On Politics

20 11 2007

Americans supposedly hate politicians. We supposedly don’t like being lied to, and we are allegedly sensitive to condescension. Yet we keep falling for these political snake-oil salesmen, no matter how many times they:

· lie to us,

· abuse our women (and sometimes children),

or

· get exposed for the hypocritical, tax-fattened, power-hungry slimebags they truly are.

Kinky Friedman says the word, “politics” is derived from two root words: “poly” (meaning “many”) and “ticks” (meaning “blood-sucking parasites”). I like this definition. It fits my personal political philosophy (anyone who wants a job in politics is by definition morally and intellectually unsuited for the job) very well.

I don’t do politics- probably because I’m an engineer. Politics is entirely concerned with perceptions. As long as things seem to be working, politicians are happy. Engineers aren’t happy until things are actually working, and working properly. Engineers are perfectly willing to tear everything down and start over from scratch if that’s the best way to get things done. Politicians can’t do this- starting over from scratch might make them look bad.

This focus on perception instead of reality makes politicians uncomfortably similar to lunatics. Of course, the fact that the dear Peepul swallow this line of horseshit without so much as a grimace of distaste makes most Americans borderline psychotics as well. If politicians are parasites (who can argue with this?), then they’re just feeding off the host creature.

Government has been described as a necessary evil. This implies that politicians are essentially a horrible side-effect of government. If we have to have government, we should try to find some way to reduce or eliminate the hazards posed by politicians.

Fortunately, I have a couple of ideas on this subject (surprise, surprise!). Neither of these ideas are original. The first comes from a science-fiction novella, and the second is based upon ancient history. They both have advantages and disadvantages, and every politician in the country will vehemently object to both ideas.

First suggestion– remove or reduce the penalties for treating a practicing politician they way he/she deserves to be treated. Horsewhipping, tar-and-feathering, beating, or killing politicians will still land the perpetrator in court, but the burden of proof is on the victim to prove he/she did not deserve such treatment. In the event the politician gets killed, the burden of proof is on his friends or family. To keep things fair, we’ll let the politicians defend themselves- but they have to do it themselves. No bodyguards.

Second suggestion– get rid of the political class by changing the way we choose candidates. Every single registered voter’s name goes into a random drawing. First choose three candidates for each local government position. From the remaining names, choose three candidates for each state position. From the rest, choose three candidates for each Federal position. Incumbents will also be on the ballot (subject to term limits). Citizens selected as candidates will not be allowed to refuse (except active-duty military and any citizen who has served the term limit for any given office).

Hold elections on the same schedules we have now, but remove the ridiculous primaries, caucuses, straw polls, and other pre-election nonsense. Candidates (including incumbents) must gather for one televised public debate (3 weeks before the election) to present their ideas to the public. All political advertising will be paid out of government funds.

Build in an escalating schedule of term limits: 2 terms for president/Governor/Mayor, 3 terms for Senators/Upper State Legislators/County and City Councilors, 4 terms for Congresscritters/Lower State Legislators/all others. This will ensure a more-frequent turn-over at the higher levels of power, and encourage people to serve longer at lower levels of legislature- where the real work gets done.

Remove judges from the ballot- appoint qualified citizens (registered voters) for set terms and have specific legal recourse to impeach and remove judges who abuse their positions/authority (this specifically includes Supreme Court justices).

Give local government control over State government salaries. Give State governments control over Federal government salaries. All newly-elected officials have a pay range which can be increased (by public referendum) during their term. These referendums should be held once per year, and each voter can vote whether or not to increase each elected official’s salary by a set amount.

H. Beam Piper once wrote, “Let government get rich and powerful and it’s your master. Keep government weak and poor and it’s your servant.” Either one of these plans ought to accomplish the task of keeping the government responsive to its people. I tend to favor the first one, because- let’s face it- everyone has fantasies about beating the crap out of some politician or another.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche

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My Brace of Small Copper Coins

11 11 2007

Today is Veteran’s Day in the US. I believe it’s called Remembrance Day in Canada and the UK. Today is the day (the 11th day of the 11th month at the 11th hour) when everyone is supposed to pause and remember the sacrifices made on their behalf by the men and women who wear (and have worn) their country’s uniform.

Sadly, this day all too often is devoid of purpose in this country, having devolved into an excuse for a “sales event” for various hucksters. Some people use this day as an opportunity to advance their particular political or social agenda. A pox on all their houses!

Some of those who go out of their way to denigrate those who have served might be devout pacifists, and truly believe that it is better to die than to take a life. I suspect that most are probably secretly worried that the men and women who have served and fought and sometimes died are superior to them in some way. They have reason to fear this , because it is true.

Not everyone who has served is a saint, of course. The military is not a place for saints. But the men and women who have served have given up part of their lives- sometimes given all of their lives- in the service of those who now mock and belittle them. Service in its truest form- willingly placing themselves in mortal danger so that their countrymen may live in peace at home. “They sleep safely in bed because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf” – George Orwell

Those who have never served often cannot understand the Brotherhood of Service. Regardless of which branch of the Armed Forces in which one has served, they are all brothers … and sisters. “We few, we happy few. We band of brothers. For he that sheds his blood with me- be he ne’er so vile- this day shall gentle his condition. And Gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, and hold their manhoods cheap whilst any speaks who fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s Day.” – Henry V, by William Shakespeare.

Regardless of branch of service, every man and woman who has ever worn this country’s uniform is my Brother or Sister. Marines may deride sailors (and vice versa), soldiers may make jokes about airmen, but everyone wearing the uniform shares a common culture which is often alien to the culture they protect. These men and women are willing to stand between you and the war’s desolation- whether or not you are worthy of their sacrifice.

