Schismatic loons

•April 16, 2009 • 6 Comments

Speaking of Libertarians, it seems there are fractures among the truly free. Apparently one faction of the lobotomite Libertarian horde wishes to silence another faction. Hardliners among the Libertarian movement seem to resent the participation of some Republicans (e.g. Newt Gingrich) in public discussions of libertarian political ideals (as if they had any ideals other than entitled bleating).

Aside from being a creepy weasel, Maddow’s guest from the ninth circle of Alabama appears to advocate an interesting position…. specifically, that the party of absolutist freedom of expression should silence advocates who are insufficiently dogmatic. It seems that everyone should be free to speak their minds and do as they wish at all times and in all instances, except where such speech does not meet the standards of absolute ideological purity set out by the Libertarian Politburo, led by Premier Ron Paul. Obviously, the best way for everyone to be free is for everyone to think and act exactly the same way. Or else.


Thank Taxes

•April 15, 2009 • 9 Comments

Today is tax day, April 15th, a day when most Americans enjoy grumbling a bit about the money we collectively pay to our government. Some grumble more than others. I try not to grumble about paying my fair share of taxes, because unlike some people I actually appreciate that maintaining a civilization costs money.

All over the country today there are people holding “tea parties”, during which they hold up signs in protest of taxes, chant slogans in protest of taxes, stomp their feet in protest of taxes, and squeal at the tops of their lungs in protest of taxes. It’s always about taxes, with those people. They represent a peculiar faction in American politics; stupid, narcissistic, emotionally infantile, and Libertarian. Actually, the first three adjectives there can be readily substituted for the fourth. Today’s “tea party” protesters are a pretty sorry lot… self-centered morons who seem to think the world owes them prosperity for free, roads for free, fire departments for free, military protection for free, and for all I know ice cream and cookies for free. Where do these people come from? Mostly from poor America… where taxes have purchased rural electrification, mail routes, farm subsidies, piped drinking water, roads, cheap grazing land, and the absence of Somali-style mob rule. There are also the rich tax-haters; people who have benefited immensely from a peaceful, prosperous society maintained by tax treasure, but who cannot stomach the idea of paying back one single penny to the nation that made their wealth even possible.

Would I rather keep 100% of my money, than pay taxes? Actually, no. Taxes are the ticket price I pay to live in freedom and peace. I try to keep in mind that without those taxes, I’d instead have to pay bribes to everyone in sight to get anything done, I’d have to pay protection money to whatever warlord whose territory I passed through, and I’d have to offer tribute to anyone with a gun who felt like bursting into my home at any moment. No, given the choice I’d rather live in a place where taxes are collected by responsible, dutiful people who work for a government that is accountable for its actions, and where those taxes are then used to keep things running in a generally smooth fashion. I pay taxes to my city so that if a fire breaks out in my home I don’t have to haggle with four different rival fire departments over how much I pay to make them haul out the water hoses. I pay taxes so that other people’s kids can get a decent education, even though I don’t have any kids, because an educated populace makes for a successful society. I pay taxes so that cops actually show up when I call them, and so when they show up they don’t try to shake me down for cash to do their jobs. I pay taxes so I can drive to visit my family across state lines without having to stop to pay a different toll to a different private road-owner every five miles. I pay taxes because the alternative is too horrific to contemplate.

Should the government run everything, or take everything I have in taxes? Of course not, but with surefire regularity that’s the false dichotomy we’re offered by tax deniers: Stalinist collectivism or shining Libertarian freedom. Only a halfwit could see the world that simply. Government isn’t a them… it’s what we set up to do the dirty work we don’t want to do ourselves, or to manage problems that can’t be trusted in private, unaccountable hands. Do you want roads? They’re going to cost you. Do you want a functioning health care system? It’s going to cost you. Do you want honest, law-abiding protection from criminal predators? That’s going to cost you, too. Grow up and deal with it.

