Your Lying Eyes

Dedicated to uncovering the truth that stands naked before your lying eyes.

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22 January 2013

Obama's Dreadful Speech

Obama's second inaugural address was just dreadful - a tacky pastiche of postmodern politics surreally delivered in weighty, florid words. Obama has never really demonstrated a particularly light touch with his prose, but at least in his 2008 acceptance speech, for example, the ongoing death toll in Iraq and evident doom overhanging the economy lent his message an urgency to match the fussiness. But today, the frivolity of his agenda renders what he thought to be weighty words downright ponderous.

For example, back in 1865 - and 1965 for that matter - momentous words rightly implored us to fulfill the words of our Declaration that all men are created  equal. But what is Obama's scolding all about today? "It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete" the President intoned - until...we have yet another Federal law to monitor how company's pay men and women? Until we have gay marriage?? Until lines on election day can be cut-down a bit??? Until illegal immigrants feel welcome??? And illegal immigrant engineering students (!?!?!) can get green cards?????

And the whole speech is like that - grandiloquent oratory floating along a sea of banality. "The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob. They gave to us a Republic, a government of, and by, and for the people, entrusting each generation to keep safe our founding creed." Why such ornate phrasing just to argue for higher marginal tax rate? "We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own." What's that all about? - increased federal aid to education, presumably.

He wants to make a distinction between the all-out war-mongering of Republicans vs. the more situational war-making he's been doing. But where's the fun in just saying that? So instead we get: "Our brave men and women in uniform, tempered by the flames of battle, are unmatched in skill and courage. Our citizens, seared by the memory of those we have lost, know too well the price that is paid for liberty."

The prose is becoming most tiresome. That young man's silly poem that followed was a breath of fresh air - clear and simple. It doesn't work anymore, Barack. Your dense formulations had their usefulness - a feature, not a bug, as they say - but now it's just weighing on you, and boring us. Sure, your sycophants like Chris Matthews will gush and drool - but you're not changing any minds with your bombast.

15 January 2013

'They've Got the Devil in Them'

How is it that creeps look like creeps? Look at these hideous people charged with a bizarre double slaying in Joliet, Il:

The victims were both black men in their 20's. Acquaintances of the accused, they were lured to an apartment by the females then strangled and robbed and partially dismembered. The guys played video games for a couple days while they dithered over disposal of the bodies.  That's when the cops caught them.  Authorities claim there was no racial angle.That's hard to believe looking at them, but I suppose the whole situation is such a low-life, loser, f-up mess, following up on any associated hate-crime aspects is just too depressing for the investigators to even look into.

I was on a jury about a year ago. Before even entering the jury selection room and not yet knowing anything about the case, I noted a well-groomed man in a suit walking about in the hallway and thought "Ugh - what a creepy-looking guy." Turns out he was the defendant - accused (and eventually convicted) of raping his 13-year old daughter.

So what makes creeps look creepy? My wife's Occam's-razor explanation is that they have devil eyes - they've got the devil in them. Well, sure. But perhaps their lack of social graces makes them neglect their own appearance, or take on a purposefully menacing look? I tend to think that their ghastly behavior is part of a "syndrome", and such syndromes tend to also manifest themselves in facial appearance. The at-first-blush most non-menacing looking of the above four -  the one on the left - has those odd, asymmetric ears and eyes. The others are just - hoo boy, they just shout "keep your distance." Perhaps the young black men - assuming they weren't just as bad as this crew - didn't have that sense because they're not so tuned in to white faces?

10 January 2013

The Three-Axes Model

I rather like Arnold Kling's three-axes ideological model to rationalize conservative, progressive (liberal), and libertarian positions on issues. Conservatives view things along a civilized/barbaric axis, liberals along an oppressed/oppressor axis, and libertarians along a freedom/coercion axis. Conservatives will thus favor things that correlate well with (in particular, Western) civilization, while opposing things that correlate with poorly civilized societies or that would directly contradict salient features of civilization. Progressives, on the other hand, don't care about civilization - they care about defending the oppressed and opposing the oppressors. The "civilized" side can be the wrong side if it's taking on the role of an oppressor. And Libertarians don't see civilization or oppressors - they only want to know if someone is being coerced to do something - that's the wrong side.

It's a very simple model and pretty obvious - but I haven't really seen it described so pithily before. It explains why extreme rightists lean towards fascism (where order is imposed at any cost) while extreme leftists embrace socialism (where equality is enforced at any cost) - and why libertarians find themselves in bed with conservatives one day and with liberals the next.

