Here's my problem, and it's not just about the building: they're intending the building to be a for-profit venture, with which the county can "make a few bucks on the side" -- if there were enough profit, you could imagine them lowering taxes or providing other services, because money's flowing in. More commonly, you'll find yourself paying fees for various government services -- registering a car, getting something assessed or inspected, and other such things. You'll pay the government to provide you with copies of a document (they get pretty hefty, and reams of paper aren't free) or to search a database for something at your request.
Fee-for-service is common. Imagine a world where we didn't force people to pay for the services they are provided with: some jerk would come in every few days abusing the system, forcing everyone else to wait, and he would do so with impunity. "Run that search for me again, just in case." "Can I have another copy of that 4000-page document? The last one got a stain on at least one page, I threw the whole thing out." Forcing people to pay a fee keeps the cost of abusing the system high, discouraging anyone but rich people with nothing better to do from doing so. The other nice thing about it is that you don't pay for what you don't need. Sure, it makes it more expensive for the people who do eventually need service, but that's no concern of yours.
We don't have governments because they're required by God or Nature or anything else. We have governments to simplify an otherwise nasty problem of cardinality. It's just easier to have a government, in most cases. In the computer industry, we hear a lot about "peer to peer" systems. You may not realize this, but the more "distributed" a system is, the less efficient it is (at least when we're talking about loosely distributed, adaptive networks like those used for file-sharing.) In the early days of piracy, we had servers: bulletin-board systems (BBS) were some of the first, followed by internet websites with FTP servers overflowing with pirated software, and later Napster, which held a central repository of available files (an indexing service, like a library's.) If you only have to look for something in one place, the problem of finding something is simple. If you have to look in multiple places, and even have to find out (each time) where to look, it gets expensive.
Governments serve as the central repository of lots of information, decision-making, and services. When you're running water pipes in a city because we've decided everyone should have water available at their house, it's simply easier to have a single agency handling the whole thing. Sure, you can (as a lot of places do) fake their being several different providers of the service, but they often do little more than have their own billing and technical support staff, while sharing (and leasing) the same central resources from city, county, state, or federal governments. It would be costly and dangerous to have anyone and everyone providing the service of running water pipes to your house -- who knows what might happen to the shared resource (damage to the line, leaks, poison, etc.)
What's my problem with the shared-building thing, then? It's that we have socialism disguised as capitalism. I grew up in europe; I'm quite accustomed to the idea of a government owning and running businesses for profit (at least in theory -- it's often at a loss) -- in the US, we have Amtrak as an example of a "corporation" run by the government. My problem is with the "run government like a business" idea, which is that businesses bring in money, and having the government engage in profitable trade would reduce the tax burden on the rest of us, therefore the government should supply itself with income through profitable trade on the side (that is, other than exactly the services it's already paid to provide.)
When a government decides to own a business, it is generally competing with other businesses. What profits it brings in are profits not being brought in by other companies or individuals, who would be paying taxes. A government's fundamental mission, however, is not profit: it is service. An ideal government would make no profit, take no loss, and cost exactly as much as is necessary to provide the services it is expected to provide (the list of which is another matter.) A government is just a public entity expected to receive funds and use them wisely for the public good, not its own. It is not expected to invent its own goals, nor to ignore the needs or wishes of the community. Businesses frequently re-invent themselves when they're no longer profitable, they branch out with new services of their own volition, they attempt to maximize profits by reducing costs while not reducing prices. Their motives are their own, not the community's.
On the positive side, we can consider the following. If a government is required to provide services which are already provided by one or more companies, such companies might be hired to provide those services. The companies being contracted would naturally want a profit, that is, a cost above and beyond the cost of materials and labor directly involved in rendering the services. A government-owned entity would not have such a requirement, and could provide the same services for cheaper. The public benefits from this in the form of lower taxes. Also, a government, at least when "by the people, for the people", may alter its practices to meet public demand, based on voted-for requirements. Capitalist ventures are not required to do so, and might not even have an incentive to do so (some public demands may not be financially advantageous to a company, or the risk involved in changing anything may seem too great; there is no guarantee that someone else will pick up on the gap and fill it in with a new company, only a vague hope.) A government is therefore better suited to making decisions to actively meet public demand, whereas businesses passively meet the demand by trial-and-error, and a lot of luck. You can petition your government and expect some useful reaction; you can petition a private business and expect it to continue to do as it pleases, whether or not that happens to be what you wanted.
There are different levels on which a government operates, and they should perhaps be considered separately. There are services which must be, within a given realm (state or federal boundaries,) rendered by exactly one entity. In those cases, the governing entity for the area sets up a system to provide that service. Unless it's a common "type" of service, there will likely only be one entity like it. It may, on the other hand, be a type of service which private companies could offer, as a slight modification (or specialization) of their existing business. One would need to be selected as the "official" provider of such services. Then there are services which are cheaper when provided by a central authority, such as water, gas, electricity, or other "public works." There are also services which we consider absolutely essential, even though they could be provided in the private sector, and which must be guaranteed to be available. In some countries, this includes health care: although private hospitals may exist, the government is required by its citizens to provide ample health services coverage, regardless of whether or not the private sector wishes to do so as well. Thus, the government may own quite a few hospitals which are run at low or no cost for medical necessities, while the private sector may "fill in the gap" for non-essential care, or for patients who simply don't like the services provided by the government.
[I now realize why this remained 'temporary' for so long -- I never decided where I was going with it. It might be helpful to note that 'libertarians' would prefer a world in which the government practically didn't exist and everything was privately owned, down to the last tree. Other parties vary on how much they believe should be privatized; you don't often hear of privatizing the army, nor of nationalizing all food production. But it's a fairly smooth spectrum, not a radical change in ideology.]
Government entities would need to do the same thing. But I've worked for government before. Its very departmental, little to no competition. Jobs are created to get tasks done and when these jobs are designed, you can see that there's supposed to be some wiggle room as to how talented or hardworking the person hired has to be to be order to get the job done. I saw people simply chatting for the longest time. Lots of people have lots of spare time!!! Organization has overhead costs!! Naturally, that happens with businesses too, but businesses compete with one another. This is good for the same reason that government getting into the private sector is bad: the government has vast resources and doesn't like it when the things it creates collapses for financial reasons. Much easier to quietly raise taxes or allocate more money to a failing thing then to have accountability for who the heck thought it was a good idea yes?
What you said regarding distributed systems got right down to it. And when you add a new department to government, it seems to me that you necessarily have overhead. The government now has another thing to have oversight of. The government does not have oversight of businesses to the same degree; they let businesses make their own decision. I guess its like a living creature. There's an ideal size for any given creature depending on how it gets food and such. Elephants require strange structures just to stay alive (their ears vent heat?) I don't know how to explain this except by example.
For a long time in computer making, I always wanted to go with a custom builder. They provided greater adaptability (easier to upgrade at a time when the hardware advances were actually important to how a computer "felt" when you used it) when they sold you a computer for about the same price. But nowadays, they can't compete with $500 computers from Dell. Dell has a size advantage. That size advantage undoubtedly comes with extra overhead costs in terms of communication and accountability.
But the government is much, much bigger than Dell......and I bet we have a pretty small government compared to a purely socialist or communist government.
Just some loosely bound thoughts.
What? It was just hypothetical.
Yes, lots of things can save lives in dramatic ways. Not going to war might help save lives, or it might not. Spending all our money on better drugs (through more research) might save lives, or it might starve us. Killing everyone, in the long run, spares all sorts of people from having to die (by simply not being born.) Even deciding to get yourself neutered will avoid death, by avoiding life. In the end, everyone dies. (Well, except for Elijah, Enoch, Moses, and Jesus -- though some/all of these are debatable.)
[Ed. note: this is the first entry of type 'message', but new public threading system for our users. Old 'messages' have been moved to 'private messages', and those should continue to be used for our work- or site-related banter. The choice of 'article' or 'message' is at the discretion of our users.]
Seems to me that liberals spend their time talking about large scale problems in our country caused by the rich and powerful and conservatives, talking about small scale problems in people that cause large scale problems in our country.
Ah yes, "the issues." Healthcare. Education. The homeless. Racial issues. The economy (like most politicians know a thing about economics). So called "economic injustice." When they have solutions, they almost always involve taking money from the rich and throwing it at the problem oftentimes with too little effect (healthcare is a mess, education is a mess, these programs have huge budgets).
Conservatives like myself have our own problems. On issues like Healthcare, our solution is self reliance and discipline. Get a good education, work hard and you'll have the money. Education? We need better teachers. We need accountability. We need students to try harder and we need parents to push them harder; to take a hand in their kids education. The homeless? The homeless wouldn't be homeless if they, that's right, got an education and worked hard, had self discipline....etc. Its the same old mantra. We know it works because it worked for us. Yet, somewhere in our brains we know it won't ever happen, but we throw it out there....perhaps to console ourselves that since its not our fault it isn't our problem to fix.
