Friday, December 27, 2013

Sweet Chicago: Tales from the Statist Frontier

Sweet Chicago, well on its way to the irrelevance and insolvency of Detroit with $33 billion in unfunded obligations and bond debt, has managed to get itself in the headlines for more statist absurdity: South Side Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, wants to implement a $25 annual bike registration fee. The argument is simple: Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has made cycling a cornerstone of his agenda, because of course bike lanes are a priority with a $33 billion anvil hanging over the city's head.

With bikers utilizing the bike lanes, and snow plows plowing the snow out of the bike lanes during recent storms, the perception of cycling in Chicago has changed from a pollution-free ride to a mere free ride. Lost on Alderman Dowell is the fact that cyclists in Chicago pay sales taxes, property taxes, a bottled water tax of 0.05 per bottle, a liquor tax, a personal property lease transaction tax, use taxes for non-titled and titled personal property purchased outside of Chicago for use inside of Chicago, an amusement tax for subscribers to paid television programming, as well as all other types of taxes charged to businesses who then externalize the cost of the tax in the form of higher prices and lower wages to consumers and employees.  Go look at all the taxes Chicago pays here.  That doesn't even count Cook County, which has over 1,500 different tax agencies, many of whom hiked their tax rates by double digits to account for declining property values.

In other words, there are no free rides in Chicago, only reduced cost rides, and the city is determined to make sure you don't get too much of a reduction in cost for riding your bike in the snow instead of riding a car.  Coming soon: sidewalk taxes for pedestrians, because why should those bastards get to walk for free on those expensive sidewalks that their tax dollars have already paid to construct and maintain?

It's just another day in the life of Sweet Chicago, the city that is almost $15 billion more in the hole than Detroit, which is in the throes of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.  Of course, Chicago hasn't lost 26% of its population over the past decade. It's only lost 200,000 folks, many of whom moved to neighboring enclaves in surrounding counties.  Of course, as the crunch from $33 billion is spread over an increasingly poor and working class population (the only demographic growing in Chicago is Hispanic) the likelihood of Sweet Chicago avoiding Detroit's fate is shrinking.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

We Have Too Much Government I: USDA Allows Reindeer

If you're a liberal, and you doubt that we have too much government, the news of a movement permit for Santa's reindeer from the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) ought to stand as a stark reminder of how absurdly huge and powerful our government is.  That's right, the USDA's APHIS issued a movement permit to mythical jolly fat man in a red suit so that his flying reindeer could pass over and through U.S. airspace legally.

APHIS waived the normal disease testing requirements, but required that port personnel disinfect the bottom of the sleigh and the runners upon arrival.  Dr. John R. Clifford went further, requiring a wink of the eye:

“During this season of giving, USDA wants to do everything in its power to help Santa,” said Dr. John R. Clifford, USDA’s Chief Veterinary Officer.  “We agreed to waive the normal application fees and entry inspection/overtime costs, provided he winks his eye and wishes port personnel a Merry Christmas at the time of crossing.”

H/T to IO9's Observation Deck.

The Cognitive Dissonance of the Christian Right and Liberal Left

“So let us be blunt about it: We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will be get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”
-Gary North

"All human beings have the inalienable right to freedom of expression, freedom of assembly. These are very fundamental rights. But, at the same time, this freedom of expression should not be abused by individuals. Freedom of expression should be and must be guaranteed and protected, when they are used for common justice, common purpose. When some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected in such a way. So, my position is that freedom of expression, while it is a fundamental right and privilege, should not be abused by such people, by such a disgraceful and shameful act."
-U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon

The Christian Right is up in arms, two weeks after Phil Robertson's remarks on gays during a GQ interview resulted in A&E's decision to suspend Phil Robertson. God's people have cleared Wal-Mart out of Duck Dynasty merchandise and enriched A&E in the process, forced Cracker Barrel to capitulate on its decision to clear the shelves of Duck Dynasty merchandise, and they're boycotting A&E while likely tuning in to the various Duck Dynasty marathons on A&E.  Of course, many of these same individuals are the types who insist on the King James Version as the preferred translation; they don't realize that King James was a sodomite given to explicit correspondence with the Earl of Buckingham, and declaring his right to love men before the Privy Council.

