Monday, April 18, 2011

The left simply doesn't engage our actual arguments

I was reading an article on why the left indulges in horrible behavior such as happened during Sarah Palin's speech in Madison, WI, and found an excellent comment by Thomas D:
The left simply doesn’t engage our actual arguments..

This is exactly what's been frustrating me with what I've been reading of the dialog between partisans.

There was an Ithaca Tea Party event today in downtown Ithaca, in front of Hinchey's office across from the library. There was a "counter" event across the street in front of the library. At least part of the crowd seems to have filed down after demonstrating against Bank of America for not paying enough taxes. There were lots of signs saying "Pay Your Fair Share".  Lots of "Tax the Rich" signs. One saying "Tax the Rich, Feed the Poor".

The thing about Bank of America I find just plain silly. If Bank of America isn't paying enough taxes--and it does seem pretty hard to swallow that they are paying zero--then the fault is almost certainly *not* with the Bank of America. Their fiduciary duty to their shareholders requires them to get the best tax treatment they can. If the rules allowed them to legally arrange things so they didn't have to pay taxes, then the rules are bad. The Congress that passed the laws or the bureaucrats that wrote the regulations are wrong. People should be demonstrating against the source of the wrong.

But leftists seem addicted to casting corporations as the evil super-villains that they're struggling against. There has to be a villain. When the source of the "evil" is poorly constructed rules, laws, regulations, systems that allow people to game the system. I guess it's not nearly so much fun to struggle against things like that. It reminds me of really bad fiction, where people have cookie-cutter villains who do evil things because they are Evil. Mustachio-twirling evil-doers. Real villains almost always think that what they are doing is right, unless they are broken in some fundamental way, like sociopaths.

The "Pay Your Fair Share" signs seemed really bizarre when applied to the Tea Party, because the people in the Tea Party are usually hardworking taxpayers. So maybe they were just left over from the Bank of America idiocy.

The "Tax the Rich" signs....Sigh. Such knee-jerk leftist silliness. Even if the government confiscated 100% of the money of the "rich", it would barely make a dent in the deficit. Can these people do math? Do they know even basic economics? It certainly doesn't seem so. I guess it's more of the "underdog" story they love so much. Also known as class warfare. And Envy. Wasn't Envy one of the seven deadly sins? I guess to some big section of the country envy has now become a virtue. That's sad.

So the left has constructed these "straw dog", false characterizations of the people who oppose them, and they demonstrate against that. Which pretty much guarantees that no actual learning will take place. Where are the left's ideas about how to deal with the crushing deficit we're driving into? They seem to just avoid that one, like they think their opponents are just making it up. Or maybe they think it will just go away. Countries all over the world are dialing back spending on the social safety net, because without some brakes on the system it could easily absorb every single dollar produced. It's really hard to find the left involved in discussions about that. Instead they focus on the "evilness" of anybody who disagrees with them.

It's odd that the left likes to think of themselves as the open-minded, tolerant segment of society. From where I'm sitting, they look pretty narrow-minded and bigoted. Not to say that there aren't narrow-minded and bigoted people among those who oppose the left, of course. My guess would be that in any large segment of society the number of narrow-minded, bigoted people probably stays about constant.

Dave Nulle took his sign "Honk if you pay too many taxes" and stood on the corner over next to the leftists on the library side of the street. It was pretty funny, because people driving up Green Street probably saw him first, and if they didn't have time to read the other signs may have gotten the mistaken impression that those people were anti-tax protesters. Hehe.

A bunch of sixteen wheelers driving by honked. I guess truck drivers think they pay too many taxes :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Happy tax day

Great post from Larry Correia: HAPPY TAX DAY!

It's possible that some of the alarmism is over the top...but I think it might be necessary to get people worked up to the point that they're actually willing to do something about it. If we limp along spending as much as we have been doing, the economy may crash, and then there will be nothing left to pay for a safety net.

Maybe I should think about making a bigger garden...

One thing that I've often noticed is that people from different political viewpoints are attracted to different stories. Leftists like the story where they're the underdog fighting against powerful evil forces. They like that one so much that they actually *invent* the evil forces. The Koch brothers idiocy is part of that. The typical knee-jerk leftist loves having evil corporations and right-wing conspiracies. Certainly there are rational people on the left. (Somewhere. Though they're hard to find on the internet...) I'm talking here about people who read lists of DailyKos/MediaMatters/NYTimes talking points and just swallow them whole, with no critical thinking at all. (I have many friends and relatives who fall in this group...)

I'm not totally sure what the equivalent prototypical story is for classic liberals (sometimes called 'conservatives', though in the current system it's actually those called 'liberals' who are the conservatives, since they're trying to maintain "the advances of the last fifty years"). Those old-fashioned stories about young boys who work hard and become successful certainly fall in that category. But you just don't see many of them these days. Need to give some more thought to this one...