Are both of these "solutions" merely an attempt to confront what these groups view as the Problem in our country? If I had a nickel everytime I heard a conservative talking about the downfall of our morality, of our discipline, and the other personal strength issues..I'd have a large stack of nickels. And if I had a nickel everytime I heard a liberal whining about "The Rich" getting richer and the poor getting poorer (as though even though these people desire to be rich, the rich were evil) I'd be pretty rich myself.
Anyway, both sides need to confront reality. The reality is that many people are weak. Their lack of self discipline or talent or both leads to all sorts of problems. Bad parents hurt their kids upbringing. Dumb people have little potential and undisciplined people (like myself) have huge difficulty meeting their potential. And the folks that have discipline and talent just don't seem to understand why the rest of us haven't yet achieved perfection that was practically granted them from birth.
Liberals: there simply aren't enough resources to go around. As soon as you take stuff away from people they tend to decide that the game isn't worth it anymore. And why not? If you guys achieved the equality you wanted, then hard work and talent merely mean that everyone else gets more. That'll just make everyone equally poor and it'll result in a poorer, less well defended nation (which will, in the long run, result in the nation crumbling to a world power that has mastered their own economy). Which do you think is scarier? A thief taking things from your house, or a government which extracts vast amounts of wealth from a portion of the population by threatening them with jail time? Or perhaps only The Rich deserve that kind of treatment...
Conservatives: people don't make very good building blocks. We can argue theory all day long; that if people didn't suck so bad things would be okay. That argument doesn't work much better for us than it does for Communists. I don't know what the solution is but we shouldn't lean on broken crutches. I personally believe the solution lies in a strong global economy and increasing world peace (i.e. stopping wars...by force not by sending them cards and flowers or with formal rebukes from on high like the UN). If we're ever going to get that we'd better stop ignoring small wars and tyrants in small countries as if the blood isn't on our hands because we haven't taken off our white gloves. I think these lousy arguments are made simply because our opponents aren't bright enough to strike them down and because we're happy with what we have: we don't want the liberals to break the economy and we're not brave enough or self-honest enough to talk truth about the economy. And why? Its our best strength.
Like I said, I haven't found the solution. If one exists, I'm pretty sure it'll involve technology we don't have. But it sure doesn't revolve around tossing out broken mantras as if they're going to protect you by power of repetition.
Compare what you have to what they had in the past. Many of those who live in "poverty" can listen to music whenever they want. I know because my wife and I officially live in poverty. Half of them have two cars. Myself, I have A/C in my apartment and a machine that washes my dishes for me. We didn't get here by equally dividing the candles and horses and grain and lumber...etc. We got here because people with brains and discipline invented these things (oftentimes with the financial backing of the rich and powerful) and then made them accessible.
Conservatives will therefore tend to leave a knot to untie itself; that is, there are some problems that simply won't be solved no matter how long you give them to do so. They are correctly (in my opinion) afraid that they'll pick the wrong solution, solve a problem by creating another, or give a man a pair of crutches when they meant to make him walk again. They set out to make the man walk, and if given crutches, he might never again try to find a way to walk. Liberals refuse to let things work themselves out; their constant tweaking makes it hard to tell what is or isn't working in the long run, they put out individual fires without preventing new ones, but if they can't help a man walk again, at least he'll be mobile on his crutches. After all, they set out to make sure the man could get places, they can't leave it up to luck.
In both cases, the problem is ignorance: not knowing how best to solve a problem, some will prefer to wait and see if a better solution presents itself (self-balancing-magic included) while others will pick a solution now and go with it, to the greater good or harm of those involved. To a liberal, even an ignorant action is better than inaction; to a conservative, an ignorant action is worse than inaction -- and except for the most arrogant among us, it's obvious we're all ignorant.
As I've said elsewhere, self-balancing systems are all you've got when you don't have the answers. But there are no guarantees; just because you hope that a capitalist economy will bring us all wealth in the long run doesn't guarantee that it will. Conservatives are right though about the mess liberals create with their good intentions. We should always been looking for better solutions than those we have, and cool-headed enough to risk more to gain more. But then, I suppose that's what this is about, no? Risk: would you prefer to lose by your own hand, or by sheer luck?
Imagine for a moment that you live in a small community. This community has no laws. It has no law enforcement officers. It has people who hunt. It has people who make clothes and shelter. People work according to their abilities and trade for other things they need. But there is no Law. People do as they please and as they think is right and fair.
Imagine these scenarios then:
Imagine a very strong man: we'll name him Bruce because Bruce is a funny name that sounds like a very strong name to me. Anyway, Bruce is a strong guy, strong enough to bully others and strong enough to kill them. Bruce has bullied several people into working for him. He feeds them and shelters them but he works them very hard and profits from their labor exclusively. One of these laborers is named Tim. Tim works hard but if he screws up or if Bruce is in a bad mood, Bruce beats Tim. These men have never tried to rise up because Bruce wears a sword at his hip and each has been threatened with it. There is no chance that these men, even working together, could escape or overthrow their master.
Imagine further another strong man, we'll name him Cyrus because Cyrus is a cool name for a hero. Cyrus also bears a sword but unlike Bruce, Cyrus knows how to use it very well. Cyrus also knows that Bruce isn't so good with the sword.
Imagine that you are Tim. You're being beaten brutally (again) by Bruce because Bruce is angry. You see Cyrus walking by to do whatever it is that Cyrus does and you see that Cyrus has noticed your plight. How do you feel? What is it you want Cyrus to do? If Cyrus didn't do it, how would you feel about Cyrus?
Imagine then that you are Cyrus a successful hunter and warrior. If you're anything like me, you aren't too pleased at the selfishness of Bruce, hurting other humans for his own gain. You probably want to help these poor men. But you're human too. If you fight with Bruce, there's always a chance that you could die. Really die. Seriously. You'd be dead. No more you. Forever. Think about it. There's also a chance that you could kill Bruce but that he would wound you in a way that would affect you for the rest of your life. What you'd really like (I imagine) is to force Bruce to free the men. You have more power then Bruce. You could do it. And then even Bruce could live. What would you do? Really do. Don't feel obligated to take on Bruce just because you want to be a hero in my story. What would you do? Why should you risk your life to free these men who won't risk their own lives? If these men wanted freedom enough, couldn't they kill Bruce in his sleep and flee? Besides, is it really your decision to make who lives and who dies? You wouldn't want to play God would you? Maybe these men ... maybe they aren't ready for freedom yet?
Lastly, imagine that you're Bruce. You're in a bad mood and you're beating the heck out of Tim. You look up to find Cyrus regarding you, watching how you beat your men. Who knows how Bruce is justifying this, all we need to know is that he's justifying it. Maybe he thinks these men wouldn't stand a chance by themselves and that he's protecting them. Or that some other strong man would make these men slaves if it wasn't him so it might as well be Bruce that profits. Make something up, you're smart. Anyway, there's Cyrus staring at you with that sword at his hip. But he wouldn't understand. You're a little afraid that Cyrus is going to kill you and I think that angers you. How dare Cyrus step in and use force where he isn't invited. When have you ever done that to someone else? Maybe as long as you don't buy what Bruce is selling, what these poor men are making you can keep your hands clean of the whole thing.
By now, reader, you are probably either amused and cheering for me or are irritated at my obvious attempt to justify a war you disagree with. Bear with me.
Imagine lastly that you are a neutral observer; maybe God. Maybe you value each of these men equally. One man is hording the power of 7 men and one other man can free those 7 men. What do you want done?
To me, these aren't difficult questions or thought provoking really. If I was Tim, I would want Cyrus to save me. If I was Cyrus, I would want to save them and I'd risk my life to do it. And if I was Bruce, I would know immediately that I had been undone. Personally, I'd give up, but based on what a nasty, arrogant person Bruce seems to be, I think Bruce might fight. It's very clear in this simple thought experiment what needs to be done. And if your Cyrus, that means you bear the cost of doing it. If you're Bruce, that means you bear the penalty for what you've done. And if you're Tim, you're a free man unless Bruce kills you before Cyrus can free you...
Seriously. If it's so clear here, why isn't it clear in Iraq? Hussein was wicked. The people were indeed oppressed and I don't think they could save themselves...and I'm almost sure they thought they couldn't. We had the power to free the Iraqis and continue to have that power (what they do as free people though...that could be troublesome no? What if these 7 men band together and begin robbing people? Then you've got a problem don't you Cyrus?).
The answer is clear.
So here's the thing that clouds it all up. Imagine if Cyrus was walking down the road, bow in hand. Cyrus is going hunting because hunting is cool and Cyrus is good at it. Cyrus sees Bruce beating Tim but Cyrus doesn't feel like he can just go killing people. So, just like every other day, Cyrus regards Bruce coldly and passes by. But on his way back, Tim approaches Cyrus and says "Bruce has a bow too. He hates you how you look at him and talks constantly of shooting you with it." He shows Cyrus one of Bruce's bows; somewhat crude but workable. "He's not as good a shot as you but..."