The Christian Right and its affiliates acclaimed business owners who fired employees with Obama stickers on their cars bumpers; A&E merely suspended Phil Robertson from a show with already recorded episodes and that same Christian Right decried the censorship, the violations of the First Amendment, and the sacrosanct nature of speech and convictions.  They also pointed to the gay community's status as a mere minority, and bemoaned the fact that 2% of the population could dictate what the other 98% could say, as though the imprimatur of legitimacy for such determinations could be attained by the 98% for the 2% through simple majoritarian status.  That's exactly what the Christian Right is after, of course, only the 98% is by no means in agreement with the Christian Right: a majority of Americans have supported gay marriage since 2010, those in opposition are a third of the population.  17 states have gay marriage now as a result.

For the Christian Right, rights should be subjected to a majority vote, and marriage ought to be defined by the state unless of course the state is defining marriage to encompass same sex marriage.  At that point, bare minority rule should and must prevail.  The Christian Right is chock full of historical and constitutional illiteracy of the sort that fails to realize that their Bible was commissioned by a sodomite, with a chief translator widely acclaimed as an alcoholic by his peers, and delivered to the masses with the Apocrypha intact and a preface that originally declaimed any pretense of divine inspiration or supremacy over other translations.  The constitutional illiteracy of the Christian Right extends to confuse a violation of a contract between private parties by one or both of the parties in question-there is some question as to A&E's role in setting up the GQ interview to usher in impossible circumstances for Phil Robertson and the morals clause of his contract-with state action constraining free speech.

Put simply, the First Amendment guards against state aggression against freedom of speech; it does not constrain a private employer from firing his or her employees for their speech or expression.

Such illiterate literalists as the Christian Right can be expected to violate the spirit by conforming to the letter, as the hallmark of their illiteracy is that in their rush to obedience they manage to resemble Pharisees and other forms of whited sepulcher.  Professing to be wise, they became fools...indeed.

Of course, the gay community itself was quick to rush to A&E's defense for suspending rather than sacking Phil Robertson, even though the gesture was meaningless given that Phil and his brood had collected their $200,000 an episode and a $400 million merchandising empire.  The fact that A&E had hired Robertson with foreknowledge of his well-documented views on gays as murderous innovators of new forms of deceit and evil was lost on GLAAD and other such organizations.

The Christian Right sees every problem with the gay community and its supporters seeking to define acceptable speech, even though Christianity in this country has boycotted every form of speech it didn't agree with with an eye towards removing that speech from the public square altogether.  From boycotting Disney for extending benefits to same sex couples, to the American Family Association's boycott of Waldenbooks for selling Playboy and Penthouse, the Christian Right isn't merely interested in abstaining from the consumption of pornography of its own volition; it wants pornography removed as an option for everybody else.

You see, a boycott is abstention by oneself and other like-minded individuals from the consumption or purchase of a product.  I boycott so many products in an average day I couldn't possibly recount them all in this post.  I do so because I don't want to use those products.  What the Christian Right, and its counterparts on the radical left are doing, is something qualitatively different: they are abstaining with an eye towards destroying or narrowing the choices available to others.

This is why I have boycotted the Christian Right for some years now.

While I am a staunch traditionalist in my home, and a man with bookshelves full of encyclopedias, concordances, lexicons, and other tools with which I steep my faith in knowledge, I have no interest in forcing my beliefs onto others by the process of coercion or elimination.  That is, while the laptop I am typing this blog post on has no pornography in its browser history, I do not seek to deny others their volitional choice in seeking out however much pornography they wish to consume.

Also, this laptop is a PC, and using a PC to browse pornography sites is akin to assent for malware and viruses.

