21 June 2011

F Bombs & Butterflies: Go The F**k To Sleep Collides with Good Sense

There is a new proto-juvenile book just published, Go The F**k To Sleep, written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés. Oh, that’s the way it is billed, with all of the asterisks intact. That is the way we show “concealed profanity,” or for that matter, any of the concealed nasty words (the N-word, the B-word, and for all I know the Ψ-word.)

And no, at this point, I will not fling out some “forbidden words” to demonstrate my already well-documented fluency in profanity and demonstrate how I can flout convention and decency with the very best of them. Right at the moment, those simply do not belong in this context. Maybe later.

I have some heartburn about Go The F**k to Sleep. My reservations cover a couple of major areas, proliferation and context. “Nasty words” are used more and more (proliferation) and for more and more reasons and in more and more places (expanding context). The book itself is indeed cute and funny. (Mind you, at $14.95 for 32 pages, it is rather overpriced.) Mansbach touches a humorous if sensitive nerve as he expresses the frustration of parents of little children as they do little-child-frustrating things like refuse to go to sleep and eternally bug you late into the night.

But there are simply some places we don’t want to go because it is unwise to do so. Sometimes there are places we don’t want to go in thought or verbally, not because it’s “bad” or “immoral,” but because it is simply unwise and somehow damages us and our surroundings. This is not a legal concept, this is a responsible social and moral concept. The First Amendment protects speech and speech-like symbolic action. Do you want to burn a flag? Okay, go right ahead, you can do so, that’s the law. Now people who do burn flags are flaming assholes, but they are exercising their First Amendment constitutional right to that speech. [There is an example of “nasty words” used in what I believe to be the proper context. Obviously, that is a metaphor. Those who burn flags may have about them the anatomical feature “anus,” but they are not in the literal sense that anatomical feature. Rather, the use of the word denotes disgust and association with foul things. In other words, they are assholes.]

We would never tell a little child “go the f**k to sleep,” would we? Now here is some news from my world, from the world of the courts of our land. Very sadly, some children – many children – are subject to just that and much more. If you shop at Walmart, it’s difficult to fill up your cart without observing some examples of really miserable parenting. You are also apt on occasion to see just plain piss-poor and abusive parenting. [Again, the excretory reference is a metaphor, although since it is urological and not scatological, it denotes some lesser degree of disgust.] It’s rather sad that some of these people are so nasty that many people hesitate to intervene.

Sometimes the reviews on Amazon can be quite humorous. To Go The F**k To Sleep, there are couple of the ilk “I read this book to my daughter and it really scared her” variety. That concept is funny because it’s so outrageously stupid. And yet, there are parents who absolutely don’t know any better. For the responsible parent, you just know that there are some lines you don’t cross. Now this doesn’t disturb me in such a way to call to “ban the book,” but to suggest that we should be thinking about making affirmative decisions about what is and what is not in good and bad taste. And, yes, “taste” is a valid consideration for taking or refraining from taking action. Life is not a Jackass movie. (Yes, I know that one of the stars of the movies recently died. That is unfortunate. That should not affect our qualitative opinions of the so-called artistic work.)

Each of our lives is a wall made up of lots and lots and lots of bricks. Everybody has some bad bricks, some weak bricks, some bricks which just don’t match and which are covered with distasteful graffiti. I sure do. Indeed, we’re suspicious of somebody whose wall is just too perfect to straight and too uniform, the people who have made no missteps and who have not endured the bitter which comes with the sweet. But when you get too many bad bricks, your wall is weak, or it just plain falls down.

Crossing the line, mixing F-bombs and our babies, mixing the profane with the beloved, weakens you. And so this is not some magnificent, stirring call to save society by this one thing of watching our language. I’m just suggesting we use better bricks.