Despite the anger I feel at those who sneer at our sacrifice, the pride I feel for those who have served and still serve is greater still. You who try to raise yourselves by degrading those who serve are permitted to do so by the sacrifices of the men and women who have served. It is our privilege to be spat upon and sneered at by those not worthy to shine our boots- because that is what we signed up for. And because of that, we are better than they are.

This post is dedicated to CDR Kiley, who got his ship underway with less than half his crew, but still locked and loaded and ready for war, less than an hour after the first plane hit the towers. It was an honor to sail with you, sir.

Current status: Tired

Current music: 1812 Overture, by Tchaikowski





MORE BRAIN SQUEEZINGS

4 11 2007

In response to valid complaints about the lack of content here, I will be attempting to increase my post frequency. I prefer to post only when I have something worth saying, but I have been getting prodded by others to say more- whether it’s worth saying or not.

CARTOONS

Why does it seem so hard to find cartoons these days? Cartoon Network would seem to be a good place to look, but every time I click over to them, there’s some sort of  live-action show going on. About the only time I can find cartoons on Cartoon Network is after 11PM, when Adult Swim comes on. There’s some good stuff on Adult swim- notably Robot Chicken and Cowboy Bebop (among others), but I miss the cartoons I used to watch.

Lest this be mistaken for a screed against modern cartoons, let me assure you that I appreciate some of the newer cartoons. Samurai Jack, PowerPuff Girls, Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, and Courage the Cowardly Dog were some of my favorites. I say “were”, because those cartoons are now difficult or impossible to find. I’m not even talking about Bugs and Daffy and their contemporaries- which are politically incorrect and therefore cannot be broadcast for fear some innocent little crotch-fruit might be irreversibly damaged psychologically. I’m referring to more recent cartoons such as Animaniacs, which has dropped off the face of the Earth, as far as I can tell.

ON CIVIL DISCOURSE

This ties in with several other posts I’ve made here, but I’ve noted a distinct decline of civility in public debate recently. It’s worse on the web, of course, where people feel safely anonymous and don’t think they have any need to be civil. Debate has also stopped being civil in politics and the media.

Here’s a clue, people: You need not be disagreeable when you disagree. It is entirely possible to disagree with someone and not be their enemy. Try it sometime.

WEATHER IDEOLOGY 

Before I begin, I should get this out of the way:  “chest-deep snow, uphill both ways, dinosaurs to school, yaddayaddayadda”.

Now that I’ve performed the requisite “back in MY day” nonsense, let’s proceed.

The folks at the Weather Channel and the National Weather Service predicted a big year for hurricanes this year. And last year. They were wrong, twice. No big deal, though. Long-range forecasts are pretty tough. The problem lies in why they made the wrong predictions. Make no mistake, the actual meteorologists who work for the Weather Channel have some really impressive education behind ’em. They also have access to some truly phenomenal technology to help make those predictions. Weather forecasting has come a long way from the days when forecasters used a handkerchief nailed outside the window as their weather gauge.

Here’s my sole evidence for the charge I’m about to make: back in July of this year, I loaded up the NOAA website in order to check the satellite data during Hurricane Season (I do this every year). After watching the weather patterns over the Atlantic for a couple of weeks, I noticed that the weather patterns looked more like a standard winter cycle than the usual hurricane cycle. Most unusual. I wrote to the NOAA and asked them if I was missing something. Someone at the NOAA emailed me back and said that I was indeed wrong, and the very strong hurricane cycle NOAA had predicted would show up on schedule- in August and September.

Fair enough. They have the education and training and technology, and I don’t.

Not fair- the weather patterns did not shift northward as predicted, and the OMG we’re all gonna get hurricaned to smithereens  hurricane season failed to materialize. Why was I more right than the NOAA and the Weather Channel?

I think the people at the National Weather Service are following ideology in lieu of science. The people with the greatest control over the careers of meteorologists all have a vested interest in a busy (and destructive) hurricane season. First, a bad hurricane season would be good for ratings. Second, a bad hurricane season would fit their political ideology. A bad hurricane season would help convince the general public that Global Warming is a clear and present danger. Meteorologists who fail to toe the line about Global Warming are threatened with losing their certification.

I could be wrong. Probably am. But it bothers me that I could do a better job than trained meteorologists this year.

PIRATES

Piracy is back in the news. Low-budget toadies with Zodiacs and RPGs are preyings on shipping near Indonesia and  Somalia. I’ve heard a lot of people asking why the US Navy doesn’t do something about it.

First, the USN can’t operate in another country’s territorial waters without their permission. Since the pirates near Somalia are almost all Somalis, the Somalian “government” (such as it is) is unlikely to allow the Great Satan to vaporize some of its most productive citizens. Indonesia has a real government, without any vested interest in piracy (in fact, problems with shipping near Indonesia are a major government problem), but is simply incapable of dealing with it (earthquakes, volcanoes, armed insurrections, government scandals, etc).  They are similarly unlikely to allow the US Navy to conduct combat operations in their waters.

Here’s my idea for a solution. Get the giggling old women and virgins at the UN to pass a resolution against piracy, specifically authorizing nations and corporations to destroy pirates wherever found. Establish a fund (paid into by interested nations and companies) to build and maintain a maritime security service. This service would provide armed personnel with combat training (and equipment)  who could sail aboard ships running through pirate-infested waters. I’m sure the various shipping companies (and their insurers) would be willing to do this. Countries with decent navies (Australia, UK, France, US, Japan) could patrol those waters with destroyers and render assistance where requested. After a few run-ins with warships and armed Maritime Security personnel, even the truly desperate pirates would start looking for a safer line of work.

THAT’S ALL FOLKS

That’s it for now. I’m off to don my Aluminum Foil Deflector Beanie and subscribe to some conspiracy theory newsletters.

Current status: meh

Current music: Who Made Who by AC/DC