter movie coming out, and New Moon, the first Twilight sequel, is in post-production. So on to pop culture!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How to stimulate an economy

Again with the NPR. Today I was listening to a segment that was billed as a "report card" of sorts on how the "gigantic stimulus bill" was working out in the actual economy - "All Things Considered," I want to say. This report card focused on three areas of the economy: energy, health care, and government services - noting in passing that "stimulating" aid to the government services sector represented "one of the biggest" pieces of the pie. (I have to wonder - no, I mean I really have to wonder, since the information isn't public in this, the most transparent administration ever - just where in the Top Ten it sits.)

Let's start there, at the three sectors NPR chose to highlight. Energy: okay, that's possibly a good choice, since I gather that Americans spend somewhere between seven and ten percent of their household income, on average, on energy, and because the energy industry has undergone a ginormous runup followed by an even more ginormous crash (my family is living through said crash right now; it is indeed MORE ginormous than the runup). But NPR, in what I immediately and confidently assumed would be its tireless effort to promote the Obama "stimulus" plan as an actual source of help to the economy, chose to cover not the great bulk of the energy sector - traditional energy sources, that is - but the teeny-weeny wind-and-solar bit. Apparently wind and solar providers and facilitators are absolutely thrilled with the President's plan as well as the quick disbursement of funds therefrom.

Of course they are. Stimulating? Certainly - to the maybe three million people worldwide who work in renewable energy - directly or for suppliers. (Note: my source calls its "2.3 million" number, as of last July, "in all likelihood a conservative figure." It doesn't say why the figure's conservatism is likely. Seems to me it's just as likely that it'd be a rather optimistic number, especially considering that the figure includes "indirect" employment in renewable energy, meaning firms that might or might not actually provide renewable energy services if the market turned against them.)

NPR's grade for Obama so far? S for Stimulating. Let's move on to health care.

Datum (or, as some might call it, "anecdote"): a free clinic in Seattle's Pike Place Market. The stimulus money arrived just in time, according to the report, to keep the doors open - and what do you know, now they're hiring! Yes, it's true! Two doctors "and support staff" in unnumbered hordes (or possibly a horde of one, I'm thinking, since the horde was in fact unnumbered and referred to only as "support staff"). Why? Because they're seeing so much more walk-in traffic from people who have lost their jobs and, with them, their employer-provided health care. So the stimulus bill has "created" something in excess of two jobs in that clinic - jobs utterly unnecessary if the clientele of the clinic had jobs themselves sufficient to pay for their own health care. And those jobs will be, or at any rate, should be, in jeopardy when those clients do go back to work.

NPR's grade? An enthusiastic S for Stimulating. On to government services.

Is there really any need to discuss it? Naturally using tax money and horrific debt to create and support government jobs and jobs dependent on government, such as the much-touted roadwork and construction of federal buildings, will receive NPR's unironic S for Stimulating. But they did have a reason for choosing this economic sector. Even some NPR devotees must feel a little uncomfortable about the whole robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul nature of "stimulating" the economy by creating government makework, so NPR had to address the point somehow; the obvious way to do so was to present a case, at least one compelling case, that would either tug at the heartstrings or engage the common sense bone, wherever it is, to prove that these jobs aren't makework after all, but real, good, sustainable jobs. So their example was Chicago road maintenance.

They began by noting that Illinois hadn't had the money (read: tax base; can't imagine why that'd be short of what was needed) to do the necessary work on its potholed roads. The stimulus bill's money apparently results in projections of an OK construction season, which the newsreader was quick to point out stood out in sharp relief against the 20% unemployment in all types of construction (versus the 8-ish percent unemployment overall at present). Why the fellow thought it'd make his point better to emphasize the "all types of construction" bit, I don't know; seems to me it only undermines his argument. As if it needed undermining; it's, again, specious to say that only through the Obama plan could these roads be repaired. If Illinois simply had enough tax revenue - voila, the problem is (or could be, provided Illinois legislators had their priorities straight - not necessarily a slam dunk, I admit) solved. Real jobs for real people, real taxpayers - that's stimulating. Road jobs that will dry up as soon as the money does - possibly short-term relief for those folks, but the opportunity cost remains uncalculated.

And that's the rub. Opportunity cost: we'll never know what any alternative to the Obama wealth-redistribution/power grab could have accomplished, because all such are lost to us now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Say again?