I have a couple more comments that may be relevant. If you watch the If you watch the Naudet video of the first airliner hitting the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, you will see stress in action and a touch of profanity. Filmmakers were with New York fire crews making a documentary when they heard the plane fly over at low altitude. The camera caught the plane hitting the tower, and one of the firefighters immediately exclaimed “Holy shit!” Then that is repeated. [See note below to those who think that the fire department was in on the attack, that the building was stuffed with "thermite" and so forth.] Here was an instance where those firefighters knew in the space of less than 5 seconds that they were right there at “The Big One,” the single incident which would largely define their entire careers. They had fire on about the 80th floor of a very tall building, obvious major loss of life already, and even without knowing that the buildings were going to come down, they were at the cusp of a nightmare. The reaction? “Holy shit!” Under the circumstances, that was pretty weak tea. They didn’t even need to “drop an F bomb.”

Those who know me also know that my own “command” of “colorful language” is at times prodigious. It’s still a bad idea. Here at No. 3 Equity Court, we’ve started a little reminder. On the desks are cups with the legend “Temperate Language Encouragement Depository,” into which goes a nickel for the animal shelter every time profanity is used. I know that sounds absurdly simple and even quite juvenile but, indeed, it is had a salutatory effect on the tenor of the verbal communications ‘round No. 3.

Old dogs and new tricks? Or good sense for a change?

[Note to the 9-11 conspiracy theorists: Do you think that the Fire Department was in on it because of the guys checking a possible gas leak were not wearing bunker gear [Coats and helmets and so forth)? Do you think that the buildings were stuffed with “thermite” and that’s what brought them down? Okay, a final question: Do you know the difference between ignorant and stupid? Ignorant means you’ve never heard good sense. Stupid means you’ve heard but you don’t have the capacity to process the information. Those of you who believe in the 9-11 conspiracies are suffering from malignant, refractory, can't-pour-piss-out-of-a-boot-with-the-instructions-written-on-the-sole stupidity. Your ideas defy physics, metallurgy, fire science, and reason. Those few pathetic nitwits who have military titles or degree letters before or after their names are simply people suffering from malignant and refractory stupidity who have titles or letters. The First Amendment protects their goofy beliefs. They are still goofy. Please do me a favor and Shut The F**k Up.]


15 June 2011

New York After Plaxico Burress - No Guns, No Guts, No Common Sense

A minor news story this week concerns Plaxico Burress, a top rank NFL receiver. He played for a while with the Steelers and ended up with the New York Giants. He was released from a New York prison this week after serving 20 months. His crime? Possession of an unregistered pistol. Burress intends to return to the NFL. He is now on the speaking circuit on behalf of the Brady campaign and other anti-gun groups.

His “offense” occurred in the fall of 2008. Burress was at a nightclub in New York. He had concealed in his waistband a semiautomatic pistol, a Glock .40 caliber. Witnesses saw Burress “fiddling” in his waistband, they heard a “pop,” and Burress fell to the floor exclaiming “take me to the hospital.” He had shot himself accidentally in the leg.

The Glock is a high-end Austrian pistol used by a lot of law enforcement agencies. They are relatively light because the parts not exposed to high friction/high temperatures are made from a polymer. They are easy to disassemble for cleaning and lubrication. Semiautomatic pistols have “safeties,” devices which prevent them from firing unless one intentionally pulls the trigger. Most use some sort of lever manipulated with the thumb. Glocks use a safety within the trigger mechanism. A friend who is a Glock “armorer” (meaning he has graduated from the manufacturer’s course) swears that the Glock safety mechanism is superior to the more common lever-type safety. He deems it safe to have a round chambered, that is, in the barrel ready to fire. Personally, I have some reservations about that, but that is my civilian viewpoint and the entire discussion is a bit esoteric. In any event, there has been no suggestion that Burress’s weapon is misfired, only that his “fiddling” caused an accidental discharge.

Let me give you the West Virginia reaction to the event itself. (I call this the West Virginia reaction because this is an area where many people are familiar with firearms.) Taking a firearm into a bar is dumb. I do not know if Burress was drinking. I certainly hope not. Drinking while armed is stunningly stupid. In any event, thank God his “fiddling” resulted in him shooting only himself and not someone else. Dumbass, if you are carrying at chainsaw, wouldn’t you have the common sense to be more careful?

