Friday, January 11, 2008

Over here, he would have gotten a medal.

According to this story, a rescue worker took action instead of waiting for backup and has now resigned because his superiors investigated him for taking an unnecessary risk. Read the article if you want the details of the rescue; what I really want to talk about is this gem:

A spokesman for the coastguard agency said: "We wish Paul well in his future endeavours and the MCA is very grateful for his past activities and work in the Coastguard Rescue Service.

"However, the MCA is very mindful of health and safety regulations which are in place for very good reasons.

"Above all our responsibility is to maintain the health and welfare of those who we sometimes ask to go out in difficult and challenging conditions to effect rescues.

"The MCA is not looking for dead heroes. As such, we ask our volunteers to risk assess the situations they and the injured or distressed person find themselves in, and to ensure that whatever action they take does not put anyone in further danger.

"We are proud of our safety record and we will seek to maintain the safety of our volunteers, and minimise risk in what can be inherently difficult situations."
This seems reasonable at first blush, but think for a minute. Their first responsibility is to keep the rescue workers safe? Shouldn't they be more concerned about the people they're trying to rescue? If this girl had died because he waited to take action until he had backup, would they still be patting themselves on the back and telling him he did the right thing? It reminds me of an incident a while back where a child drowned in ten (maybe twelve) feet of water because the only police on scene weren't trained in water rescue. Give me a break! Didn't someone there know how to swim? Wasn't there something someone could have done? There probably was. But everyone sat back and waited for Someone Else to do it.

This is why England is referred to as "the nanny state." The British government, out of concern for "safety" and "the children," has turned a nation of otherwise capable adults into a giant, helpless preschool. I can guarantee - I would bet my life's savings - that nine times out of ten, this sort of thing would not happen in most parts of America. Once you start believing that the government can do it (whatever 'it' is) better than you can, you start sliding backwards. You become helpless.

Perhaps this man did take an unnecessary risk; perhaps his supervisors were justified in reprimanding him. I wasn't there so I can't know for sure. But where I come from, men and women who take this kind of risk are praised and rewarded for their actions. The press statements go something along the lines of "We want all of our people to stay safe, but he saved this person's life without thought for his own, and we appreciate that." Without thought for his own - now there's a novel concept. I think the British rescue services need a quick reintroduction to it.

A random confession

Have you ever told a pointless lie? The kind where someone asks the time, and you say "11:10" when it's really 11:11, just because you don't feel like saying "eleven eleven". It's a lie because you don't use a qualifier; saying "about eleven ten" would be perfectly acceptable, but without the "about" (or a similar word) it turns from an estimation to an untruth. I did that this morning - twice - and now it's bothering me.

I used to have a really bad habit of lying that way, even about big things, but it hasn't been an issue for years. Maybe the fact that the first lie was brought on by a fender-bender (I hadn't had an accident exactly like the one I was in, but I didn't say that - I as much as said I'd never had an accident) has something to do with it. I'm all shook up and a nervous wreck these days anyway, and losing a mirror this morning didn't help matters. Maybe this is just the subtle (like a bat to the head) clue that I needed to start getting a grip on myself.

For now, this is all I'm going to blog; God willing (and helping), I'll be more myself in a little bit. Also, I need a job. I think once I start working full-time and get a place of my own, I'll have a little bit easier time of things.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"New Hampshire must be a singular place" and other thoughts.

Well, that was unexpected.

I'll be the first to admit I didn't see this coming; the Democratic side of things looked pretty cut and dried last week. Obama seemed to have things pretty well in hand, and nobody really gave two hoots about Hillary. Nobody, that is, except for New Hampshire Democrats, who last night gave the nation the political equivalent of a wet willy by voting for her in their primary. Last night's worst moment?

"I listened to you," Clinton told supporters Tuesday night, "and in the process I found my own voice."
Oh, gag me with a spoon. She's had her "own voice" since 1994, at least. When I was eleven.

Of course, the article linked to here isn't much better in terms of maudlin sentiment. Check out this gem, written in reference to the events of Saturday's debate:

She showed a soft and self-deprecating side known only to friends when asked what she could say to voters who don't find her likable enough. "Well, that hurts my feelings," she said with a flirty smile, "but I'll try to go on."
Why do I get the feeling this guy wrote "Hillary" on the back of his reporter's notebook, then drew hearts and rainbows around it? This sounds more like middle-school soap-opera fan fiction than it does reasonable political reporting. Blech.