So last night's speech on the state of the economy. First impression: We're going to do everything at once: recover from this downturn while simultaneously hitting every item on our wish list! And how will we pay for it? Well, defense will be cut a lot, and the rich people will pay for the rest. After all, they have an endless supply of money, so taking more from them in taxes won't in any way affect their expenditures elsewhere. (There's a little straw in my restatement, for the sake of illustration, but show me where else we were told the money's supposed to come from. When the President said that he and his advisors had already started going through the budget "line by line" and had found places to cut $2 trillion over the next ten years - by the way, always extend your time horizon too far to be checked, and don't say whether your cuts are cuts or simple lower increases than currently planned - the only places he mentioned were defense and "big agribusiness," if memory serves.)

In other words, typical (post-Cold War) Democrat.

But then Pres. Obama reached the part where he "challenged" every American to commit to at least one year of higher education, and I was brought up short. Who the bleeping bleep does he think he is, telling me I should seek more education?

It so happens that I want more education. But I want it for me, not to fulfill some putative "duty to my country," as an earlier generation's or a different nation's politicians might have told me it was my duty to produce more children.

If this nation was founded on anything at all, it was founded on the right of individuals to chart the course of their lives. My high school government teacher, the gifted and beloved Mr. Grover, may he rest in peace, illustrated it in time-tested fashion by swinging his arm and walking toward a student - demonstrating his right to swing his arm until the point where it intersected with the student's nose. Of course, the principle he was demonstrating was the limit of an individual's rights, but whether he intended it or not, he was also demonstrating the right to do something other people consider silly or stupid.

Unfortunately for interlocuters who might insist that education is an unalloyed good or that its lack is costly to society, Heinlein, in his late work Friday, posits an independent California in which the government has noted that college grads make a premium over non-college grads. The inequity is quickly corrected by awarding everyone a bachelor's degree, and there's great rejoicing. Except that now, it's being observed that people with master's degrees are making more than those with mere bachelor's degrees, so there's a ballot initiative in process to upgrade everybody to a master's, backdated some years. What's the purpose of "challenging" everyone to seek more education than they have at present? If they're adequately educated to do their current jobs, what's the plan? The newly unemployed aren't lacking education; they're lacking jobs because the jobs aren't there at present. Prior to this downturn, unemployment was below the level considered to be "full employment"; education doesn't seem to be the problem. So this "challenge" does nothing except up the ante for what's required for a given job. Why? To provide more jobs for teachers? Are they pounding the pavement in disproportionate numbers?

In other words, from both a practical and a philosophical standpoint, it's a stupid idea. Encouraging education - sure, why not? While we're at it, let's encourage fewer abortions and more fruits and vegetables in the diet. But either to mandate these things (which Obama stopped short of doing) or to present them as a "duty" (which he did imply) is overstepping government's proper bounds.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I agree with everything but the last bit

Here, Charles Krauthammer discusses the recent (stunning, wondrous) provincial elections in Iraq. A summary:

There was no Election Day violence. Security was handled by Iraqi forces with little U.S. involvement. A fabulous bazaar of 14,400 candidates representing 400 parties participated, yielding results highly favorable to both Iraq and the United States.

Iraq moved away from religious sectarianism toward more secular nationalism. "All the parties that had the words 'Islamic' or 'Arab' in their names lost," noted Middle East expert Amir Taheri. "By contrast, all those that had the words 'Iraq' or 'Iraqi' gained."

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki went from leader of a small Islamic party to leader of the "State of Law Party," campaigning on security and secular nationalism. He won a smashing victory. His chief rival, a more sectarian and pro-Iranian Shiite religious party, was devastated. Another major Islamic party, the pro-Iranian Sadr faction, went from 11 percent of the vote to 3 percent, losing badly in its stronghold of Baghdad. The Islamic Fadhila party that had dominated Basra was almost wiped out.

The once-dominant Sunni party affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the erstwhile insurgency was badly set back. New grass-roots tribal ("Awakening") and secular Sunni leaders emerged.

In other words, the garden we planted back in 2003, beset in times and places with marauding insects, hailstorms, thieves and ill-wishers, appears to be taking root. Krauthammer notes that - as always in the Middle East - Iraq is not out of danger; he points to three possible threats: military coup a la too much of the post-colonial world, strongman a la Chavez, and collapse due to a premature withdrawal of U.S. support. Iraqis, he reminds us, are responsible for ensuring that neither of the first two occurs; but we are responsible for ensuring that the third doesn't. Rather, President Obama, the will-o-the-wisp, the weathervane, is. Hurry up, Iraqis; you may not have much time to adjust to our absence.