But what if he gets lucky? What if he has hires someone else to shoot you? Even a wound could mess up Cyrus' gig and if he kills Cyrus, who will feed and defend his wife and children? Besides, these men don't need to live like this. Cyrus has every reason to destroy Bruce now, or at least to force him to free his men and destroy his bow.
But imagine: Cyrus' wife is worried. If Cyrus just ignores Bruce, maybe Bruce will stop hating Cyrus! What if the people think Cyrus murdered Bruce and decide to kill him in the streets? Cyrus' wife loves Cyrus and doesn't want him to die so she advises him not to confront Bruce. When she sees that Cyrus' mind is made up, she advises him to tell the other villagers what he intends and why he is doing what he is doing. This is good advice. If Cyrus has to kill Bruce, its better that it doesn't come as a surprise.
I think it is likely that some of the villagers will agree with this plan and some will disagree. Isn't that the way of things? Some of the men agree to help Cyrus confront Bruce. But this is the biggest thing that has happened in ages, so everyone watches what happens next.
When Cyrus arrives, no one is in sight. That's odd. But then Cyrus sees Bruce peek around a corner of his house bow in hand. An ambush! There might be men on the roof with bows too. Cyrus didn't exactly come in secret, he has a whole crowd of people behind him and they would have been visible from far off. Bruce shouts "Leave Cyrus or you will die! You're only coming here to kill me and make off with my riches!" He shouts to his men "Cyrus is here to kill us!"
To make a long story somewhat less long, Cyrus shoots Bruce and Bruce dies. Bruce's men don't have bows or if they did they didn't have arrows. As a matter of fact, Bruce didn't have any arrows either. Strange....that.... Imagine what Cyrus would protest "The guy must have been crazy!" "He threatened to kill me!" "The...Tim. Yeah Tim, showed me his bow..what was I supposed to think?!?!"
This is very disconcerting to the entire town. Why would Bruce pretend to have power he didn't? Did Cyrus make up the story for some evil reason? Perhaps to take Cyrus ill gotten gains? Fortunately, there is no consensus about what happened. Cyrus loses the trust of half of the town and some of the trust of his wife. The men are free and most of them love Cyrus. And Cyrus won't have to fear being shot by Bruce.
Did Cyrus do well? And didn't the United States do well also? Iraq had tons of chemical suits but no chemicals. They had developed Ricin and were working on other chemicals. They have attempted to kill our president and give financial support to Palestinian suicide bombers. We know they used to have anthrax and we believe he gassed the Kurds and maybe the Kuwaitis too. There is debate as to whether or not Iraq had a delivery system like terrorists or a ICBM (a bow, an assassin, lots of slaves firing arrows) but there appears to be no WMD (arrows). The war was quick and clean as wars go. We've lost just over 1,000 men and women; very small losses as war and reconstruction goes. As war goes, this was a very good war. If you don't believe me, go study war. Even George Washington lost sometimes; lost badly. His brilliance was that he won against the odds. I think this is a fair analogy; almost analogous. ;)
The men are free and Cyrus' cost is minimal even if his wife will blame him and wonder if he lied. Bruce won't be missed. But suddenly, no one wants to help with the cleanup. Everybody wants a share of Bruce's stuff. Who should get Bruce's stuff? And these men...will they be able to find careers? Who will ensure they don't kill people or simply enslave each other? And when it goes wrong, who will they blame?
Was Cyrus a hero? A man who does what is right even if he might suffer?
What do you think is right? And do you have the courage to do it? Do you even have the courage to stand back and let others do it without publicly calling the morality of what they are doing into question?
And if you were Cyrus, what would you do with those people who had not only stood by and watched as you did all the work, not only heckled and prodded and stirred up others against you to make them doubt your actions, but had been secretly and purposefully buying the things that were being made by those poor men so that you could sell them in their stores for profit? Would you have the strength to smile at them and try to normalize things? I'm not sure I would. I'm not sure I'd care to.
Maybe you are one of those people who doesn't really do anything. Doesn't really even support anything. You've always been more of the thinking type. Just think and find problems with every single possibility, every single argument and don't put your weight behind any decision, any solution. Ooh. And talk about how bad the problem is, how you wish it didn't have to be that way. Is that you? If so, I'm sure this article has a flaw so tell me about it and forget you ever read it.
- Cyrus initially told his family that he was going to attack Bruce because he feared for his own life. After defeating Bruce, Cyrus went looking through his tent to find the arrows as proof of intent; when he found none, he muttered quite a bit about how Bruce must have been an idiot, or hidden his arrows really well, or something. Then he just stopped talking about his original reason and instead said "Look, I have freed these men! Bruce needed to be killed anyway."
Now, do you wonder why the villagers think less of Cyrus? Do you understand that Cyrus didn't do "the right thing" except by accident? He had the chance to do the right thing for a long time, but it took personal danger before he would do anything. True, nobody else did anything either. Everyone's just as guilty about that. But to claim to be a hero for "taking a risk" only when he thought himself in danger? That's not heroic. That is, in fact, purely selfish.
Do we have a duty to intervene when "inalienable rights" are being violated? Sure. Why not. But does that have anything to do with the question of how we react to being wrong? Does it have anything to do with trying to cover up our reasoning to make ourselves look good? And when those who are oppressed, rather than asking for help directly, try to convince us to act out of fear, how should we feel about them? Or perhaps they only did so because we ignored their honest pleas?
Maybe we should also add the following:
- The villagers do in fact have law, and are each responsible for enforcing it. Each man for himself. That law states that you don't attack another man unless you are provoked; Cyrus was not attacked, he was in no immediate danger. Granted, by the time he was, it might have been too late, but he also acted too soon, according to the law. No man had ever been determined to have the right to strike first under the assumption of intent. It had simply never come up before. The other villagers were willing to get together to discuss the situation, maybe even confront Bruce. Had Bruce done anything, they might even have joined with Cyrus (or even not) and done something about it. But we won't know, will we -- Cyrus acted and "took care of the (his) problem."
- Cyrus is cynical and refuses to consult with the "old men" of the village, thinking them weak and stupid. When they ask for help, he ignores them as long as he can, then acts the hero when things get out of hand. When he feels threatened, he is offended that they don't obey him. In fact, he's asked that he be immune from the judgement of the court that the villagers are creating. He constantly complains that they can't agree on anything, but is himself a part of the problem, always storming out of meetings when they don't go his way. He is the village hero, above the law, beyond reproach, too proud to admit his own faults, and certainly above ever cooperating with anybody for anything. Cyrus is a classic cartoon hero. Now if only that were a good thing...
Cyrus isn't a bad man. He means well. He even stays up late at night asking himself if he's done the right thing. But he's still young, still proud, and it saddens him to think he might have done wrong. He certainly doesn't want anyone to know about his second-thoughts, and if he can manage it, he'll simply bury the whole affair and try to forget about it. Maybe, in time, the villagers will forget too, and he can learn from his mistakes and become a nobler man. An honest, good, but not faultless man.
Have we taken the story far enough? Is the equine thoroughly dead now?
I don't see us getting rid of our weapons. We still mistrust the rest of the world enough to keep a large stockpile of nukes. We're the only country to have used them "for" anything, twice, half a century ago. In fact, I'd say we're terrified of ever using "the bomb" again. We'll keep developing new types of nukes, but if the time comes, will we use them? I highly doubt it. And the fact that other countries might be thinking the same means that nukes aren't even a good deterrent anymore. But for "little" countries like Iran or North Korea, it's still a symbol of being one of the "big guys" of the world, of earning respect, adulthood, whatever. Besides, consider our own laws: you have a right to own a gun. Why? Not because you're really in much of any danger where a gun would be helpful to you (more than likely you'll just hurt yourself, have it taken away, kill someone you only meant to harm, only harm someone you meant to kill, and get your ass sued, or otherwise mis-use the darn thing.) It's just your right. You get to have weapons, your neighbors get to have weapons, and by the time it's all said and done, we're all too afraid of each other to do anything, or too insane to care (and therefore still dangerous.) How can a country that values self-defense so highly, and makes a point of giving its citizens the right to bear arms (supposedly of equal power to that of the "enemy"), tell another nation that nukes are a bad idea?
We're trying to negotiate. Well, the Europeans are; we're just sitting here telling them they're not forceful enough, as if that really makes the situation any better. Our previous arrangement with NK involved shipping oil to them as a substitute to their having their own nuclear reactors. We bribed them. The current negotiations also involve trade incentives. Wow. Let's bribe them again and see if that helps. Maybe we're too naive to realize this, but ... nukes make for better bargaining chips than they do weapons. Sure, you can take out a city with one, if you really want to. But you'll get yourself pounded so hard it won't matter. On the other hand, having a few around is good enough to be courted by the governments of the world offering your higher and higher prices for your disarmament. If the deal ever stops being good, you can just build another set of bombs, and start all over again. So long as you don't use them for anything, governments are just giving you "stuff" in exchange for a little peace of mind; the fact that they're worried is entirely their own problem. Pretty cool deal, if you ask me. And if it's cheaper to get nukes than to get the equivalent "incentives" you'll get out of negotiations, then it simply makes economic sense to build nukes and black-mail people. Do we really think Iran and North Korea aren't smart enough to realize this?