On another note: I was feeling all conflicted because Huckabee's running on his Jesus fish, and I don't like Huckabee. Did that mean, I wondered, that some things were more important to me than my faith? Not at all. Some things are more important to me than someone else's faith. It's an entirely different matter. My vote should be based on my principles and beliefs, not on what someone else thinks. If I don't feel comfortable voting for someone, even if he claims to worship the exact same God I do, then I won't vote for him. The whole "by their fruit shall ye know them" thing really comes into play here, too - Huckabee's record is atrocious, and even downright unbiblical (the concept of wealth distribution, for example, is in direct opposition to Pauline theology (thanks to another writer for pointing this out)). Huckabee strikes me as the type who lets his "heart" do all his thinking for him, but unfortunately for him (and us if he wins), the human heart is a dangerously fickle thing. I know; I have a hard enough time living up to my own principles (and no, that doesn't make me a hypocrite for criticizing others). He exemplifies the dangerous "feel-good" faith that would rather be nice than truly good, much like the person who excuses misbehavior by family members to avoid conflict (even if conflict is needed to sort things out). Another example that I read of once was that of a rape victim who was told it would be "unChristian" to press charges, when if fact nothing could be further from the truth (the man went on to rape again). Huckabee's record of leniency toward criminals is particularly disturbing manifestation of this; according to reports, all it took was for a clergyperson to vouch for a prisoner and he'd sign the papers, sometimes over the vehement protests of the victims (or their families). It's all mush and no steel; there's no thought or courage behind it. The combination is especially dangerous in Huckabee's case because he's got just enough brain to win people over and just enough gut to push his way through - but not enough of either to balance out his floppy, hand-holding heart. The God of the Bible is a God of compassion, not a God of "be nice to everybody except the meanies" - and Huckabee can't even manage that.

On a final note, James Lileks said, "In the end, I think of the person I'd like to see behind the big desk the night the President addresses the nation after the nutwads pull off something big." Thompson is my first choice, of course; but I definitely know who I don't want. Huckabee would probably go on about something like "national healing" and "drawing together" and say nothing about actually going after the ones who did it. Instead of saying what people want to hear (Romney) or what people need to hear (Thompson/Guiliani), he'd say what his own bleeding heart wanted to hear, which would be, again, mush. He's Clinton with a conscience (Bill, not Hillary) - all fine talk and hot air and no action. No. Thank. You.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Down with the upper class (but not them; they're cool).

George Will's latest takes on Huckabee and Edwards in one fell swoop: The Problem with Populists. Some choice nuggets:

[Huckabee] and John Edwards, flaunting their histrionic humility in order to promote their curdled populism, hawked strikingly similar messages in Iowa, encouraging self-pity and economic hypochondria. Edwards and Huckabee lament a shrinking middle class. Well.

Economist Stephen Rose, defining the middle class as households with annual incomes between $30,000 and $100,000, says a smaller percentage of Americans are in that category than in 1979 -- because the percentage of Americans earning more than $100,000 has doubled from 12 to 24, while the percentage earning less than $30,000 is unchanged. "So," Rose says, "the entire 'decline' of the middle class came from people moving up the income ladder." Even as housing values declined in 2007, the net worth of households increased.
I wondered about this when Edwards kept going on and on about the middle class during the debate Saturday night. Just how does he define "middle class," anyway? Another good bit:
Although Huckabee and Edwards profess to loathe and vow to change Washington's culture, each would aggravate its toxicity. Each overflows with and wallows in the pugnacity of the self-righteous who discern contemptible motives behind all disagreements with them, and who therefore think opponents are enemies and differences are unsplittable.
This is always a bad sign in a potential leader. It's one thing to be unshakeable in one's principles; it's quite another to be so utterly convinced as to be unteachable. The ironic thing is that both Huckabee and Edwards tend to be rather free-flowing, molding themselves to the apparent majority, whatever that might happen to be - for instance, Edwards' backing up Barack Obama and Huckabee's shameless appeal to evangelicals:
Huckabee fancies himself persecuted by the Republican "establishment," a creature already negligible by 1964, when it failed to stop Barry Goldwater's nomination. The establishment's voice, the New York Herald Tribune, expired in 1966. Huckabee says "only one explanation" fits his Iowa success "and it's not a human one. It's the same power that helped a little boy with two fish and five loaves feed a crowd of 5,000 people." God so loves Huckabee's politics that He worked a Midwest miracle on his behalf? Should someone so delusional control nuclear weapons?
Is Huckabee delusional that there's a God? I don't think so. But I've got a sister who thinks this way, and let me tell you, there are few things as weird and ugly as faith-fueled magical thinking. For someone else to speculate that God is working things Huckabee's way is acceptable; for Huckabee himself to assert it is presumptuous at best, blasphemous at worst. Either way, it's a big red flag. And for the record, in my mind this is different from W saying that God told him to invade Iraq: Such a statement indicates belief in a personal experience and does not ascribe motives or specific outside actions to the Almighty. Sure, it probably gives some people the willies, but it doesn't have the same arrogance of assumption behind it that Huckabee's statement does.