Krauthammer ends his piece thus:

When you become president of the United States you inherit its history, even the parts you would have done differently. Obama might argue that American sacrifices in Iraq were not worth what we achieved. But for the purposes of current and future policy, that is entirely moot. Despite Obama's opposition, America went on to create a small miracle in the heart of the Arab Middle East. President Obama is now the custodian of that miracle. It is his duty as leader of the nation that gave birth to this fledgling democracy to ensure that he does nothing to undermine it.

The only part I take issue with is the "small miracle." American policy under Bush appears to have brought about an unprecedented miracle in Iraq, and in record time. I only hope that when the President is alone, he's both humble and sensible enough to realize the magnitude of what's happening there, and - his short public statement about the elections, "[Iraqis] should continue the process of Iraqis taking responsibility for their future," which Krauthammer correctly calls "ungenerous," notwithstanding - appreciates and accepts his responsibility for this child he didn't father.

Yes, I know I've grossly mixed my metaphors. Sue me.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Well, it's "change" at any rate...

What's this about the census?

As required by the Constitution, every ten years the federal government undertakes a massive effort to count and gather information about Americans. The information impacts hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions about federal funding and policy. But most importantly, it will be the basis for the redistricting which determines Congressional representation.

The White House has proposed that the director of the Census, a Commerce Department employee, report to the White House. The White House contends this is no big deal.

"No big deal": the decision about whether to perform an actual count or use a sampling method, for instance. Mmm-hmm.

On the topic of sampling methods, I'm sure we're all familiar with the Lancet's excess-deaths study from 2006, now quite thoroughly discredited. This is the result of improper application of statistics, and particularly agenda-driven improper application of statistics. There are situations wherein it's impossible to perform an actual count of something or someones; where that's true (and I believe it was indeed true in Iraq), those hoping for true answers ought to be especially cautious in their methods, since the factors that make a real count impossible can also contribute to out-of-whack sampling error (as in the Lancet study - and this is giving them a lot of benefit of the doubt, as it seems that the misstatements in that report are all in support of the principal author's personal views).

This is the census. The basis for allocation of Congress representation. Should it be contained in the White House? Would Bush have been applauded for making this move - or vilified (more)?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Of means and ends

I'm far from the first to suggest that the American Left takes a page from Marx. (Far from the first.) I do try to avoid histrionics about "Democrat==Commie" and so forth, but when evidence like this presents itself:

The health care crisis means we must have Daschle and make an exception to the new raised ethics bar. The financial meltdown means that we must have Geithner and make an exception to the new raised ethics bar. The war in Afghanistan and the comfortability level of Secretary Gates means we must make an exception to the new raised ethics bar and have Deputy Secretary Lynn. The vital need to restore the Constitution (Whoops! Renditions, FISA, the Patriot Act, and maybe Guantanmo are, well, still here.) means we must make an exception to the new raised ethics bar and have Attorney General Holder. So what happened to Bill Richardson? His value to the nation in times of crisis did not justify an exception?

Now, this is Victor Davis Hanson's interpretation of events in the Obama Administration, and so we can infer partisanship. But what reasonable interpretations are possible? Occam's Razor gives us, I think, two: that President Obama called on these people because he thought they were best for the jobs and was willing to overlook their ethics issues as long as they didn't reach the public eye, or that President Obama owed or felt he owed some plum positions to these people (and was willing to overlook their ethics issues as long as they didn't reach the public eye). Neither one is very admirable.

And then we have The New Editor's Tom Elia, who sums it all up thusly:

At the dawn of the Obama Administration we have witnessed: four high-level appointees blow up over various issues, tax and otherwise (Richardson, Daschel, and Killefer get axed; Geitner stays); the appointment of at least 12 lobbyists to positions in the Administration -- in direct contradiction of campaign promises; a pork-laden economic stimulus bill without precedent in US history; and the reversal of campaign positions concerning controversial policies like rendition.

Let me say that I don't believe President Obama and Congressional Democrats are the only guilty parties with regard to the ridiculous "stimulus" situation. Congressional Republicans should be ashamed of themselves for going along to get along.

But there are two points I want to make about these observations. First, the subtext Hanson sees is obvious: if so many Obama appointees have ethical "challenges," shall we say, then how many whose lives aren't in the spotlight must have them? And second, and this harks back to my post on functionalism, when one openly allows the end to justify the means by making decisions that clearly place ends ahead of all other considerations (this is giving President Obama the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he really did believe he was choosing the best people for these positions), one runs the risk of being reasonably accused of ruthless Marxist-like pragmatism.