I propose we give Iran and North Korea the same deal we gave the CCCP: have all the nukes you want; stockpile them, have them for breakfast, build high towers out of them, whatever; we don't care, you won't get anything from us; but if you ever so much as twitch, and/or launch one anywhere, prepare to have your ass served to you on a radioactive platter." Mutually-assured destruction has worked before, and it still can. It's a sensible policy: if your neighbor does you no harm, you have no reason to harm your neighbor. As long as your neighbor feels safe, and feels that his safety is in his own realm of control (that is, you're sane, and his decisions actually decide whether or not he's safe from you), then he's unlikely to do anything foolish. If your neighbor thinks you're a wild-eyed cowboy with an itchy trigger finger, chances are he'll shoot first despite your lack of intervention. (Note: we apparently thought Saddam had an itchy finger, look what that got him!) North Korea has reason to fear us: we're fairly sane, they're fairly not, and things could go sour. But if we don't show some sign of restraint, there's no chance that a paranoid government will ever calm down. Mistrust will just spiral out of control, and someone will get nuked (or not, and we'll have to explain how our macho facade isn't the "real us".)
So the message is: "we promise not to attack you so long as you don't attack us; your fate is entirely in your own hands; if you do, however, screw up, prepare to be royally rewarded."
The problem is that we can't make that promise. We're itching to liberate people from tyranny. And at least for the sake of this argument, I have no problem with such intentions on our part. Freedom's neat, even though we're not terribly clear on what it is, how to enforce it, or whether or not liberating someone really makes them free. So really, we can't swear we won't invade their country. They have reason to fear us, reason to arm themselves, reason to warn us that they're armed.
Our fate (or rather, that of our allies in the area) is in our own hands, maybe. I'm not convinced the leadership of North Korea is entirely sane. The itchy finger could twitch. Maybe it won't. And there's no really good way for us to back down without also appearing to give into "terrorism" and "tyranny" ... but so long as we don't, we're the presumed future initiator of violence, even if it's for a "good cause."
We've got a potentially crazy guy holed up in an apartment building, holding a gun, yelling at everyone to leave him the hell alone. What do our street cops usually do in this case? It's hard to convince someone who feels threatened that they should just put down their guns when you're not doing so yourself. Did I hear someone say "sniper"?
Note that this applies equally well to Iran. Or anyone (past/present/future) else who thinks (I have no idea how they got this idea, of course) that we might be coming "after them" (particularly to "liberate" their people.)
Imagine a group of kids in a classroom. Don't ask me where the teacher is man, I don't believe in Teacher. If you want, there's a substitute teacher who spends all his time reading romance novels instead of keeping order. If kids misbehave he says "Hey. You kids mess around too much."
Anyway, one of the kids, Billy, is US and this kid can really fart. That's right, his farts stink and he can fart on command (it involves eating the right beans the day before or something like that), and one time he farted on a kid during an argument and that kid was so embarrassed he shut up right away. Some of the other kids have learned to fart on command too, but mostly, those are friends of Billy. Eventually though the kids realize that if everyone has a fart war it really really stinks up the place for everyone. Plus the girls think it is stupid. So they decide not to fart at each other anymore. If anybody farts at anybody else, everybody farts on him. They won't try to stop people from eating beans; that would require bean inspections and that's lame.
Imagine then what happens if the kids who don't like Billy decide to mess with Billy about it. One of them makes a farting sound when Billy isn't looking but when Billy wheels around, it becomes apparent the kid is just making fart noises with his armpit. Some of the kids are getting sick of the fart vigilance and Billy looks really silly prophecying about fart doom all the time. At a different point, of two kids that are fighting, one of them develops fart technology. People begin to wonder whether the age of farting will come again to the classroom. Kids are talking about what would happen in the ensuing "fart winter." Okay, no they don't, but one of the kids is constantly going "if you guys don't give me candy, I'm totally gonna eat some beans tonight." Another of the kids is like "No, I do not fart. I eat beans all the time but my digestive system breaks them down in such a way as it does not make me fart. My intentions are peaceful and fartless."
Well, I'll tell you how this thing is going to break down. Kids from the Axis of Evil are going to be faking like they're farting and Billy'll get mad and talk to them and sniff the air and try to figure out if people are really farting. And eventually, in all the noise some kids going to fart and its going to stink. And every one of those little Rogue Kids is going to say "It wasn't me." What does Billy do then? Fart on every one of them? Beat them all up?
And then little Billy and the rest of the gang are either going to have to get used to the smell of farts, because the alternatives are now "fart wars" and "the international terror fart game."
There's a terrible flaw in your strategy. You are complaining about us pushing people around. For me, that is an accepted cost. It's annoying and to the people being pushed around, it doesn't seem very fair.
Your solution, to prevent pushing people around is to allow nations which aren't very safe, some of whom support terror directly in an age of terrorism, to develop weapons capable of killing thousands of people. The way we'll keep them from doing it is to nuke them back.
Your accepted cost is that there's a chance that thousands upon thousands of people will die. You mitigate this risk with a threat of force.
Threat of force comes with all sorts of issues though. First off, terror can be anonymous. A nuke goes off in NY. Who do you nuke Unordained? Will you comb the radiation soaked remains of this part of NY for clues as to which country sold it to whom who set it off? Even if you find out, can't they say "it was some jerk who stole our weapons and sold them. We've caught him and killed him." Even if we had a really nice nuclear missile defense system, it wouldn't stop a nuke that wasn't a missile that was parked in somewhere awful.
Secondly, a threat of force can be overcome if the threat is "overworked" as they say in chess (a queen protecting three things may only be able to actually protect one if you call their bluff and accept one threat). Fortunately, we have no small number of nukes. As long as we can launch a very large number of them in the time it takes one of them to hit, we can nuke as many people as try to ally against us.
Then again, with enough threats against us, we'll be so dead that it won't matter whether we kill them back.
It seems to me that it also needs to be considered that there are people out there who aren't as afraid to die as we are. People that don't mind getting aboard a plane and driving it into a building. If such people got their hands on a nuke, do you think the threat of force would matter to them? They'll call your bluff.
This strategy is a nice backup strategy. For now, I don't mind pushing people around. People will whine and cry about what right we have, as the only country on earth to have used the weapon to prevent others from doing so. But it really doesn't matter. We have the power to do so. And the cost of not doing so could be pretty high.
These days, being aggressive against another country doesn't require an open declaration of war. It can come in the form of trade embargoes or heavy tariffs, terrorists, and other things which cannot be strongly linked back to the country which set them in motion.
The last thing this world needs is a fart war. The only thing to do is keep people who don't already have bean technology from acquiring it. And if they do acquire it, make them really sorry they did with constant inspection and such.
The new facilities certainly were nice. We began the tour in what used to be called "the Atrium" when I attended this church. It had plants and skylights, so I suppose that name fit fairly well. Now the area has been renamed "Kid Zone," or something similar and equally catchy. Gone are the plain, light blue walls, plants, and skylights. Now the walls are covered in distinctly Disney-esque art work. The plants and skylight have been replaced by a mock tree house, which will eventually feature various platforms spiraling around it and the rest of the "Kid Zone." Down the hall, where I attended preschool through kindergarten sunday school, the walls have been painted a bright green color, and are adorned with large, 3'X 3' pictures of children of all races in poses which would indicate they are having a simply incredible amount of fun.
From the "Kid Zone" the tour continued up a stair well, painted in equally bright colors with even larger pictures of older kids having a (presumably) larger amount of fun. Once we topped the stairs, I was almost dismayed. The hallway and classrooms here looked almost exactly like they did when I attended first though fifth grade sunday school several years ago. Luckily the tour guide (the pastor of the church) assured us that this area would be decorated similarly to the "Kid Zone" below. *Whew* The theme up here would be "elementz" (all lower case, with a "z"). This is fortunate, because you and I both know how much modern first through fifth graders dig in-your-face misspellings.
Then we were guided through a set of double doors to the new sixth through twelfth grade facilities, named "The Factory." As that name would imply, the area looked much like a mock factory with exposed ducts and all that overhead. Hanging from this cleverly unfinished looking ceiling were several TVs. They displayed what I can only assume was the video portion of this morning's sunday school lesson...something relating Napoleon Dynamite to the Bible. The walls here are painted black, and they too have large pictures adorning them. Fittingly for the age group that meets in this area, these pictures are of racially diverse, distinctly urban looking teens, in poses that would indicate they are having the teenage equivalent of fun (angst). Up front was a moderately sized stage with amps and mics, and in back was a nice looking soundboard and computer to control everything. A little further into this area, there is a small table with a brand new Mac on top of it and an open room with several more TVs hooked to various video game consoles. Opposite the Mac table is a cafe type area with small, round tables, chairs, and what looked to be a counter from which food is likely served.