I have no sympathy for the Christian Right, which I believe is careening towards outright fascism; nor do I have any sympathy for the liberal left, which has already arrived at totalitarianism's certitude when it comes to trying to obliterate anyone who dares to disagree.  I loathe bigotry of any sort, from racism, to sexism, to homophobia, to feminism, but I recognize the right of others to express it even as I absolutely deny their right to implement it.  I am in the radical center, and I firmly believe that the lunatics and illiterates are overtaking us all.

You can't reason with a liberal or a fundamentalist, both are absolutely full of certitude and closed off to debate.  The facts do not matter, the epistemology is all that matters; once you understand the fundamentalist epistemology or the liberal epistemology, you understand the utter useless of anything beyond a whip to drive them.  Like dumb cattle, all they respect is the threat of leather and snapping jaws from smaller, more ferocious looking and determined types.  They will bitch and they will moan, but they will go to pasture if you are menacing enough.  Containment is the only answer for these types, and as long as we can continue to quarantine their virulence, we can over time watch as their viewpoints shrink to the irrelevance of other troglodytes who went before them.

Let them have their speech, but by God, recognize that their speech is only the first step in their program. These people want to establish their speech as policy and practice, and if they have their way, regardless of their liberal or Christian fundamentalist persuasion, camps will be set up for those who do not speak or act as they speak or act.  They are the same means to different ends.  One should not stop a dog from eating his own vomit; at the most, one should try to get the dog off of the carpet before he vomits.

This is why A&E should have never hired Phil Robertson in the first place: they put him squarely on the carpet when he was already heaving, and then proceeded to feign shock when he vomited and mussed the carpet.  A fundamentalist is a nihilist by another name, and they share in a certitude that sets them apart from the well-adjusted and the sane.  This is true regardless of the fundamentalist's political persuasions.

For the same reason that A&E should have never hired Phil Robertson, MSNBC should have never hired Al Sharpton or Alec Baldwin.  They'll only muss the carpet.

Cognitive dissonance is not merely a feature of the Christian right, or its rival side in the liberal intelligentsia. It is the only feature.  Both sides share a certitude, that being that ours is the right side or cause, and that ends therefore justify the means.  If only we can have our way, then America will be delivered from its present status as the most tolerant and religiously pluralistic nation in the world, to our utopian vision of what America can be.

Either one of these sides will tell you that the good is the enemy of the perfect, as though perfection is a destination to be arrived at.  The consequences associated with a more perfect world, such as loss of liberties, personal property, and self-determination, are mere collateral damage.  Worthwhile sacrifices, really, because if the Christian right or the liberal left have their way, the world will be better off overall.  You have to give a lot to get a little progress, the saying ought to go.  We'll be a more godly, or more equal, nation of individuals, and that's worth the sacrifices we'll have to make to get to the other side. It's called utilitarianism, regardless of whether it's wrapped in God or secular humanism, and it is fucking evil and inimical to individual freedom and self-determination.

In the meantime, both sides wrap themselves in the mantle of victimhood as they victimize others.  The expression of core convictions in crude language aside, the point is that Phil Robertson was talking about what he genuinely believes, even if it wasn't entirely guileless.  He should be protected from those who would disagree with him to the point of destroying his ability to make lucre off of his beliefs.  Of course, I'm quite sure Hugh Hefner believes in what he's doing in Playboy, but that never stopped any Christian organization from decrying his ability to make money off of nude bodies, or from attempting to dissuade retailers from selling his magazine.

In a free country, we would have free markets for our economics and our morality; this cannot happen in latter case for the Christian Right, because if their dire predictions about the effects of pornography and gay marriage do not come to pass, their entire belief system might be seen as wrong.  Indeed, the former case, the liberal left cannot abide a free market, or at least a freer market, for economics for the same exact reason.  In the midst of this tug of war are the rest of us, including comedian Bob Newhart, who was retained to perform before a crowd at a Catholic group's convention.  