(The difference I see between these appointee missteps and the Bush Administration's Patriot Act, or better I should say Democrat pundits' response to the Patriot Act - that it was stomping all over our civil liberties, etc., etc., using fear as a motivator to convince everybody that we needed to allow the end to justify the means - is that objectively, the Patriot Act hasn't actually stomped all over our civil liberties, whereas admitted tax cheats really have stomped all over the US Tax Code. For instance.)

UPDATE: But wait - there's more! From the LA Times (to my surprise): "In Washington's culture, unlike the lives of most normal obviously naive Americans, that's [that is, questions of right and wrong] hardly ever the issue. It's about what works. It's all about strategy."

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Where is the whirlwind?

This week is the seventh anniversary of Daniel Pearl's murder. (via Instapundit)

Do you remember when it happened? I should say, "when he was slowly beheaded on video," just in case the name rings a bell but the details escape you? I do. I felt suddenly numb; I said to my husband, "They've sown the wind now." As Mr. Pearl's father says in the Wall Street Journal editorial I'm linking,

Those around the world who mourned for Danny in 2002 genuinely hoped that Danny's murder would be a turning point in the history of man's inhumanity to man, and that the targeting of innocents to transmit political messages would quickly become, like slavery and human sacrifice, an embarrassing relic of a bygone era.

And yet even in the immediate aftermath, the signs were all there that there would be no lasting outrage, no repudiation of the fundamental error of placing Pearl's killers and, oh, let's just say Israel, or possibly Bush's America, on the same moral footing. The moral-equivalency trap. No sense that being poor and downtrodden was not an excuse for being terrorists. No acknowledgement that being Palestinian, for instance, doesn't afford tacit permission for a person to strap on a vest full of C4 and walk into a bus station. No whirlwind.

Instead, we got a little horror - how not? - followed by a lot of explanation and excuse: what other choice did Pearl's killers have, after all? They needed their message to be heard, and no one was listening, so in a sense Pearl is a martyr not for civilized humanity but to the inexplicable vagaries and far-too-explicable injustices of the global information marketplace. He died so that they could be heard. Terribly sad, but in this unbalanced world...

No. He died because we silly Westerners believe that really, down deep, everybody's basically nice; some people are "driven" to "acts" of evil, but to call the people evil is un-nuanced, simplistic, plebeian. My parents took this tack when I was a kid; even right before the spanking, the line was, "I love you but I dislike your behavior right now."

That hair-splitting was absolutely true when my parents used it. And parenting is perhaps a good place for it. In geopolitics - do we really have to mind the tender sensibilities of those bent on our destruction, either retail (like Pearl, one at a time) or wholesale (via violent jihad, as its proponents understand it)? Is it not appropriate, and a whole lot less patronizing, to assume that our enemies are grownups, capable of hearing and understanding our outrage, and then to evaluate their response at face value - that is, as if they are capable of saying what they mean and doing what they say? Is diplomacy always a game of metaphor and hyperbole?

We all know it isn't. But they, whoever they are in whatever era, know that we prefer to think that "We will bury you!" doesn't mean, "We want and intend to destroy you!" but rather, "We have chosen a different path and think yours is lame!" And they, whoever they are, have learned that they can use this sweet propensity of ours against us, by using the metaphor and the hyperbole to soften us up so that we won't react, or won't react in time, when they actually do what they say they're going to.

In other words, global diplomacy is a lot more complicated than the Left seems to think, because sometimes - not every time, but sometimes - there really is an enemy, there really is no common cause to which to appeal - or at least not without a cost too high to pay, there really is the will to do evil. And no amount of negotiation, no matter how "high-level," can change these facts. Daniel Pearl didn't "pay with his life" to bring this lesson home; his life was not what he was offering, so we could say he "paid" only in the sense that the victim of a robbery "pays" the robber. Daniel Pearl died, innocent and out of his time, and from his death we should have learned about enemies and evil. Did we?

New template - someday I'll customize!

It's funny; I've built (let's see now) somewhere around a dozen websites for one organization or another, never using Frontpage or any other spawn of Satan like that... yet I just blindly accept Blogspot's templates. The fast food of layout.

Sigh. Someday I'll have time to dink around with it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Turn back, O man...

...as opposed to, "Go West, young man."

Chicago Boyz, a great economics blog, raises the question of whether California has passed an important tipping point:

I think a threshold or tipping point exists in the ratio between the political power of those who pay taxes and those who consume taxes directly. After that tipping point is reached, those who pay taxes become the economic slaves of those who consume taxes.

The power of unions is intrinsic to the question; a union aggregates the concerns as well as the influence of however many members it has toward particular political and economic aims. Shannon Love, one of the boyz, notes that

California has ~2.3 million unionized government workers and ~18.6 million civilians. With so many people organized with a laser-like focus on increasing taxes and spending, the private working citizens of California find it nearly impossible to prevent government workers from voting their own paychecks.