When this occurred, Mayor Michael Bloomberg went all Neanderthal. He was all over the hospital for not reporting a gunshot wound timely. He also ranted at the New York Giants organization for not reporting this criminal activity of their own player/employee. He vowed that Burress would be prosecuted “to the fullest extent.”

Indeed, Burress was prosecuted. He entered a plea of guilty to possession of and unregistered pistol. So why did someone who had not been in serious trouble before end up in prison and out of work for 20 months? Answer: In New York, the prison term for possession of an unregistered pistol is mandatory. A judge does not have the discretion to place such a defendant on probation even if he or she wants to.

New York uses a sentencing chart which determines sentencing ranges based on the degree of the offense committed in the defendant’s criminal records. There are lots of examples of people doing pretty bad things and getting fairly easy sentences. (These are examples. To be fair, there are also examples of long sentences. Extremists on the left and right tend to cite examples which make their point and suggest that nothing but the best or worst, depending on their viewpoint, ever happens.)

Just a sampling:

Bath, NY, 27 March 2011 - A burglar and forger sentenced to 2-1/2 to five years. He actually broke into a business and stole things.

Pomona, NY, 30 March 2011 - A burglar sentenced to 3 to 6 years for 4 counts of burglary

New York/Brooklyn, November 2010 - a youth court counselor found guilty at trial of two sexual assaults of teen age girls and ten counts of sexual abuse of the teens, sentence to 4 years.

20 April 2011 - One year for a man originally charged with attempted murder for holding a knife to a former girlfriend’s throat, telling her “If I can’t get you, then no man can’t,” then cutting her face before a Good Samaritan intervened.

Why does New York will provide for such severe sentences for people possessing a firearm (a personal Constitutional right affirmed by the United States Supreme Court in the recent case of McDonald versus City of Chicago)? Obviously, the state wants to discourage that conduct.

Well, there’s lots of conduct I would like to discourage. Take drug dealing and commercial activity in aid of drug dealing. Right down the street is a commercial establishment which was raided three or four years ago for selling drug paraphernalia (“glass tobacco pipes,” ho ho) and which is now selling, guess what, the same thing. A prosecution and fine didn’t seem to change their behavior. Okay, how about jailing some people, such as the people who decided to sell and make money off of that shit? I don’t have a lot of problem with that because they’re not just hurting themselves. In fact, that trade helps them and hurts others. Intentional, malicious libels – nobody goes to jail for that these days. And yet the harm one can do with the written word is considerable. Child neglect, that’s behavior I’d like to see more severely discouraged. Maybe a stay at the Crossbar Hotel will wake up Mommy and Daddy Dumbass. Intentionally dumping harmful chemicals – that causes harm to people, but when’s the last time you heard of anything other than a fine for that? Even for direct person-on-person crimes, there is a disturbing lack of energetic discouragement of conduct.

Mayor Bloomberg thinks that the citizens can rest well by trusting the police to come very quickly. Of course, he doesn’t have to: As mayor, he has armed guards with him all the time. As an extremely rich man, he has had armed guards with him all the time for a very long time. He does not and has not had to depend on the time it takes for police officers to respond. Do as I say, not as I do. I don’t need to dirty my hands with evil guns, my guys take care of that for me.

Mind you, Plaxico Burress should not be carrying a firearm. (And now that he has a felony record, he cannot, ever again.) He has demonstrated that he is totally inept at it, perhaps as inept as I would be trying to play receiver for an NFL team. But what he did was stupid, not inherently bad, or, to use the Latin, malum prohibitum rather than malum in se.

You see, guns are indeed dangerous. Handling them requires extraordinary care. It requires training, concentration and alertness. But guns are not unique in that respect. A whole lot more people are killed and injured with automobiles than with firearms. Of course, there are a whole lot more automobiles and they are used infinitely more. But because they are so widely and routinely used, the users are trained and as youth look forward to becoming trained in the safe and effective use of automobiles. If you’re driving down a two-lane road in traffic, all it takes is a little flick of the wrist of any of the drivers coming at you to cause a fatality or serious injury. And yet, likely you are not quaking in fear every time you get on the road because you know people are trained to handle automobiles. Chainsaws, those are dangerous and not very common. That’s why every fourth person who picks one up without knowing what they’re doing ends up in the emergency room. Have you ever been around people who handle explosives? One mistake can kill many people, and yet they are not sweating, nervous and jittery. That’s because they know what they were taught, they’re paying attention, and they’re being careful. Hell, for that matter Boy Scouts are trained to be careful with their knives.