Through a couple more double doors we were guided to a wide-open reception area over looking a brand new gym. Underneath us is another area which will also be used for reception-like gatherings. From there people can access the new gym.
And what might all of this cost? In case the title of this article hasn't clued you in already, I'll tell you: $3,000,000.
Practically, I have at least one problem with all of this. At the moment, bright, ugly-ass green walls, large pictures, and the "street" look are all very in vogue. What happens when they fall out of vogue? Another $3,000,000 project?
Aside from that practical issue, I have other issues with all of this.
Why was all of this done? The primary reason given by the church leadership would be that this will attract unbelievers. They seem to be of the mentality that if you provide an incredibly fun, hip, and/or cool atmosphere, who wouldn't want to attend your church? I'm of the mentality that plenty of people wouldn't. While it certainly would be fun to go and listen to a live band, play some video games, and sip a latte from the cafe, the fact remains that this is a church, and people know it. They know that all of this comes at a cost of being preached at by someone, at least once. We're not going to fool anyone; they know that all of this amounts to bait. Even as a believer, I don't like feeling as though I'm being baited, and I have this suspicion that non-believers don't either. So the message that all of this sends to the unchurched isn't, "We love you, we care," it's "We're trying to trick you into something. Would you like to play our video games?"
Even if people don't get the impression that we're trying to bait them (which we are), they'll think we're lame for trying so damn hard to be edgy and cool. People who come to a church honestly seeking something aren't seeking to be a part of something edgy and cool. If they were, there are a number of places and groups that do it far better than we can. And if movies like "Saved!" are to be believed, quite a few unchurched people are pretty damn tired of us trying to be that way!
So all of this, I would argue, will be largely ineffective in actually helping anybody with anything...and we spent $3,000,000 on it. Meanwhile, my father and mother, members of this church, are teaching English to Spanish-speaking immigrants so that they can get better jobs with which to support their families. The church-owned building in which they do this is a ratty, dilapidated property with bathrooms that don't work and cause the entire place to reek of sewage. True, because the youth group of this church will move into part of the new facilities, their old meeting area will be used to host the Hispanic ministry. However, I imagine that a comparatively paltry $100,000 would have gone a long way to improve their old facilities and another $500,000 would have kept the youth group from feeling left out. But then again, while meeting Spanish-speaking people's needs is admirable, I suppose it lacks that in-your-face edge we so desperately crave.
Not surprisingly, the tour was ended with a prayer that God would help the people present to be faithful and obedient in giving to this endeavor so that God's work will be accomplished.
I realize I've done a lot of complaining and very little offering of alternatives or solutions. I don't have the answer. Certainly, I can see the need for a growing church to build new and larger facilities. And while I don't think that striving for edgy coolness will get us anywhere, I doubt that giving up and fully embracing boring, conservative "churchyness" will either. About the only thing I can think to suggest is that we just be honest with people and give up on trying to bait them into a church service. Then, when people come to our church honestly seeking whatever we have to offer, we should use our millions of dollars to help them, meet their needs, and then tell them why we're doing so. I doubt that would give us the rapid growth we seem to be seeking, but surely it would give us a more long-lasting growth that actually means something, presently and eternally.
I've heard Torrentor mention once or twice that he's (been?) attracted to shiny things, by which he meant particularly the mass and ceremony of the Catholic church. Admittedly, everything sounds cooler in Latin. You won't bait him with a brightly-colored toy area. In fact, I can't say I've ever seen that work on anybody. They can get the same benefits at the local mall.
I've been to church two or three times since I decided I was actually agnostic. I went with my parents while I was visiting, to avoid embarassment. (It's bad when the missionary's kid refuses to go to church, no?) I also went once while living in Tulsa (Oklahoma) because we got a flyer informing us there would be a multi-night discussion on Darwinian evolution, the Bible, fossils, and all sorts of scientific stuff. (And boy was that a hoot. Ask me for my notes if you care.) The only thing that could get me back in church would be someone making such a good case for that religion that I couldn't help myself *and* proving that church (as most people understand it) is somehow directly tied to the religion itself. Then again, I'm probably more barricaded-in than a lot of people.
Consider, though, the case of mildly-christian parents with "two point one" kids. They've not been to church recently, or they meander from church to church. Finally, they find one with all sorts of facilities to make them feel cozy, make them comfortable with leaving the kids in day care (sunday school) and generally high-spirited about worship. Expensive facilities will buy you their presence, and their tithe. Just think of what you'll be able to do with the money collected from this investment! For three million dollars, you build a larger facility that can attract a few hundred more people, a good number of which will feel obligated to religiously give 10% of their income (note: the government only probably takes 20% to 30% of their income, so this is relatively a lot) to the church. Investment here can lead to even greater revenue later. Of course, nothing prevents the church from further spluring on its own members with that money, but at least there's some reason to the madness, right?
There are alternative strategies for church. Church is just an assembly of like-minded believers who feed off of each other. You are stronger as a group than you are individually. You can learn from each other. You can teach each other. You can maintain beliefs and nip heresy in the bud. You can hire a (sometimes) highly-educated preacher for less than it would cost you to have individual lessons. (I'm going to leave alone the idea that you want someone else to teach you the required beliefs of your already-chosen religion.) Churches serve as a meeting place where you can find other people who agree with you; such people are easier-to-have friends, as you're less likely to have an argument over matters of religious belief. You can feel safe letting your kids go out with their kids, because everyone's nice. You're safe. You're with other, safe people. In fact, the only people you need to worry about are people who don't go to your church: those dangerous Catholics, or worse, the unbelievers. They're the only possible source of evil in this world today. (Wait, has my tone darkened in this paragraph? I'm sorry.)
Consider house-church, though. Small groups of people meeting informally at home or in public places. You don't have the cost of a building, you still meet with people, you can still ask a pastor to come over and preach, maybe several groups can pool money to make sure he has the time to do so. It's easier to integrate with casual missionary work: invite someone over to your house for dinner, maybe later invite them over for an evening (informal) bible study (maybe formatted more as a fully open discussion, to make them feel included.) You can ramp up slowly as appropriate. With church, you have a whole can of worms that comes with saying "hey, you want to come to church with me next week?" There's a lot of money that could be saved with such a process, but you might not avoid heresy as well, it's not something tourists will just drop in on, and it doesn't scale well to large groups of people.
You could express your disapproval of such churches by not patronizing them. Don't tithe there. Go to a small church that obviously needs some money to keep the basics working (assuming you care about their basics) and contribute there. Maybe when churches see that "investing" actually hurts them (as their members go elsewhere to show their disgust) they'll stop. I don't see that happening though. Too many people feel too comfortable in big, cushy churches. It's like SUVs -- the bigger and plusher, the better. They don't go to church to be attacked for their beliefs, they don't go to be martyrs, they don't go to feel awkward, they don't go to be obvious. They go to be part of a mob, where they can feel safe, where they can feel part of the whole (of the body of Christ, if they're in the right mind-set), where they can be dedicated to, in their own anonymous way, praising God. People don't sing too well when it's cold in the building. They don't sing well when they don't have a good music director. They don't listen very closely when the pastor doesn't have a good microphone, or when the seats are uncomfortable. (I'm not sure they listen other times either, but that's another matter.) They don't like being the first person to arrive or the last person to leave.
And if nothing else: what kind of God would allow his people to have a crappy church? Obviously the size of your church proves the size of your God. (Have you read those books on how God wants you to be rich, and if you'll just reach out and invest in those stock markets he wants you to invest in, he'll make you rich? Yeah. That's the mood I'm in.)
Note: welcome to our newest contributing member. Everyone else who has a username and isn't contributing should be ashamed of their respective self.
This book, speeches given at the World AIDS conference, the speech given to highschoolers (audio available from this site), and many other sources have all done the same thing: they've tried to push an unnecessary agenda along with a useful message, and managed to mess both up. The agenda is to promote monogamous marriage with no extra-marital sexual contact, for religious reasons. The other message involves the risks of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), and the innefficacy of condoms, birth control pills, the rhythm method, and anything else you might have thought to use to mitigate those risks -- and particularly how naughty doctors, evil governments, and greedy pharmaceutical companies don't tell you about these risks.
The basic fallacy in all cases is a false dilemma between sex-before-marriage which (they will tell you) will almost assuredly result in pregnancy, disease, and unhappiness, and monogamous marriage and belief in a loving God which will prevent disease, benefit your career, and ... don't worry about the kids, at least they'll be born into a happy couple. (I kid you not.)
I always despise messages presented this way, because you create a dependency that will bite you in the arse later on. If you tie the message of safe (no) sexuality to God, then those who do not believe in your God may refuse your message, and those who accept it for now may reject it later if they reject your religion. If the goal is to help people by educating them, then it seems logical to present each bit individually and hope each of them does some amount of good.