And more:

As far as the state government is concerned, people in the private sector work merely so that they can be taxed for the benefit of the tax consumers. They’ve entered a condition not unlike like that of pre-industrial serfs.

Of course no one is being whipped, but in effect an ordinary citizen of California cannot get their desires for reduced state spending implemented due to the disproportionate power of the State’s employees and allied interest. It appears now that the government unions will not accept any solution to California’s budget crisis except increased taxes in a declining economy. Ordinary citizens have no choice but to either emigrate or just lie there and take it.

I'm conflicted. On one hand, my family and my husband's all live in California; we'd love to return there if we could, not just so that we could see them all more often but so that we could stop spending so much money and vacation time on our too-short, too-infrequent visits. Furthermore, California really is just about the best place in the country for people like us: pleasant climate, beautiful scenery, cosmopolitan all the way down to many of the small towns but still with lots and lots of wilderness ranging from unspoiled to complete-with-cabins for those who want flush toilets, all kinds of outdoor and indoor recreation readily accessible. But on the other hand... I don't really want our household to work for (sorry, bro) my brother's. Real estate, though down from recent years, is still too expensive for us to consider committing income to a mortgage when we have so little control over how much of that income will never hit our pockets.

From the Sacramento Bee, I see that Schwartzeneggar's proposal to have all nonessential State workers take one day off every other week, accruing vacation time but not pay for that twice-monthly furlough, has been axed by the State Controller as being outside the Executive's authority. And here, the Bee speaks with a labor leader from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) about what's "on the table" for labor negotiations in California's current serious budget crisis:

So what's changed [that Ms. Walker sounds "upbeat" about upcoming negotiations]?
Well, we've been trying to be part of the solution all along. But having the controller validate that furloughing isn't legal helps. Maybe now the administration is ready to sit down and have the hard conversation.


And money will be part of the "hard conversation"?
It hasn't been so far, but it has to be (now).

What about furloughs?
That I don't know. Certainly you have to recognize it's not something we'd bring to the table, but we're not opposed to talking about it. People need to recognize that we're not just people who take from the general fund. We're taxpayers, too. We understand what's at stake.

So are you saying that holding the line in terms of pay would be considered a win, given the state's money troubles?
That would be good, wouldn't it?

Emphasis mine. I don't get how we reconcile the last two Q&As: "We're taxpayers too, not just feeding at the public trough," and "It'd be good if our pay can stay exactly the same."

This is a loooooong post. But I love California, and its condition today saddens and frustrates me. Sigh.

Friday, January 23, 2009

That which works

Back in oh, freshman year of college or so, I had to do a paper on an important psychologist, with emphasis on his or her philosophy of treatment. Not wanting to go with the obvious, I chose William James, functionalist, who summed up his own therapeutic philosophy as "doing that which works." I'm a fan of that kind of thinking in many cases, but I do think it needs to be tempered by sane judgment and ethics. President Obama is taking a functionalist approach, it appears:

In practice, we know what this [Obama's statement was "The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works"] means: Obama wants more federal spending, more federal regulation, more federal mandates, and more federal prohibitions. It means the president—like all presidents—wants more power.

And objecting that the Constitution limits his power, or that more federal or presidential power is inherently corrupting or destructive—that’s out of line. The only legitimate question to ask about the new powers the president wants is “whether it works.”

But that raises another question: Works for whom?

Tim Carney's question isn't the only one. Parents and schools could make a case for corporal punishment's "working" because yes, conditioning does actually "work" in terms of specific behavior change; does that make spanking, caning, hitting with a belt, ruler, or wooden spoon the right way to change a child's behavior? Or is it simply the expedient (and sometimes most satisfying) way, with possibly harmful longer-term consequences? (Not intending to get into a spanking debate; it was just the first example that springs to my mind. My parents spanked, wooden spoon method usually, and not frequently or as their first choice; they are kind and thoughtful people who believed with all their hearts that (a) they were acting in our best interests, and (b) they would do us worse psychological damage if they struck with a hand, because it'd personalize the action. My husband and I don't spank, which makes discipline of our children very challenging and repetitive sometimes, but we believe the research is in and have made our choice.)

So my question is not "Works for whom?" but "At what cost?" We've just been through seven years of argument about the cost of Bush's foreign policy decisions to our status in the world, our national identity, the Constitution... Are we supposed to pass on that question when the maker of the policy is not Bush?