Firearms are particularized tools called weapons. They have a purpose. That purpose is not pleasant to contemplate and yet others have the power to impose the necessity of using them upon you.

You see, the implement is not the evil. The use of the implement, that is the evil. Criminality is not based on the arms. Criminality is based on someone’s intent to harm others secondary to passion or personal gain. Eliminate the arms and you deprive the criminal of some effective tools, but you did not rid the criminal of the evil intent.

I really wanted to tell a secret here. I wanted to be the first one to let you know. But last night, the Wisconsin State Senate passed a concealed carry permit bill. Wisconsin State Sen. Dan Kapanke stole my secret and was quoted giving my secret out to the public on Reuters: “We already have concealed carry. Those bent on criminal activity have been doing this for a long, long time.”

I used to regret never having been to New York. Well, now this old country boy has no regrets about it all.

Keep your powder dry.


12 June 2011

Demonic ..., by Ann Coulter - Half Right, Half Wit

A book review:
Demonic: How the Liberal Mob is Endangering America, by Ann Coulter (Crown Forum, 2011)

Coulter’s two-part thesis: (1) Liberals (read “Democrats”) stir up unthinking mobs deliberately, tell lies to do so, and encourage the mobs to do violent and immoral acts. (2) Conservatives do not stir up mobs because they are too honest and too moral to do so.

Over 300+ pages, Coulter assails us with strange arguments and odd facts. My own threshold question is whether Coulter really knows how unsupported and silly her ideological propositions are. Mind you, Coulter is a brilliant person. She graduated near the top of her class from the University of Michigan Law School. She clerked at the Federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Dummies don’t get to do that. Her schedule and, for that matter, her apparent robust health bespeak great personal discipline. Does she just wear ideological blinders? Is she intellectually sloppy? Or is she pandering to an already highly politicized body of readers, feeding them what they want to hear and will accept without question?

Oh, part of Coulter’s thesis is correct. Liberals do indeed use “the mob” and mob psychology to generate support, ultimately in the form of votes. And money, don’t forget money. So do conservatives. And advertisers. And religions of all stripes. Damn near anyone who knows The Truth is willing to abandon the conversational voice and go straight to the emotional ramjet.

I wonder - did Coulter watch a particularly disturbing movie about the French Revolution as a child? She uses a lengthy and graphic (and accurate) description of the viciousness of the French Revolution to support her belief that Liberals were behind the French and Liberals want to do the same thing today. She wants to make a cosmic connection between Marie Antoinette and Sarah Palin, even though their outcomes have been rather different. Coulter ignores little facts: Modern “liberalism” did not exist in the 18th century; the regimes which use such extremes of violence these days really have nothing to do with modern concepts of either Liberalism or Conservatism. They’re just nasty-ass people.

Coulter throws in attacks on the raging, bad-hair stumblebum of the Democrats, Al Sharpton, as a principal instigator of the mob. Good Lord, I hope that people aren’t stupid enough to listen to Al Sharpton these days. (Or Ann Coulter. Or ... oh, hell, it’s quite a list.) Coulter dwells on the mishandling of the reopening of the Central Park Rape case as further “proof” of the Liberal mob conspiracy. Makes no sense to you? Now you are getting her real message.

Some facts get a workout. I didn’t know that the Burr-Hamilton duel had a Conservative-Liberal cast applicable to today, but there you have it. Oh, and Coulter asserts that Hamilton threw the duel on moral grounds. What probably happened is far more complicated, buried in the arcana of Code Duello and the fact that Hamilton’s son had been killed in a duel. But something of the “He threw the duel and the bastard killed him”-variety is a much more exciting read. (Ironically, Coulter does a stirring description of Paul Revere’s ride, unlike her amiga simpática Palin. Could her true calling be as an historian?)

