Random thoughts, 13 May 2009

2009/05/13

First, a quick note: I just heard a gay rights activist on MSNBC decrying the President’s “cowardice” (yes, he used that word), due to the fact that the latter has not taken more aggressive action to push gay rights issues in his first 100 days. Now, don’t get me wrong; I have no problem with individuals of the homosexual persuasion asserting their just rights under law; I have also indicated how unimportant I consider the “100 days” notion as a measurement of any signifncance; I also don’t have any problem with people criticising the President – hell, I do my fair share of that, and enjoy it. This, however, strikes me as incredibly petty; its not as though the President has been sitting on his lazy ass for the past few months. Regardless of whether or not I like his policy decisions (generally, I don’t), he has, at least, been focusing on the areas that are in most need of attention thus far – you know. Minor issues like the economy, our military committments around the world, our national healthcare conundrum, the economy again, etc – in short, issues that affect every single one of the citizens of our Republic. But of course, all of these issues positively pale in comparison to the supreme importance of the rights of a small subset of that population, and we, of course, should drop all other considerations to give said individuals our full and undivided attention. Please.

And while I’m on the topic of gay rights, I bumped into an interesting and possibly concerning article [1] while perusing the links posted at the Random Musings blog this morning. What strikes me as concerning about these sorts of reports is that the issues involved here are not ones of opportunities, such as job placement or school enrollment, but demands for services that are, lets face it, optional ones, ones for which there are plenty of alternatives, and are services being offered by private institutions or individuals. It concerns me that one group may be allowed to effectively overrule the rights of another group while claiming that such infringement is their right. This is not a situation where one group’s discriminatory practices are denying opportunities to another group; is it wrong for an individual or a group to deny their services to another because the former fundamentally disagrees with the latter? It rubs me the wrong way that in protecting the rights of one group, the courts in these cases are trampling on the rights of another group, especially since both groups are constitutionally guaranteed (!) the right to the free expression of their beliefs. It is no secret that my leanings are primarily libertarian, so I do not much care how anybody else chooses to live their lives; at the same time, I do not want someone else dictating to me what decisions I should make, particularly if their beliefs differ substantially from my own. Governments do not exist to create or enforce morality; no matter what rules exist, we are each individually responsible for our moral decisions. As such, does it not follow that I should not be forced to accept and approve of individuals whose moral positions run diametrically opposed to my own? Should I, as a private citizen, be required to associate with individuals or groups with whom I fundamentally disagree? This does not srike me as particularly fair. [2]

In depressing news, the economy continues to tank…hard. [3][4] So much for the optimistic outlook the President and his sycophants are trying to promote. Of course, a realistic assessment of our economic situation would naturally involve observing how and when the market reaches bottom, rather than hoping that the worst was already over. The article regarding home prices is not particularly surprisng; realistically, since much of the so-called value of these homes was little more than inflation based on hot air, the prices will not stabilize until they come within range of the actual, and not the perceived, value of these houses. Until this happens, I suspect that housing prices will continue to plummet, and quite frankly, I am not opposed to this happening. Yes, I realize that such a pricing free-fall will result in more foreclosures, but I do not have much sympathy for the individuals affected by such developments; after all, if the only way you could afford to buy a house was to use money that was not actually yours (I speak here of credit), why should I feel bad when your reckless decisions come back to bite you? Or need I point out that my current unemployed status is due, in no small part, to the reckless decisions of people such as these, and not a result of my own actions? Yes, I really should empathize with all those who are now in danger of losing the houses they could not afford in the first place, because, you know. Their troubles are so much more important than mine.

In other economic news, Social Security and Medicare are inching even closer to insolvency, and faster than most had initially suspected. [5] Of course, this was to be expected, given the dire overall status of our economy, but it also serves as a reminder of how we still have yet to make any significant progress in reforming the system to a healthy economic status. To his credit, at least Bush II attempted to implement some changes to the system, even though he failed miserably (and, to be fair, I’m not entirely sure that I am disappointed that his efforst failed); our current President appears to be more interested in convincing us that global warming is the more immediate threat – even though most projections indicate that it may take decades (or even up to a century) for the worst effects to become evident. [6] Oh yes…this is a far more important threat than one whose negative effects will be felt in less than three decades.

In domestic news, there now seems to be some evidence that the enhanced interrogation tactics employed with approval from the previous administration may not have been as successful as previously claimed. [7] Of course, the assertion of a single dissenter is nowhere near being conclusive evidence of the failure of such techniques; in this case, I find myself in the unenviable position of actually agreeing with former VP Cheney (God, I feel dirty just admitting to that), namely that I think it would be prudent to see the overall results of these enhanced interrogation techniques before passing judement on their inefficacy. Yes, these techniques failed in the particular instance cited by the former FBI interrogator, but does it necessarily follow that they failed in all instances, as he claims? Though we could not normally scientifically study the efficacy of such techniques, we are also in the unique position of having already done it, and (hopefully) also being in possession of the records regarding the results of these activities. From the latter, we should be able to make an objective analysis of how effective each given technique was. Did any of the techniques yield reliable results more frequently than the others? Are there external indicators that could “predict” which techniques work on which individuals? Are there combinations of techniques that yield results, even if the individual techniques do not? Does the 85th waterboarding yield results when the previous 84 do not? I suspect that we can already surmise the answers to some of these questions, but without knowledge of the actual results, they will remain just that: suspicions and hypotheticals. [8] As I have mentioned earlier, if such techniques actually do yield verifiable results, the discussion would get a little less clear-cut; if such methods have protected us in the past, it may well be that such unpleasantness is the price we must pay to keep our Republic and her citizens safe and secure.