The point of government is to set the stage, then it’s our turn to play our own roles and strive for success individually. Government can’t give us success for free, and I don’t want it to try… but I do want to be able to pay my check once a year so I can count on the stage being there for me to strut and fret my hour upon. Good-natured venting over paying Uncle Sam is a time-worn tradition, and I have no problem with that. I do, however, have a problem with people who want something for nothing. I have a problem with idiots who are happy to enjoy the benefits of a peaceful civilization, but then try to sneak out the back when it comes time to settle the tab. They may call themselves patriots, but I call them parasites.

I’m calling dibs on French Polynesia

•April 14, 2009 • 1 Comment

And I’m assuming we’d take the nuclear weapons with us.

Thanks go to Ghulam Mustafa Lakho for the link!

Has no one tried boiling oil?

•April 14, 2009 • 7 Comments

As a graduate of the Sid Meier Institute of Buccaneer Studies (that is, I spent dozens of hours playing Sid Meier’s Pirates! PC game in the late 1980s), I can’t help but wonder why Somali pirates should be all that difficult to defeat. If I understand the situation correctly, gangs of Somali thugs with Soviet-era automatic weapons board small, rickety boats and set sail in search of booty. When they happen upon a slightly larger and poorly-defended boat, they capture it and either kill everyone aboard or ransom them for cash. Using this method the pirates are able to upgrade their threat to the point where they can drive their primitive, poorly-maintained craft up to a titanic container-ship and simply climb aboard whilst firing shot randomly. It appears that container-ship crews don’t normally carry firearms, no doubt due to regulations forbidding such, leaving their crews veritably defenseless against piracy by sea-going primitives.

Have none of these container ships ever heard of boiling oil? Regulations may prevent them from carrying machine guns, but surely no regulation could prevent them from carrying fuel… which, combined with a high-pressure hose, pump, protective back-baffle and igniter would make a serviceable diesel-fuel flamethrower. There’s also napalm. Using diesel fuel and a selection of appropriate thickening agents, container-ship crews could probably build some kind of delivery system with which to toss napalm-filled balloons, say, onto attacking pirate boats. Container-ship hulls ought to have the advantage of height, relative to pretty much any captured boat that Somali pirates could get their grimy hands on, meaning that it shouldn’t be all that difficult to rain down jellied fire upon the savages at will. I imagine that being roasted alive would take the fighting spirit out of even the most qat-intoxicated Somali, and would serve as a nicely terrifying deterrent against future attacks.

I’ve read several commentators mention how difficult it is for US forces to effectively patrol the Somali coast and suppress piracy. Excuse me, but don’t we have satellites? Ones that can read license plates from orbit? If so, can’t we establish a surveillance network of satellite coverage over the Gulf of Aden, which could dispatch real-time tactical data to guide strike forces to any large vessels under attack? I understand the Navy can’t have ships everywhere at the same time, but it seems they could have one or two aircraft carriers loaded with fighter jets and helicopter gunships. Upon receipt of a distress signal, pirate alert, whatever one wishes to call it, why can’t we respond immediately with several million dollars worth of the most deadly military engineering the world has ever seen, and strafe prospective pirate boats with 50 mm rounds… or air-to-surface missiles, or cluster bombs, or whatever the hell else works… until they are reduced to chum?

It’s probably safe to say that until the Somalis start sewing planes out of fish skin and bamboo we will continue to maintain air superiority in that part of the world. We should use that advantage to elegantly demonstrate why goat-herders and fisherfolk should probably keep tending their crafts and leave us the hell alone. We shouldn’t send in the troops, we should simply vaporize the unruly thugs from the stratosphere. Somali pirates and Al-Qaeda barbarians attack us because they think we’re clumsy giants who can’t effectively fight back against the equivalent of fundamentalist Ewoks. It would be nice to demonstrate that is not the case.

