Monday, November 23, 2009

A time to shun...

We know that we can't negotiate, reason with, or cajole the zealots of Al Qaeda - thus, there must exist some line where people cross from being those we can and will hold intelligent dialogue with, and those that we simply must shun.  When those we shun step over the line to illegality or revolution - then we must fight.

There are pragmatic conservatives that recognize no one has a lock on truth - these are people we liberals and progressives can readily negotiate and compromise with.  But there is also the self-righteous rabble on the right that is similar to Iran - theologically and ideologically oriented rather than pragmatic, and hence very difficult to talk to or negotiate with when you don't share their theology or ideology.  Nevertheless, engaging them is a necessary (albeit Sisyphean) task.

Beyond this difficult and frustrating group on the far right, there are those fringers who are as closed-minded and medieval as our terrorist enemies.  Just like those inspired by Al Qaeda, those inspired by the righteous rabble have struck here (remember Oklahoma City? how about the murders in the name of "life")  For those on the self-righteous fringe, I think shunning is our best option.  Until they act on their calls for revolution and armed insurrection, we really can't do much about them without becoming the type of tyranny we despise.  To hold up our liberal ideals, we can only react. Pre-emptive action without proof of illegality is the start of tyranny.

I certainly have no problem shunning the left-wing ELF, the environmental activists who have endangered people with illegal acts, or the anti-globalization protesters that have organized riots around the world.   I think that we of the left have been very careful in criticizing those who do violence in our name, but have been too forgiving of the crazies on the right.

Those that march on the people's elected government with signs such as "next time I come armed" are people we cannot reason with.  They are dangerous.  We can only shun them, watch them, and hope for the best.

The above was inspired by...

Sunday, November 22, 2009


In 1996 President Clinton famously declared "the era of big government is over."  Subsequent policies of both Clinton and Bush followed this supposed paradigm shift by reducing regulation and letting capitalism reign.

But what about big business? Was the era of big business over as well?

Balance.  Yin-Yang.  Black-White.  Zero-One.  Predator-Prey.

Duality and balance underlies most philosophies and engineering systems that work in the real world.

One of the reasons that ships are stable is that when they are rolled to one side by wind or wave, they develop a righting moment that pushes them the other direction.  Remove the righting moment (by a shift in cargo) and a ship will roll over and sink.

When a predator has decimated the prey population, the predator begins to die off due to starvation, allowing the prey population to rebound.  Populations are never stable, but oscillate in a dynamic tension.  No one ever expects the number of coyotes and rabbits to be exactly in balance.

The US Constitution is the exemplar of power duality: Pro-active power is separated into legislative and executive (the judiciary is essentially a re-active power).  Legislative power is divided between a population-based body and a state-based body providing a balance between urban and rural populations.

Capitalism is not synonymous with free markets, but is instead in opposition.  Capital accumulation is maximized for the individual or corporation through monopolies, whereas the wealth of society as a whole is maximized through free markets where capital is at risk.  But the duality of capitalism and free-markets is out of balance.  Capital accumulation in corporations that are effectively immortal and at low risk of failure creates a bias that prevents free markets from being truly free and transparent.  

The past year of economic distress leading to socialization of failure is an example of a system out of balance.  Big business needs a counterweight.  If we aren't going to use big government, then how will we balance?

We need to recognize that we have reached the natural end of an oscillation in our recent spate of deregulation.  We have found the edge beyond which further deregulation becomes a positive feed back that sends the system unstable.  Under such conditions, the only course that makes sense is to re-institute regulations to reverse the system.  Government regulation is the only proven tool we have to encourage free and transparent markets.  No doubt the we will eventually swing to far the other way and government regulation will one day again be stultifying. But that is the problem for tomorrow - today we need to solve the problem of insufficient regulation.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Verba non acta

There's a new bit of political correctness out there - its called "Christmas with a capital C".  The religious right is pushing the idea that saying "Happy Holidays" is somehow political correctness from the left, and that everyone should acknowledge the "holiday" is about Christ.  This brought out the rant in me.  Prepare to be offended.

Am I not allowed to have any other holidays during December? Has Christianity co-opted them all? Perhaps I like to celebrate a pagan Winter Solstice and I might want to wish to you a "Happy Holiday" rather than pushing it into your face that I'm a pagan? (if indeed that's what I am, you'll never really know). You could pretend you're hearing about Christmas when I say "holiday", while I could pretend I'm talking about the Solstice, and we could all just get along a little better by avoiding overt discussion of religion with strangers. Manners and a little pretense helps smooth out societies rough edges.  If you want to tell me your religion in your greeting that's fine.  But why should I then be forced to tell you mine?  If you say Merry Christmas to me and I'm not a Christian, should I hypocritically invoke the name of Christ back to you (and how does that mesh with the commandment about not using God's name in vain?)  Should I merely ignore your greeting, or perhaps tell you "go #*@! yourself"  Seems to me that "Happy Holidays" is a polite and inoffensive rejoinder.

It has been said that I have a "right not to celebrate this holiday," with the implication that if I don't want to call it Christmas then I shouldn't celebrate at all.  But December 25 is a federal, state and local holiday throughout the USA. I can't go to a government office to carry on normal business.  If I am a business owner I will have to pay holiday pay to employees (or be thought of as "Scrooge").  Granted, I'm not forced to go to church or give gifts or have a tree in my house (although there are societal imperatives to do so, especially for the culturally christian sort-of-believers).  However on December 25th, I do not have the right to carry on my normal  business life, so Christians need to acknowledge that they are indeed forcing the non-Christians in the nation to "celebrate" the day.  You shouldn't be surprised that non-Christians want to fill the government-mandated holiday with something that isn't about Christianity. Indeed, they've got a holiday with no religious duties - which would make most people happy (e.g. Labor Day).  Despite not being interested in Christmas as religion, non-Christians may be planning a nice holiday reunion with their family, and they might be happy and looking forward to it.  Why should you expect them to wish you a Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holiday? They don't know or care if you're Christian, but they do know that they're planning a happy holiday and would like to wish you one as well. Is that so terrible?

The more that Christians use the "in your face" approach to the holidays, the more likely it is that non-Christians will eventually challenge the constitutionality of having the Federal government officially recognize the sacred holiday of only one religion as a national holiday.  It is amazing to me that people who have a really strict interpretation of the US Constitution as disallowing any regulation of firearms will then pass blithely over the clause about "establishment of religion" and what it means to have a federal law providing a religious holiday.  You can't have it both ways - either you have Christmas where people are forced to celebrate Christ, in which case the holiday is an establishment of religion, or you have a national holiday that is secular - i.e. available to all no matter what religion -  and people can make of what they will.

So can you just give it a rest?  You've got a national holiday for your religion (not for your god, but for your religion).  So let's stop trying to make people feel guilty about wishing each other a happy holiday.  Saying "happy holidays" is not about political correctness - it is what I feel, and who the hell are you to tell me not to say it or why I say it?  The new political correctness is trying to make people say "Christmas" when they aren't Christians.

The "Christmas with a capital C" movement is another piece of cultural arrogance that doesn't really fit Jesus' teachings.  I have a hard time imagining Jesus saying something like "I don't care how you treat each other, but make sure you celebrate my birth with a capital C, because its appearances that count."