So if it's a false dilemma, what are the actual facts? Well, they're still not good. I don't disagree with the authors in most cases involving statistics. Most birth-control methods (short of surgery or abstinence) fail to be 100% effective. The book (named above) gives what seem to me to be the "worst case" statistics, based on what I've found elsewhere. The effectiveness of birth control methods varies greatly by age, correct use, quality of products, consistency, and margins of errors, and of course the method chosen. I'm not sure it matters, but I've yet to see attached to these statistics any mention of "multiple methods at once" or "average number of sexual encounters per [time period] per person". I don't know about you, but I intuit there should be some statistical difference between people who have sex every day and those who might have sex once a month. But I'm just guessing.
Similarly, the effectiveness of condoms (male or female versions) or dental dams (or any other physical barrier) in preventing the spread of STD's also varies. Most sources make a point of reminding you that condoms do not always prevent the spread of AIDS, which seems consistent with the statistics at hand.
The book mentioned above went so far as to assert that the only ways to avoid AIDS were abstinence and a mutually faithful monogamous marriage with no extra-marital sexual contact. And that's just wrong. Maybe you don't remember, but people have in fact gotten AIDS from blood transfusions at hospitals and re-using needles (mostly in the case of illegal drugs.) Perhaps the authors think that abstinence and faithful marriages mean you'll never need a blood transfusion, but that kind of false message shouldn't be allowed to go unchecked. You can get AIDS other ways. And you may not necessarily get AIDS even if you're not perfectly faithful or abstinent. Go figure.
So here's the real set of facts, and the ones that matter in this case.
- Birth control methods may not necessarily prevent pregnancy. Plan accordingly. If you're going to have sex, recognize this as a risk you're taking, and understand that the methods you're using are only there to slightly reduce (but not eliminate) the chance that you'll have a kid on your hands. Ladies, understand that it's easier for the guy to ignore the child than it is for you.
- Condoms and other barriers will not necessarily prevent the spread of diseases between partners. As above, plan accordingly. If you don't want to get a disease via sexual intercourse, make sure you don't have sexual intercourse with anyone carrying the disease. Get tested, ask others to get tested, and even then accept that the tests aren't perfect. If you assume that the disease can only spread via sexual contact, apply basic graph theory: cut those with diseases off from those without, don't have sex with anyone who's had sex with anyone (etc.) who might have had it at the time.
- Even if you never have sex, you may still get one of these diseases. You could get it from your parents, blood transfusions, or some other vector. Some sexually transmitted diseases are not exclusively sexually transmitted, and there are plenty of diseases out there that are not at all sexually transmitted that will still kill you. You may now take the time to reflect on how dangerous our world is at the microbial level.
- Even if you're married, you may still have unwanted pregnancies.
- Even if you're not married, the same things apply to you as to married couples when it comes to the risks of sexuality and pregnancy. (With the added stigma of "out of wedlock" births, and the scorn that people feel they should direct at you for them. But that's not quite sticks and stones and diseases.)
- Even if you have sex with a million different people, you may avoid pregnancy and disease. Part of it is luck, part of it is planning. Knowing it's not all planning, you can still make use of what you know to help reduce the risk, lower the cost. Birth control methods do that. Physical barriers do that. Abstinence does that. Smart relationships do that.
Abstinence until marriage (and the same for your spouse) is just a short-cut, an easy way of applying some of the obvious principles above. It is neither guaranteed to be effective, nor the only semi-effective method out there. Understand it is only that: a short-cut.
And if you want to push for marriage because it makes people happier, results in better kids, "is just the way our society has been" (tradition), "because God says so", or any other reason ... please, feel free to do so. But do so independently, and don't rely on confusion to tie these issues together.
I also wouldn't mind it if authors would refrain from saying that STDs appeared out of nowhere recently, or even better, that sexual promiscuity is something new. I have a feeling there's some correlation without causation here: we probably only recently discovered STDs that had existed for a while, as they spread through existing channels of promiscuity. The issues are linked, but ... dang. (Plus, they're left saying either that some evolution of new strains of diseases does happen, which they likely won't like because it might support some forms of evolutionary theory, or they could say God's creating them ... and then you get to hear babbling about God punishing people for their promiscuity by creating new diseases that take advantage of this vector. But that's all just a bonus.)
[Sorry about the 'rythm' typo -- we got a lot of hits from people ignoring google's spellchecker. They deserve more reliable information.]
Political Tactics for Dummies
Perhaps this section will show us a little about why dummies get into office. Dummies use these tactics well and convince other dummies (there are a lot of them) to vote for them. Dialog is destroyed, reason ignored. Here are the tricks of the political trade!
Memorize the list of logical fallacies and use them. Slippery slope, poisoning the well, and especially Post Hoc. These are the ultimate weapons!
*New* Abstract and Equivocate This one is so classic, I can't believe I missed it the first time! It will make a powerful addition to your arsenal. Sometimes what your opponent is doing is just but you want it to look like its unjust. What oh what shall you do? The answer's simple. Find something that it is similar to that is negative and then just blurt it out. Hitler. Nazis. Racism. The Ku Klux Klan. Something with tons of emotional baggage. A good example is the War in Iraq. It is much like Viet Nam in many ways. Nevermind the fact that Viet Nam cost us roughly 50 times more human lives. The point is to win!
*New* Stab and run. Most arguments are about more than one subject at a time; each issue has sub issues. If your opponent has just made several well reasoned points that you don't want to address, you should stab and run (perhaps with an Abstract and Equivocate defense). "Well, Tom's comments only highlight the racist tendencies of the blah blah blah but let me get to the crux of the matter" or "Well, the Kerry camp is well known for the kind of spin you just heard but let me talk about the real issue here." The trick is to slander and then appear to rise above the fray by changing the subject.
Insane Accusations. Make accusations you can't back because you won't have to. Refer to documents no one has access to. Refer to "High Level Officials" who do not have to defend their beliefs..it only takes one!! Demonize demonize demonize. Remember. The worst thing your enemy can do tactically is to deny the charges. Nothing makes you look more guilty than denying your guilt.
Make your enemy unPC. If you can, tie your enemy to racial, gender or sexual discrimination. No one likes discrimination, we want politicians who are indiscriminate as possible. Once again, your enemy cannot deny the accusation without looking guilty! What is he (or she!!!) going to do, sue you for slander?
Get an Expert. Come on. Experts are practically free because you can give them 30 seconds to talk about their book. Liberals: use psychologists, gays, minorities, and statisticians. Conservatives: use economists, minorities and statisticians. Religious icons will be the death of you so bail on them unless they celebrate Samhein or something.
Make your Opponent out to be an Idiot. Ask your opponent lots of questions that have nothing to do with anything. If he answers one stupidly under the pressure, the press will eat him alive. Remember. The press is full of sharks so make sure your opponents blood is in the water and for goodness sake, don't actually engage your opponent's arguments. If you bleed, you'll be eaten. Remember the potato thing? Potatoe thing? Elections are like spelling bees except you choose the word and you can make fun of your opponents.
Deflection!!! If you don't like the question you are asked, rephrase the question mentally and turn it into an attack on your opponent. If you are asked "Why didn't you support the soldiers by okaying the funds they need to fight" don't answer the question. Your audience is too stupid to understand your reasoning. Say something like "I'm not the one not supporting the troops. President Bush is the one not supporting the troops by keeping them in that hell hole called Iraq." See how that works? Remember, your audience is not watching because they care about the issues (i mean, some are, but you won't convince them!). They are watching for entertainment. So don't bore them. Make sure it is a slugfest and make sure you criticize your opponent when he lowers himself (or herself!) to your level! Now, I didn't think of this one myself; I don't want to take credit for it. I'm no genius, I just watch the best and learn from them!
Use Trusted Icons. Hollywood loves cameras and there's an old saying that says something like "There's no such thing as bad publicity." With this idea under your belt, you can find the right entertainer, have him or her say the right things in the right place at the right time, and people all over the place will think (as close as thought is to such people) "Well, if So-And-So believes that, it must be correct." Now, remember, your enemy will use this tactic as well, but you can punish them for it! The key is to accuse your enemy of "owning the media." It doesn't matter if it is true, there's enough dumb people in the world that you don't need reason, you need motivation and Trusted Icons and Dramatic Debate motivate people!
Invert! If your opponent thinks he has done something right, simply assert that not only will it not work, it will work the opposite as was intended. This has worked for medical care, the economy, and forest preservation. You don't need evidence, just cloud the issue.
Lastly, remember to criticize anything your opponent does. Again, you don't need evidence, just cloud the issue. Heck, you don't even have to have a better way of doing things!!!
Simply UnAmerican Dude this one rocks. If someone does something you don't like, tell them it's unamerican, that it will hurt The Troops...whatever!