In other foreign policy news, apparently, the Taliban is extending its areas of operation in Pakistan and Afghanistan. [9] Such developments highlight the dangers of appeasement, as I had pointed out a few weeks back; after all, the Pakistani government had negotiated a cease-fire with these barbarians, even going so far as to allow them to implement their draconian interpretation of sharia in their areas of influence. And yet, the barbarians still turned around and bit them, anyways. I have mentioned before that the study of history would clearly indicate to us just how unsuccessful such attemtps would be, but alas. Hopefully, the President will not make the same mistake that the Pakistanis have made, but I am also not entirely sure that he has the stomach for what could easily become a protracted war. I suppose we shall see, soon enough.

And finally, today actually has two WTF?!? moments. First, apparently, parrots can appreciate music. [10] Besides the connection between dancing parrots and their already known ability to mimic sounds, I am not entirely sure why anyone would undertake a scientific study of such a phenomenon. Oh sure, curiosity, I guess, but besides that, what else do we learn in the process? I suspect some zoologist simply had too much time on his hands. The second issue relates to the furor surrounding the Miss California USA runner-up, Carrie Prejean. Now, just to be clear, I have not followed the pageant itself, or, for that matter, much of the subsequent uproar over her comments; more like the opposing viewpoints have floated in and out of my perceptive range while I’m focusing on other things. What I find a little annoying (but, I suppose, natural) is that both sides seem to be completely misled on what free speech actually means. On the one hand, Prejean argues that she should not be criticized for her views (oh, but this is the fundamental test of free speech); on the other hand, her primary critic, blogger Perez Hilton, seems to think that just because her opinions are divisive, she should not share them at all (which, to me, seems to be the exact opposite of free speech). Of course, instinctive male bias demands that I side with Prejean in the matter (she is, after all, substantially hotter than Hilton), but in all fairness, this entire incident serves to illustrate the inherent difficulties of free speech. The principle not only allows any individual to freely express their own opinions; it also demands that we respect the right of others to freely express theirs, even if those differing opinions are abhorrent to us. Civil liberties, after all, are not unrestrained freedoms; your freedom to do what you want to do ends when it infringes on my right to do the same. We would do well to remember this principle.

Notes:

[1]: Crunchy Con commentary, at BeliefNet; 12 May 2009.

[2]: Note to you reactionaries out there (you know who you are): from a political perspective, I don’t much care for any government involvment in issues such as same-sex marriage; it is not my place (or, by extension, the government’s) to dictate how anyone should live their lives. From a personal perspective, I also don’t much care, either, so long as no one tries to force their beliefs on me. This latter issue is of particular importance to me. Just as I understand that you (yes, you) will not agree with my opinions and beliefs, you (yes, you again) should not demand that I approve of yours, either; in such cases, the best you will get from me is that I will keep my disapproval to myself, unless asked to provide my opinion.

[3]: Reuters UK article, 13 May 2009.

[4]: CNN Money articles re. the housing market here and here, 13 May & 12 May 2009, respectively.

[5]: US News & World Report article, 12 May 2009.

[6]: I would also like to point out that anthropogenic climate change is far from a proven scientific concept, but I suppose that nobody really cares about that little tidbit, anymore.

[7]: CNN article, 13 May 2009.

[8]: Part of me thinks that it was more than just a little misleading for the administration to release only the four memos that are circulating thus far, but without releasing the information on the results. Given the current uproar, it was clearly politically advantageous to the administration to release only what they have thus far; one also has to wonder if the documents that contain the results of these techniques have information that might refute the current politlcally popular view that the use of these techniques yielded no actionable results. Normally, I abhor indulging in such conspiratorial musings, but still, sometimes the nutjobs get one right…

[9]: Washington Post article, 12 May 2009, and Voice of America article, 13 May 2009.

[10]: CNN article, 01 May 2009.

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One Response to “Random thoughts, 13 May 2009”

  1. MI Says:

    WRT the economy, much of the recent hoopla seems to have been about decreased absolute values for second derivatives – i.e., things are still getting worse, but at a slower pace than previously. On the one hand, this is good news, since it suggests that a Depression-style free-fall is less likely. OTOH, we haven’t yet bottomed out yet. And the next (& perhaps more important) question is: what happens when we do hit bottom? Does our economy rapidly rebound? Or does it remain in stagnant/slow-growth mode for years to come (thanks to, e.g., deleveraging-induced declines in consumption spending)?


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