And then there are a couple of head-scratching-you-gotta-be-shitting-me places. Per Coulter, 40,000 black men rape white women every year, and less than 10 white men rape black women. This seems unlikely in a population of 300 million but, indeed, some years’ FBI statistics support that. On the other hand, the statistics are so far all-over-the-map, they are simply lame if one has studied, say, arithmetic. In 2002, white-on-black rape happened 8,400 times, according to the FBI; in 2003, none. Maybe, just maybe, the figures are suspect. If the point were that there’s lots more black-on-white rape reported, that’s accurate. It’s just not as shocking and doesn’t - dare we suggest - motivate the mob nearly as well. And the website of James Von Brunn, the National Holocaust Museum shooter, was sold to AOL for $315 million. No kidding? Come on, maybe that’s sloppy editing and she really meant $315 thousand? But AOL can’t be that dumb, either. Pull the other one.

My favorite minor silly conclusion was that Jimmy Carter’s abandonment of the Shah of Iran “gave rise to the global Islamofascist movement we’re still dealing with today.” Right, had Carter shown some cojones, the Islamic nutjobs would have gone right home. (By the way, “fascist” doesn’t accurately describe Islamic governments, except insofar as it’s used these days like “Nazi,” a pejorative meaning really bad people.)

Coulter concludes, “Why Would Anyone Be a Liberal?” She makes a strange brew of whining “Please Like Me” milquetoasts who “admire marauding criminals,” balancing them against the “manly” conservative ethic. Huh? Why would anybody be Coulter's cartoon-anything?

Come on, time for Dr. Reality: In a society of one-man-one-vote, everybody who wants/needs the votes will turn to inciting “the mob,” whoever they think the mob may be. That applies to EVERYONE. Think the Tea Party - a self-righteous mob. AARP - Silver haired mobsters. Pro-Choice - mobs. Pro-Life - mobs. Does this mean that they are wrong? No, has nothing to do with right/wrong. Does it mean that they are insincere? Quite the contrary - The True Believers think it’s moral and justified and necessary to arouse the Mob. (Note: I don’t include the ACLU - they do such strange shit that they piss everybody off.)

Coulter decries the Liberals’ “Toxic Rhetoric.” Her latest book is toxic rhetoric to goad her own version of the mob. It’s easy to stir things up. It’s DAMN hard to reason things out.


07 June 2011

The Chinese are Killing Our Economy, and It's Our Fault

I don’t like it anymore than you do. But the fact is, that so-called backward bunch of peasants in China are kicking our economic asses. While we sit back and talk about the superiority and the glory of the Land of Liberty, the Land of Regimented workers is cleaning our collective economic clock.

I am not a fan of China. It is a land of repression, inhumanity and a 1984 group think. China has built itself with slave labor and intellectual rigidity. Hooray for us – they’re still kicking our asses.

American factory worker makes $12 - 20 per hour, with at least another $3 - 5 dollars going to generally accepted minimal benefits such as health insurance and something for a retirement. Add to that labor cost the expenses of maintaining a safe workplace. Some of those are eminently reasonable, but they are still costly. The Chinese factory worker makes the equivalent of $2 per hour. There is a basic social system which provides medical care and old-age pensions to maintain retired Chinese workers at the low standard of living they enjoy during their working lives. (The Chinese worker’s $2 has greater purchasing power in China than it would in the U.S., but to a U.S. manufacturer or buyer, it’s still $2.) This assumes, of course, that they get to retirement age - The Chinese are fairly blase about worker safety.

As a result partially of the cheap labor, in-country materials cost in China is also low. Essentially identical fabrics cost American manufacturers nearly twice what they cost the Chinese. Similar cost savings run across the board: Steel, forest products, plastics and other raw materials. Chinese energy costs are minimal, again because of cheap labor and cheap materials, together with a willingness to burn coal without remediating significantly the release of pollutants.