Will ends with the conclusion that Huckabee and Edwards are both childish wanna-be heroes, looking for dragons where there are none and ignoring the real threats and problems at their doorstep. I'm inclined to agree with him; in Edwards' case, he's so far removed from the people he claims to champion that all the effort in the world wouldn't make him effective at this point. Huckabee, in another, similar vein, removes himself from his claimed constituency ("Is you is, or is you ain't, mah constituents?") by pretending to be the herald of a new era of Republicanism and garnering votes with the religion card. But it takes more than an icthus to be an effective conservative leader, and Huckabee's case falls apart the second you pry the little fish off his car. It's sad, really; Will points out that Huckabee will probably create a rift between the social and fiscal conservatives, resulting in a (hopefully temporary) fracture. Unfortunately, if that fracture comes during the primaries, we could end up in a very unpredictable place come November. I'm not saying President Obama would be too horribly terrible; I'm just saying I'd like President Thompson (heck, even President Romney) a lot better.

On the other hand, anything is better than a condescending know-it-all who wears his compassion like it's going out of style. The problem with bleeding hearts is that they tend to get all over the furniture, especially when worn on sleeves.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Oh, Star Wars. How I . . . well . . . never mind.

A New Sith, or Revenge of the Hope: Reconsidering Star Wars IV in the light of I-III is a brilliant analysis of the first Star Wars movie (vintage 1978). Ironically, a) it's a way better story than anything I can see George Lucas coming up with, and b) I'm going to have to watch the prequels and then the originals just so I can get that much more out of the story.

Or maybe not.

Finally, a debate I could get into

I've been waiting, ever since I first got interested in politics a little more than five years ago, for a presidential debate that didn't have me gnawing my socks off in an attempt to stay awake. Charlie Gibson (of all people) finally provided that Saturday night, and it was quite a welcome relief. I even took notes, and from those notes, here are my basic impressions of the evening.

The candidates, from left to right (seat-wise, anyway):

- McCain: John McCain is an Angry Man, and reminds me too much of someone else I know (who will remain unnamed) for me to really trust him. Plus there's the McCain-Feingold thing (heavy restrictions on political speech), which I just plain can't stomach.

- Thompson: Teh Fred is thoughtful and has the most intellectually sound positions (read: common sense and an awareness of human nature) on finance and foreign policy of any of the other candidates. Plus he's just that cool in that he doesn't seem to care what anyone else thinks of him (full disclosure: He's been my candidate of choice for months). However, he also looks a lot older than any of the other candidates, and in a race decided by TV, this could be a problem.

- Ron Paul: is just plain nuts. My mother (I watched the debate with my parents) wondered in all seriousness if he's suffering from early Alzheimer's or some other form of dementia. The way he rambled, it's a real (and sad) possibility.

- Romney: Romney took quite a shellacking on his positional changes, proving that he's more a calculating politician than he is a statesman. I've always said he was just like Fred Thompson, but more blow-dried - and Fred's had his ideas a lot longer.

- Huckabee: Huck is an identity-pounding populist with dangerously clueless ideas on foreign policy. There's no way I'm voting for a guy with his record on government just because he's an evangelical. (Besides, I'm not an evangelical.)

- Guilliani: Rudy was a fine mayor of New York City (as far as I know), but I'm not sure he'd make such a good president. If it hadn't been for 9/11, I have to wonder if he'd even be a serious candidate.

- Edwards: John Edwards made two mistakes: 1) He actively sided against one candidate to help another, which did nothing to help him in my eyes, and 2) He laid on the emotion too thick, talking too much about the middle class (which he isn't anywhere near being a part of) and a dead 17-year-old liver patient who got screwed by the insurance company. I'm not sure the answer to fixing health care is to have the government take over payment.