Newhart found himself roped into the culture wars, and forced to acquiesce to those who thought his performance before radical Catholics would be tantamount to an endorsement of every single item those Catholics believe.   Newhart could have snarled and told the group seeking his acquiescence to go to hell; alas, Bob Newhart is not Norman Mailer, and we should all ask ourselves daily "WWNMD?" and do it without hesitation.

The origin of the cognitive dissonance is of no importance; the liberal left and the Christian right share the same basic toolbox. They use individual rights to advance an agenda whose endgame is the suspension of rights for others who do not believe as they believe.  The expression of their beliefs is a mere first step towards implementation; anyone who denies this is delusional.  In other words, to overturn the universal application of the Bill of Rights, these two camps use freedom of speech, religion, and association as shields for their sedition.  Their commitment to such freedoms is restricted to the application of those freedoms to others who think as they do, act as they do, and it is denied to all others.

The use of boycotts by such groups is not intended to enable them the liberty to abstain from the consumption of ideas they don't agree with; instead, the boycotts are used to drive the ideas from the marketplace and eliminate the beliefs they don't like as an option for others.  The most recent brouhaha over Duck Dynasty, and Phil Robertson's comments on homosexuality, serves to illustrate this perfectly: aggressors claim the mantle of victims, alleging persecution, and this is true of both the liberal left and Christian right factions in the fight over Robertson's remarks.

There's a simpler, less autocratic way to express one's disapproval: you can, as an individual, decide not to watch Duck Dynasty.  You don't have to rush to try and eliminate Duck Dynasty as an option for those who do share Phil Robertson's outlooks and viewpoints.  The same is true for those who oppose Rick Warren's agenda, and his links to anti-gay forces in Uganda: you can simply decide not to buy Rick Warren's merchandise as an individual, while leaving other individuals to their own decisions.  You can make the mature observation that A&E is a business, and that businesses cater to demand with supply.  That is not tantamount to an endorsement of the supplier's beliefs.

Of course, in the radical center, this is known as being an adult. On the fringes of our society, this is known as being a blasphemer, or a heretic, or a tolerator of intolerance. It is akin to selling out, or betraying moral righteousness.  There is a valid role for activism in the radical center; it is vitally important that we show up to the polls to keep these groups from implementing their ideals.  Reasonableness and moderation need a champion in the face of cognitive dissonance put into action, and we must be the champions to check the increasing polarization of both the Christian Right and the Liberal Left.

And as for the faux liberals, such as Ban Ki Moon, who believe that freedom of speech does not cover offensive speech, one must be prepared to say to hell with such balderdash.  The ability to offend is the only reason to have freedom of speech, period.  If you can't restrain your response to offensive speech with more offensive speech, the problem lies with you, and not with the person who fired the first salvo.

Evil takes the form of collective action in boycotts, because it tries to legitimate its tyranny with sheer numbers.  This is true of liberal or conservative boycotts, all mustered by would be totalitarians who are convinced that theirs is the holiest of causes.  Rights are sacrosanct, no matter how small the group asserting the right might be.  No amount of democratic largesse should suffice to move the rights of even one individual from sacrosanct status; there is no greater good higher than the smallest of individual liberties.  This is why we bind ourselves together in societies: to ensure that as individuals, we are safe in our lives, our liberties, and our happiness.

Without this safety, we have no reason to belong to any society, for societies that endeavor to erode our right to our lives, our liberties, and our happiness are corrosive to our interests as individuals, which we share collectively with others.  Indeed, the individual interest is the only thing to share collectively insofar as it enables the civilized pursuit of individual fulfillment without violence to others and their property.

If gays are destined to fail, and fated for destruction, let them at it in the marketplace.   Let them perish of their own volition.  God is capable of distinguishing between a tolerance of volition and endorsement of that volition, and it is a testament to the Christian Right's lack of faith that we are even having a debate about outcomes.   It is also a testament to the cognitive dissonance of the Christian Right, and the sheer idiocy of the liberal left, that neither side can see the inherent hypocrisy of their own actions and reciprocations.