I don’t favor getting into sprawling, pointless wars. But I do favor using effectively the very expensive and powerful military we already have, when threatened by foreign powers. Especially when those foreign powers are Medieval peasants in wooden fishing boats. Obama should make Tom Clancy and Robert Ludlum members of the Joint Chiefs, figure out how to most efficiently blanket the Somali coast with incinerating, sterilizing force until the bloodthirsty savages flee in terror back to the dusty hellscapes they live in, and move on to the next problem.

THAT is what Navy SEALs are for

•April 13, 2009 • 2 Comments

Tom Clancy would be proud. Three pirates with three shots, courtesy of three US Navy SEAL snipers… which, from what I’ve always been told, is why we even have Navy SEALs, to use a minimum of highly trained, absurdly lethal personnel to smoothly liquidate Iron Age savages who dare to attack us with their pathetically feeble weapons. Yes, the pirates who captured Captain Richard Phillips had some very real, very deadly machine guns… which puts them on technological par with Al Capone. I expect we can do better… and oh, wait, we did.

So far the GOP has failed to denounce Obama’s authorization of the superheroic rescue, on grounds that his attack of those poor, noble, self-starting entrepreneurs from the peace-loving, perfect tax-free Libertarian paradise of Somalia constitutes clear evidence that Obama is a Trotskyite.

Happy zombie day!

•April 12, 2009 • 2 Comments

Here’s wishing everyone a good time today, but remember that even though zombies can be fun, they can also be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Always have an adult present when attempting to raise the dead, in case something goes wrong and instead of a harmless dancing skeleton you accidentally summon up a horde of terrifying revenants bent on consuming the life force of all humanity. Please be courteous to others and always dispel your zombies when you’re done with them. It only takes a few moments to clean up your mess by filling the mouth with salt and sewing it shut, then cutting off the head before disposing of your zombie safely in an approved container.

The OTA needs a rez

•April 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

At one time the United States had something called the Office of Technology Assessment. Renowned futurist Newt Gingrich killed the OTA in 1995, apparently out of fear that the OTA might help bring about the future. Now, at last under a President who values empirical data and a rationalist’s approach to problems, there is a chance that the OTA might be resurrected with full hit points and an Acuity buff.

Wikipedia gives a good definition of what the former OTA was all about:

The Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) was an office of the United States Congress from 1972 to 1995. OTA’s purpose was to provide Congressional members and committees with objective and authoritative analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues of the late 20th century. It was a leader in practicing and encouraging delivery of public services in innovative and inexpensive ways, including distribution of government documents through electronic publishing. Its model was widely copied around the world.

Established under Nixon, the OTA helped elected officials of the US government keep abreast of research discoveries, so that at least in principal our government might better know what it’s talking about when it comes to science. Because the OTA tried to keep Congress¬† informed about things like geology, fossils, evolution, climate change, environmental toxicology, and other realms of reality that existentially threaten Republicans, Republicans killed the OTA as soon as they had the opportunity to do so…. the GOP putsch of 1994.

The OTA employed about 150 people when it was shut down, having cost the US taxpayer about $22 million annually… or in layman’s terms, five AIG bonuses. Thanks to having no OTA, we have idiot Congresspeople with no training in science and no convenient source of collimated scientific findings at their fingertips… people like Rep. John Shimkus, as one notable recent example… and formerly Gingrich himself, who falls well within the pompous-scientific-idiot demographic. True nuts like Shimkus and Gingrich might not benefit from the OTA, if we still had an OTA, but a lot of moderate GOP Congresspeople who belong to their party out of belief in market forces and industrial supremacy as the keys to national success, would benefit a great deal by having a reliable and non-partisan government office dispensing organized scientific knowledge upon request.

If Congress doesn’t understand science, it can’t formulate useful public policies that deal with scientific issues. It’s really that simple.

There’s at least one online petition to resurrect the OTA. There’s also a Facebook group who advocate re-funding the OTA. Please sign and join, and spread the word.

Thanks go to the Bad Astronomer for spreading the word on this.