It's easy to apply it to most any issue. Take gay marriage (please!). Conservatives see a fundamental institution of Western Civilization going back 2500 years - monogamous, legally-binding marriage - now facing a radical redefinition as a clear threat to civilized society, and thus naturally oppose it. Liberals, on the other hand, see a heterosexual majority oppressing a homosexual minority by denying them marriage, and thus naturally support it. Libertarians have a bit of a hard time with it - they are of course completely indifferent to whether homosexuals get married or not - that's their free choice to do so. But there also not crazy about the state getting involved and forcing others to recognize gay marriage. They're solution? - get rid of civil marriage altogether!

But what about gun control? Having all these guns everywhere would seem to smack of barbarism, while black people being able to own guns would seem to provide these oppressed people with the ability to defend themselves against their oppressors. Yet we know conservatives oppose gun control while liberals support it. (Libertarians are off the hook on this one, they generally support the freedom to own a gun and ergo they oppose (most forms of) gun control.) So what's going on?

The gun-control debate is grounded in some very entrenched issues. To conservatives, the concept of individual responsibility is a fundamental tenet of western civilization that runs deep, from Aristotle thru Christianity to Anglo-American jurisprudence. Thus, the notion that crime can be blamed on a class of inanimate object is anathema to their psyche. They see gun control as an effort to solve a criminal problem by denying to perfectly harmless and law-abiding citizens the right to their property.

Liberals, on the other hand, do not recognize the phenomenon of crime as a set of actions by bad people (who are themselves culpable for those crimes), but rather as a societal dysfunction related to inequality (i.e., the presence in society of oppressors and the oppressed) that manifests itself as individual acts of crime. Oppressors commit crimes because they are oppressors (oppressors commit all manner of "crime", some of which is technically illegal) while the oppressed commit crimes as a result of their being oppressed. White gun owners (aside from starving Appalachian squirrel hunters and a few benighted Vermont skeet shooters) have firearms to protect themselves against (i.e., oppress) scary dark people. At the same time, greedy gun merchants feed black market guns to the cities where they cause urban crime. Thus, non-criminal gun owners possess weapons out of wholly irrational fears, while illegal guns cause crime - so there's really no legitimate need for guns at all, according to the liberal mindset.

Despite all that, it's not unreasonable that a conservative might look at all these guns as rather barbaric and thus support gun control (which I'm guessing is the case in Europe). But in America, conservatism has been heavily co-opted by libertarianism, especially among the leadership, so there is a great deal of confounding across the two axes. My theory on why this has happened puts the blame on America's role as the main foe of communism during the cold war. Since communism uses highly coercive methods to enforce equality, anti-communist intellectuals found the freedom/coercion axis a useful antidote to socialist propaganda. Also, many on the left opposed communism as dangerously extreme (just as conservatives similarly oppose fascism) and naturally found the freedom/coercion axis more comfortable than the civilization/barbarism axis as a tool to oppose it.

Also, as mentioned above, Individualism is a hallmark of western civilization and so conservatives have a more natural affinity for thinking along the freedom/coercion axis than do liberals (to whom freedom is a valued ideal only for the oppressed). I suppose it's possible that this would not be the case among conservatives in Asia - based on my poorly-informed notion that individualism is not as highly valued there.

05 January 2013

What's Going On in India

I'm referring to this horrible rape-murder on a bus in India last month that resulted in mass street protests demanding that authorities start taking rape cases more seriously. The western press is portraying this as basically an oppression-of-women-by-the-patriarchy battle, and for all I know that's all it is.

But India is a complicate place, with some very deep religious and cultural divides, and I have trouble believing this case - and the rape controversy generally - is just a man-vs-woman thing. My basic assumption is that the underlying problem is a bit like the Norwegian rape plague, which is an immigration problem that the authorities and mainstream press are twisting themselves into knots trying to deny.

In India there is the Muslim/Hindu divide and of course the impenetrable caste system as well as a dizzying array of ethnicities. Again, I find it hard to believe there isn't more to the story than just the BBC-friendly one of consciousness-raised women battling against a traditional patriarchy - but I don't know so I'm hoping someone knowledgeable stumbles upon this and provides some clarity.

03 January 2013

Obsessed with Raising Taxes on the Rich

Democrats have successfully raised taxes on those making 400k+. But that's a rather piddling amount - around $60b a year - for 2013 that's just enough to cover the request for hurricane Sandy. They should now go after more, like a little extra on incomes over $1m and maybe a couple percent on incomes over $250k. Then there's those outrageously low capital gains taxes to be remedied...there's just no end to the tax raising opportunities.

Republicans have been obsessed with tax cuts and "No NewTaxes" pledges for a couple decades and, except for a brief period in the mid-90's when they passed welfare reform (enacted) and immigration restrictions (vetoed), that's all they've talked about since (well, ok, other than wars).

So maybe if the Democrats could just get similarly obsessed with raising taxes, it'll take their minds off other, more destructive pursuits, such as "comprehensive immigration reform", "equal pay" laws, hate-crime laws, etc. Then maybe congress would do nothing but fight about taxes - now that would be an improvement in government.