Simply Un-UN! This one rocks too. See, even some allied nations frequently don't really like each other. I mean, did you watch the UN meetings? "Mister speaker, I come from a very old nation." That was great. See, we look for opportunities to hurt each other all the time...in a positive way of course, or at least in a way that can't be seen...like trade. But stupid people don't know that there's bad feelings everywhere. So act shocked when other nations don't like what your opponent is doing. You and I both know that the UN is not God. But the voters don't!
Be a unider not a divider. This is a strategy that may not be compatible with the crap above, but this mantra can work. Attempting the positive campaign strategy may make your enemies look like meanies or it may make you look weak. This strategy could be enough to win an election in and of itself but there are disadvantages. If you do anything to piss off your enemies (you will) they'll disagree with you (like they always do) and criticize you for being a hypocrite. It may be possible to repeat the mantra after this and it may not. It seems like this strategy may be better if your enemies have a lot of dirt on you. Many people have speculated (like...10 is many right?) that winning an election isn't so much about being capable as it is as sucking less than your opponents. That's why the positive thing works out I think. Note that if the unificating doesn't work you can blame this on the opposition!
Give the Majority Entitlements. The pocketbook is what wins elections. You think people care about a war which might be unjust? Nah. By and large, they want money. Use buzz phrases like "fiscally responsible," "economic justice," "supply side economics," or alternatively "voodoo economics." People will think you are smart. Did you notice how certain folks said that the tax cuts didn't benefit the poor? That didn't work. Then they said that they didn't benefit the middle class. That worked even though the economy rebounded. Did anyone notice? No. Aim for the middle class and higher or the middle class and lower. It'll be the bomb.
Never be against anything. Re-label your group in the most positive light possible: no one is for someone who is against something. Instead of "Democrats" which does not have an opposite, call your party "The Party for Smart People" so that your enemies are "The Party for Not Smart People" or even better, "Progressive" so that your enemies are instinctively thought of as "Regressive." I'm still waiting on one from the Conservatives / Right Wing. I guess there's no way to make being conservative hip or positive.
Make your opponent appear to be judgemental but don't be a martyr.
Use These In Combination!!! Lets do a hypothetical. If you are not smart, and someone attempts to question what you mean by "fiscally reponsible" just tell them that the American people deserve to have economic justice and that the are not properly represented. Maybe throw in a little jab at what your opponent is doing....and tell the audience that not only will it not work but that it will do the opposite that it intends. Lump in a bunch of catch phrases such as "special interest groups" and you've got yourself a winner.
The Balance of Idiocy and The Solution: Character Assassins
How to choose.... how to choose? Positive or negative? Well the good news is that your campaign can use both but only if you are careful and only if you have connections. And you do! What you need are character assassins. When you want to murder someone but you suck at murder you hire a hitman right? (Don't answer that question, the person that is using hitmen is your opponent remember? Gotta be sharp!) Anyway, character assassins are the "in" way to balance your campaign. They cost little of nothing and the stuff they say isn't coming from your mouth. Typically these people have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
Use Comedians. Dude. Comedians are funny! It isn't funny to contradict people. Go on shows where no one will question you and pray that no one notices that no one questions you. If you go on the Factor you'll get torn a new one unless you know what you are talking about. If you can get a comedian to tout the party line he can deliver your crap right into people's homes and he'll get paid for it!
Use The Press Okay, yes, the press can be a real pool of hungry sharks. But ..whats better than a pool of hungry sharks? A pool of trained hungry sharks! This works exactly like the comedian thing. Remember to use this in combination with insistance that your opponents own the media.
That's all I can think of for now. Do all of this and you have a future in politics. Do it not, and your enemy will defeat you. Rush to the bottom anyone?
Every Day Debate
Most of you will not be in politics: you're too ethical. Some of the above apply, some don't. What you need is craptastic debate techniques that you can have ready...you know...for every day use. Here's my list of my favorite, tried-and-true tactics. Make sure you read Unordained's article; it contains the underlying strategy that you will be backing with these tactics. The essential idea is this: the only way to fairly convince someone is by using reason. Thus if you destroy your opponents ability to speak reasonably with you, you destroy your opponents ability to pursuade. With any luck, no one will be convinced! Now..these still work for politics and they are a good place to start. Have fun!
Use Sarcasm! Sarcasm is good because the only thing you are really talking about is what you don't believe. That's easy! If your enemy does this to you say "Oh sure! Use sarcasm..that makes you really smart...." Stupid people won't get the irony and smart people will be won over by your sense of humor.
Use Undefined words or Redefine words. This is very effective! If you redefine a word that is important to your opponent to be more inclusive than it was previously, he will look like a jerk head poopy face. And that's good. Nobody likes a JHPF.
The Parthian Tactic. This one is great and it sounds so cool. It is a defensive tactic. When your opponent is attempting to use reason, preempt him. Mess with his definitions. Draw him out with the tactics below. Use sarcasm with this. Your opponent will spend so much time delving into details, pursuing your little imaginary horse archers that he'll either run out of time or forget what he was saying. Then change the subject and go on the attack, hitting him in his exposed flank!!!!!
The Straw Man Army. This one is really hard. You have to understand lots of belief systems that you don't really believe. Then, haul them out against your opponent. He'll spend way too much time and energy hacking down a field of scarecrows and not enough time chopping up your beliefs. That way he'll get tired and you won't be. The harder to define the belief system is the better. Your mind will be sharp and you can go on the attack at a convenient time. Your opponent will not be ready for the vigor of your attack!!!
Interrupt. Use this to get your opponent emotionally involved. I use it all the time........on accident. Seriously.
Fillibuster. This has saved many the dedicated group. If you talk for a long time in a row you gain multiple advantages. 1) Your opponent will not be able to defend against all the crap you just spewed. 2) Your opponent will become bored. 3) If your opponent interrupts, call him on it. Geez, you don't have to tolerate that kind of stuff.
Ye Olde Switcharoo. Most people aren't smart enough to lay traps. So don't define your position...just hint at it. When your opponent attacks, he'll spend a lot of time attacking what you don't really believe. Then give him another hint. He'll feel stupid for going off on a tirade and then you can counterattack and criticize his beliefs. This is great with either the Straw Man Army or the Parthian Tactic.
Be the Reasonable party. Be careful with this one. The trick is obviously not to be reasonable, in fact the more unreasonable you are, the more emotionally charged your opponent will become. Then calmly ask him or her to lower her voice, stop interrupting...whatever. Gotta stay calm and say unfair things. This works well with a positive campaign. Thankfully, you can usually switch to this even after you've been angry and loud. The first one to become quiet wins! Editor's note: I'm told this worked well in a recent presidential debate! Learn from the pros!
Deflect on the Abstract! This one is complicated. Lets say your opponent asserts "I think the death penalty is essential." You can deflect on the abstract by saying "So, you're saying that the American government should just.....kill people to maintain order?" If they say "I think abortion is a right" you say "You think mothers have the right to kill people?" In some ways, yes that is what they said but the trick is to take what they are saying about a small group and apply it to a larger group! Many people won't understand what you just did allowing you to take the initiative. Even if the do get it, they'll have to explain to you logically why what you just did was unfair. If you do this enough times, your opponent will become emotionally charged, decreasing his reasoning and giving you the advantage.
Go Relativist/Absolutist on his/her buttocks. Okay, this really has little or nothing to do with relativism. Make things grey that are black and white for a nice open minded defense. Act like things are black and white that are grey for a nice overly simplistic defense. These are very frustrating and useful with the Parthian Tactic.
*Rephrase and Riposte! Your opponent has just phrased something pretty well and you feel trapped. What do you do? Lie. Rephrase what your opponent has said in a light that is worse than the worst reasonable light...but do so without giving him a chance to reply. Immediately destroy your new straw man with a flourish. People will applaud. They like bravado.
Poison the Well. I mentioned this above but it is so important that I must explain it. If you cannot attack what your opponent is doing, make up a really bad reason to do it and then attack his motivations. Most people are too stupid to realize what you've done and your opponent can only deny.
My main cause for alarm here is the statement that sounded like "don't talk about definitions of words"... personally... that's personally, not going into classical rules of debate or anything of the sort... personally, I've noticed that I often differ in my understanding of particular concepts and yes, even words. I think this is a function of a fundamental communication problem between people. I think by default everyone assumes that everyone understands particular words and concepts the same way they do... and more often than not I have personally found that this is not the case. People can and do take even simple words in a vast variety of ways. For example, if I use the word "flour", what do you picture? Many, maybe even the majority, might picture a bag of bleached all-purpose flour that you see the most of at your local grocery store, probably in a white-coated brown-paper bag. I know one person at least though who would think something a little different, possibly something as simple as "the unbleached all-purpose flour in my cabinet" or "bread flour from King Arthur Flour". The differences are small and some might assume that if they use the word "flour" the other person will immediately know what they mean. Would they be wrong? In the abstract sense, perhaps not, perhaps those things are close enough that in most cases it wouldn't matter. You might at some point try using bread flour or pastry flour in a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour. It really produces quite a different result. Does that warrant some talk of definitions? I think so, but then I could be wrong. It seems to me though that in order for any debate to come to a satisfactory end, both sides have to come to an agreement. It also seems to me that coming to an agreement might depend first upon an agreement of definitions.