- Obama: Barack Obama is pleasant to listen to, althought I still don't have a firm grip on what he stands for outside of the stuff they all stand for. That makes me uncomfortable. Other than that, there's not much to say.

- Richardson: Bill Richardson was the comic relief, a little like Ron Paul was for the Republicans. He seemed the most "out there" of the four, especially on foreign policy and the war in Iraq. I don't know who he thinks will replace us in the precipitous pull-out he promised, but it won't be sunshine and soap bubbles.

- Clinton: Hillary was, well, Hillary. She lost her temper at least once, and was as hard to listen to as Obama was easy. I doubt she'll get the nomination any more than Richardson will.

As for the debate itself, I had a few observations:

- I was a little ticked that they had fewer Democrats than Republicans; this gave one side more time per person. However, they did include Fred when most of the media seems ignorant of his existence on the planet, so I'm not going to complain too much.

- George Stephanopolous (sp?) has far too great a conflict of interest to be covering an election season involving either of the Clintons.

- While the Republicans have pretty varied views on a long list of issues, the Democrats seem a lot more interchangeable.

I'll have more about this as the week progresses (we'll see what New Hampshire does tomorrow, first off), but for now my hands are getting tired from typing. Laters.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Errata

Oh, and Happy New Year.

Caucus results and the winning candidates

So Mike Huckabee came out with a pretty solid win (if you can call a plurality in a caucus a "win"), with Mitt Romney second and Fred Thompson an encouraging third. Ron Paul came in fifth, which surprised me, but his whole aesthetic reminds me too much of Howard Dean - young, motivated, mostly online, mostly fringe base - for me to take him seriously. Guilliani and McCain are largely irrelevant at this point, at least from my perspective; if Thompson's going to win, Huckabee and Romney are the ones to beat. Romney's already pretty well deflated - he outspent Huckabee some 15 or 20 to 1 and still got spanked - so Huckabee is about the only serious contender.

I say this because McCain is too much of an aisle-straddler on important issues (like immigration) to be generally electable. Guilliani, for his part, is too wordly (in the negative sense) to have strong appeal with evangelicals, who were probably a big part of Huckabee's success.

Unfortunately, Huckabee isn't necessarily the statesman he'd like to be. I make no judgements on the man's credentials as a Christian; he is an ordained minister, after all. But despite his claims of faith, his leadership of Arkansas has been strikingly less than stellar, particularly for a Republican. One article I saw this morning (and now can't find, to my aggravation) called him something to the effect of a "Socialist with a Bible". In his 10 years as governor, he consistently raised taxes at the expense of the middle class, granted clemency to dozens upon dozens of violent criminals (many times raising questions about the influence of clergy, donors and mutual acquaintances on his decisions), opposed nearly every attempt by the state to curb and control illegal immigration - and that's only what I can remember off a list of 10-count-'em-10 serious complaints. Plus, his almost militant use of his faith as a persuasive tool puts me off; I'd rather know where he stands on the issues instead of voting for him just because we're in the same God Guild.

Romney's a Mormon, and the more I learn about Mormonism, the more it creeps me out. Policywise he seems decent enough, but he's got mostly the same positions as Fred Thompson - and Thompson's had them a lot longer. I haven't found anything where Thompson makes a big deal about what he believes about God, but he's got a 100 percent pro-life voting record and the endorsements of more than one anti-abortion group, including National Right to Life, so that's got to mean something. His policy writings are articulate, well-argued and rely more on reasoned, rational arguments than on emotional appeals, and he certainly has enough in the way of credentials to get my voice.

Plus he is just so. Darn. Cool.

As for the Democrats, I was really rooting for Hillary to win; she seemed to be the most beatable of the major candidates. Unfortunately, this turned out to be true within her own party, meaning Barack Obama took a pretty decisive win. Now, I like Obama; he seems like a really nice guy and he probably wouldn't be too horrible to stare at for the next four years. But he is inexperienced, and he has a decidedly anti-war/pro-socialist health care stance, so I don't want him elected if it can at all be helped. The problem is that if he wins the nomination, he could stand a real chance of winning the whole thing, regardless of who runs on the other side. And considering that in some circles, he's practically the Second Coming, it'll take a lot to counteract that.

So there's my take on the caucus. Wyoming has its caucus next, although the next event with nationwide oomph (earned or not) is the New Hampshire primary in February. It'll be an interesting one; considering how well Ron "You're crazy for thinking I'm crazy" Paul did in Iowa, New Hampshire could be even more interesting.