So, China produces goods so cheaply that China can afford to load everything onto container ships to sell in the United States, still far cheaper than the identical items which were produced here. It torques me. For instance, I will no longer purchase from my former favorite manufacturer of fine knives, Buck Knives. They took their fine Idaho factory and off-shored their production to The Land of Green Ginger.

So significant is the advantage China (and, for that matter, the rest of Asia) has in manufacturing is that they even screwed the Mexicans, who a few years earlier had screwed the United States out of manufacturing jobs with low-cost Mexican labor.

Every politician promises to revamp American manufacturing and create jobs, jobs, jobs, all without any increase in taxes. Bullshit. It’s just bullshit. When the jobs left, the infrastructure left. Some American workers were given the demeaning task of dismantling their own factories to send manufacturing machinery overseas. (You can find an interesting discussion of the permanence of factory job losses in The Day After the Dollar Collapses, by Damon Vickers.)

And every politician has an easy answer. Now, the easy answers vary. Dismantle the unions. Provide greater tax incentives to corporations. Abolish the EPA or OSHA or even the DAR. Raise tariffs. With respect to tariffs, that is one of the most commonly misunderstood “just one thing will fix it” hobby horses. Raised tariffs raise prices on imported goods which, presumably, make domestic goods more available. Did you hear the keywords? “Raise prices.” Tariffs are not paid by foreigners. Tariffs are paid by domestic consumers - us.

We talk about United States becoming a service economy, but I don’t think we understand how extreme that is. As a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), the industrial sector is 22% of the American economy and the service sector 76%. By comparison, the Chinese industrial sector is 47% of its GDP and service sector only 43%.

Another player to consider is India which has been a 28% industrial sector and a 55% service sector. However, remember the off-shoring of service jobs? The last time you called customer service for just about anything, where do you think you were calling? India is the hot call center site these days, so India’s service sector is soaking up a lot of our money serving us.


20 years ago, West Virginia’s junior senator, Joe Manchin, handed out a whole bunch of lapel pans – I still have mine. It consists of the word “ATTITUDE” in block letters. If you can think of a better one word recipe for progress and success, I’d like to hear it. It’s easy to poo-poo those who a call for a change in attitude by asking for specifics, specifics. That is even valid. But the truth is, we pretty well know what constitutes a good attitude, and know that it goes a very long way in progress, whether it be national or personal. Part of a good attitude is a respectful attitude. Consider the comments from the China Daily News (US edition) this week about a student putting himself through school as a cafeteria worker:

“Unlike some rich young men who attract attention online by showing off their families’ wealth, Chen is widely praised by the netizens for his struggle. People know that he is hard-working, committed and dedicated, traits which are becoming increasingly scarce in society. Also, diligence and optimism among youth are not easily found in society today.

“As a poor young man in a society with a wide wealth gap, Chen has to put in a lot more effort than others to achieve success. That compels him to struggle with more firmness and confidence. It is this spirit that has enabled him to support himself to acquire higher education.

* * *

“We cannot change our family backgrounds but we can change our fate through hard work. Chen has won for himself dignity and hope and reminds us that labor in all its forms deserves our utmost respect.”

A respect for education matches a respect for work. That backward land of peasants, China, is attaining a literacy rate (95 to 96%) comparable with that of the United States (97 to 98%). (The United States is still about 50th among the nations of the world, nations as to literacy rate.) (By contrast, India has about 74% literacy rate.)

If I had a quick fix, I’d tell you what it is. Perhaps that’s the point: While we’ve been yakking and slapping ourselves on the back about what free and superior people we are, we have been overtaken by those we have long considered simple and ignorant peasants. I am reminded of a original Star Trek episode from the 1960s where legendary trial lawyer Melvin Belli portrayed some kind of minor demi-deity. He kept repeating, “As you believe, so shall you do, as you believe, so shall you do.”

And it works both ways. If you believe in work and respect, and act on that belief, you get different results than if you believe in sitting on your ass and consuming.

That is the lesson we teach young people today, how to sit on one's ass and consume.

Eye on the ball people, eye on the ball.