I do have a tendency to abstract things to try to find the general rule rather than simply looking at a particular occurance and trying to determine its "meaning" or whatever. I find it difficult to gain knowledge of the meaning of peoples' words and actions without finding out how the more abstract concept works. I do have a tendency to understand people more intuitively than I do based on any sort of hard facts. This is just me talking about myself though.
As to the straw man tactic, yes, I use the straw man tactic frequently... in fact I wouldn't be surprised if I were the one Ensis was thinking of when he wrote that part of his article. I do wonder if he thinks that it has been my intention to distract him so that I could attack him when he was tired. That has never been my intention and I'm truly sorry if I've made him feel like that's what I was doing. In part it is a self education about Ensis's beliefs and personality. In part it's also a self defense mechanism, guarding what I truly believe because I know that what I believe doesn't have a lot of logical backing (as I know his and many others´ that I know don't) and I fear that, if attacked by logic the attacker will decide to say "Ha! Your belief is not supported by logic, therefore it is irrelevant". I really don't feel like putting up with that.Blah, that's all for now.
It seems like such a simple thing to me for webcomic artists to provide one or two text versions of their comics. Why several? It would be a public service to provide a text version including "all" the action from the comic (settings, tone of voice, descriptions of action) for the blind, who can enjoy a joke just as well as the next man. But a stripped-down version would be nice too for simple copy-pasting -- I'm not even sure you need any indication of who's talking for it to be funny.
Text really is the ultimate fall-back position, isn't it. I'm a DBA by day, and I just can't get enough of note fields, description fields, narrative fields ... heck, when your favorite VARCHAR gets too short, there's always BLOB! To users, everything is text, until told otherwise. If it were up to them, they'd track the entire accounting system as a set of notes -- "I spent $5 on groceries for the party today at Wal-Mart." There's no reason they shouldn't fall back on text though -- it's been a successful means of communication for a really long time, and given a large enough text field, you can describe just about anything. Okay, so it's a pain to translate accurately, and you can't really do anything interesting with it (the SUM operator seems unable to cope with text, for reasons I have yet to fathom), but from one brain to another, it works well.
Heck, I'll even throw in a fourth reason, free! Searching. On Google. To my surprise, Google doesn't include OCR (optical character recognition, commonly known as 'reading') features. It can't read an image like you can. Without a text version of the comics, we can't just search on Google for part of a joke, to find the rest. We can't just search for a character's name and find out where he appears in the timeline of the comic. We can't ... we can't do anything! I feel so oppressed!
I asked Insignis to pass this feature request on to John Allison of ScaryGoRound, who seems open to new ideas, but I'm not one to leave my grandiose dreams up to fate -- and Insignis. Maybe someday all webcomics (and visual artists in general) will provide searching-, translation-, blind-, and copy-pasting-friendly versions of their work. But probably not.
To read it, either:
- Blogs are almost always just one person. We have at least two main contributors, and way more users than that. We're a community.
- Blogs almost always use standard blogging software. We wrote our own.
- Blogs almost always allow guest comments. We don't care what you have to say. (Actually, we do, and you've always been able to email us, and none of you ever have. You obviously have nothing to say to us.)
- Blogs are almost always about factlets -- quotes, snippets, links to ongoing stories. They're getting a reputation for 'citizen journalism' which I personally think is entirely undeserved, but they're getting it. We're not interested in facts. (That sounded bad, eh?) We're interested in reasoning. So long as your reasoning is good, facts don't matter much. Besides, facts get in the way -- they tend to change, particularly in this age of relative truth. Reasoning doesn't. Plus, it lets us bullshit without having any facts, which saves us a lot of trouble.
- Blogs are almost always about 'me' and 'my life' -- not so much about 'what I ate for breakfast' but a lot of 'what I did at work today', 'what I saw at the store today', 'that thing I want to buy', 'that place I went' ... it's entirely reactionary, but seemingly only to small events.
- Blogs are organized on a timeline, reacting to the changing world. We try to organize our content topically, looking for distant similarities between ideas. (At least fairly recently, my code was so kind as to tell us that 'love', 'hate', and 'sex' were strongly linked -- how insightful!)
See? This is not the blog you're looking for. You don't need to see its identification. It's free to go. Move along.
A completely open system is just asking for referrer-spam (which we already see in the logs) to grow into comment-spam. Sure, we could add captcha technology, that takes care of the automated spam. But what about quantity? The same message, over and over, is easy enough to eliminate. But you've got respondents who are more than happy to keep a flamewar alive, with completely new (yet unoriginal) comments. Do we implement a word limit per message? A comment limit per user? Is that fair, when we can, in the space we give ourselves, type as much as we like, yet require you to respond cogently in a limited space? (I get 2 hours to make my point, you get 5 seconds to make yours!) Sure, we could use some brevity ourselves, but that's hardly the point. What about quality? You've got the self-promoters out there who will use a comment merely as an excuse to pimp their own blog, their own seminar, their own product, and who care very little for the actual topic at hand. Do we filter all inbound messages? How will you know your message is truly in the queue, if it only shows up once we approve it? And the solution doesn't scale, anyway. We hardly have time to create content anymore, how would we have time to filter everything you say, possibly not even to us, but to each other? So do we let you moderate it yourselves? Many (most) people are incapable of self-restraint when given power over others; they won't just moderate down comments that are filled with vitriol, spam, or self-promotion; they'll moderate down comments that they simply disagree with, or don't understand. And for the moderation to be useful, it must have an effect, which means later readers won't see (by design) those comments, in order to moderate them back up. You can't exactly start with the comments pre-moderated-down, and expect someone to find the gems and moderate them up. Do we allow user-ratings rather than content-ratings? I hardly see how that would help, but some sites try it, the equivalent of shaming the person for making stupid comments, rather than just condemning those particularly offensive comments. There's some merit to the idea, but I don't see it actually working. There's no real shame online, no real reputation. Even if users aren't anonymous, even if we require real-ID verification, do you know these people? Do they care what you think of them? Then don't expect down-ratings to make a difference. Should we censor content? That's giving us our own powers back (we always would have the ability to censor anyway, but should we declare and use the power?) That's just asking for us to fall prey to the same moody behavior we'd accuse you of. I don't want to lie to you, tell you we invite debate and dissension, while putting in place a system that allows me to reject your comments out of hand. It's unfair to you when you post comments, and it's unfair to other readers who assume the page is a fair representation of the feedback received. And yet, if we don't censor, we've got all of your hate, anger, illogic, self-promotion, porn, and so forth on our page. Our page! Ah, the crux of the matter.
In the end, I don't think the problem is the technology of the comment system. We could build something. But should we? We have an inherent conflict of interest. We push content, and now we'd also host, moderate, and censor responses to it. You could accuse us of all sorts of vile manipulation. The reason you see nothing but positive feedback is that we hide all negative feedback. The reason you see nothing but vitriolic, illogical feedback is that we hide the intelligent feedback to make those who disagree with us look bad. Besides, we have to think about our (lackluster) google indexing! Why would we want to host on our page something we don't want to be responsible for? (Yes, you can hide content from the indexing engine, but that's not exactly being honest either, is it.)
What do I want? I want to publish content, and nothing more. It's not that I don't want you to talk to us (or each other) about it. It's not that I don't want a healthy debate. I just don't want to host it. Host it elsewhere. Make it not be my problem, my responsibility, my play-thing. And yet, if it's elsewhere, how will my readers know about it? Should I know about every forum discussion out there concerning each of my articles? Should I link to them? There's the conflict of interest again. It has to be automatic, out of my control. I've seen a very few in-browser systems to attach comments to a page, and they're not very well designed. They don't include any of the controls most forums have, many look like graffiti all over the subject page. They still require some central storage, which means that someone, somewhere, is responsible for [not] censoring your content, getting it backed up, making sure it stays online. You should own your content. So then it comes to this: get a blog! Go self-publish, and put your comments on your own page, and link to mine! Ah, the great trackback, spam of the blogosphere. Most of the time, it just annoys people. You're not going to visit all 30 sites listed on a page's trackback list, to see if anyone (or their own, personal readers) made any useful comments at that remote site. In fact, as far as you're concerned, it's just self-promotion. (And you're right -- the blogs talk about each other to generate hits, not because they're really trying to have a debate. You can't have a useful debate with that kind of ping-pong blogging. If they're serious, then they're also incompetent.) And trackbacks are content to be censored, anyway; I could just as easily remove an automatically-added trackback link as a comment.
Just so you know, google has a "link:" feature to help you find pages that link to a given page. If you want to comment on our articles, do so elsewhere, then link to the page you're talking about. Maybe, in some distant future, it'll mean something and your browser will prompt you "there are 8 ongoing discussions about this page, would you like to see them?" In the mean time ... sorry. So very sorry.