What *are* the 'conservative' plots?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Who are the nice guys? .. with a tie to public sector unions

For decades I voted a Democrat ticket and considered myself liberal, but even during that period I knew that it wasn't because I understood the issues. It was because I looked around and it seemed that "people like me" and "nice people" were liberal/Democrat. I think it's important to change that dynamic, and I have hopes that now that the mainstream media has lost control of the message, we may get to see a real preference cascade in some places, where people will look around and see that there's a *choice* for "people like me" and "nice people".

There's an old saw that I've seen repeated from time to time: "Liberals think that conservatives are evil, and conservatives think that liberals are stupid." Like all old saws it's only partially true, but there is a nugget of truth. The liberal outrage at "conservative" positions tends to be of the kind: how mean! how unfair! that's not nice! that's not compassionate!  Conservative outrage at "liberal" positions tends to be of the kind: and how do you think you're going to pay for that? have you even *thought* about the unintended consequences? what happens when the productive people stop producing?

So the two sides are not even having the same arguments most of the time. Out of a sort of morbid fascination, I actually read the comments on some of the political articles, hundreds and hundreds of them in some cases. And I never ever see liberals presenting arguments having to do with how something will be paid for or whether the cost is worth it. They just skip those issues, even when other commenters try over and over again to get them to respond.

But the right doesn't do a very good job of opposing the leftist attacks on their "niceness" and "compassion". Partly it's because those attacks just feel plain silly. If you are somebody who would be labeled "right" by the left (I've heard claims that the definition of "right" is just non-left, since there's a pretty far-ranging grab bag of positions lumped into "right") then you know that you *do* care whether people have a comfortable old age or are able to get health care when they need. So the leftist nastiness just seems like so much screechy background noise. The problem is that those in the leftist echo chamber *do* believe those characterizations, and really *do* think of non-leftists as evil, nasty, selfish people.

So non-leftists needs to oppose those attacks, in order to enable those people who might listen to non-leftist arguments to have the emotional room to change their positions. Because even if someone starts to think that some of the arguments are reasonable and sane, it's very difficult for people to change their identity to a group that they've accepted as evil. It makes for a wrenching change in self-identity, and many people are just not capable of doing it.

Legal Insurrection has a great article on how to frame the arguments about reducing the power of public-sector unions: It brings up how important it is to make it clear that the motivation for the changes in the way we deal with public sector unions is not to "make the rich richer" or "attack middle class families". The motivation is to preserve our society and our country in a way that make it *more* possible for people to live comfortable, fulfilling lives.

It's important to keep reminding people that both sides in most of these arguments have very similar goals. They just disagree on the best way to reach those goals. It's built into human (primate) psychology to naturally think the best of your "team" (us) and think the worst of the other "team" (them). The compulsion is so strong that it's difficult to look at these positions without the filter of partisanship. But we all should try.

I've seen so much prejudice and discrimination from liberals, the exact behavior that they condemn in others. It's just the target groups that change.  As far as I can tell, there is very little difference in this behavior between any one group and another. Some groups are just more delusional than others. And there's a social exchange that goes on, in which people trade back and forth talking points and platitudes, that feels very soothing when done with people of the "same" kind.

But when it comes to things like the deep, dark hole that we're driving into with the economy and the deficit, we have to be adults and try to save what's best in our society. That's going to require effort and personal attempts to reach across the red vs blue divide. Even though it may make you uncomfortable, talk to people who don't agree with you; talk without the barriers that filter out all the information. We all might learn something.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Diane Ravitch distills leftist talking points about Wisconsin

I was forwarded a copy of the Huffington Post article by Diane Ravitch, Eight Civics Lessons from Scott Walker. I read the article and, in a surge of masochism, read the comments, trying to get a sense for why people would buy into such a silly collection of shaky talking points.

Every one of the points is nonsense, either outright false, a misrepresentation, or a distortion. Yet the leftist comments are largely kudos from people who have swallowed it whole. I used to consider myself liberal, until I started actually paying attention. Then, as I read more about economics and politics, and started following current events, I gradually had to abandon all of those emotionally attractive but foolish liberal positions.

A big part of the problem comes from primate "team" psychology. As soon as somebody "joins" a team, identifies with a particular group, then he more or less automatically starts to think of the people on the other team in a negative way: stupid, thoughtless, evil...any negative character trait. While the people on "his" team are all smart, insightful, sensitive. Any positive character trait.

Leftists, in particular, always assume that the motivations of the people who oppose them are venal, greedy, or selfish. So they're starting from a position of paranoia in the first place.

In this article Diane Ravitch tries to claim the high ground, saying 'Leaders may not agree with the people on the other side of the aisle, but at the end of the day, they recognize them as "my loyal opposition," not my enemy. That spirit of comity is at the heart of our democracy.' But one of the main points that she makes in the other talking points is that Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republican senators have evil motives. It's the equivalent of saying "if only the Republicans weren't greedy, selfish, power-hungry assholes, then they wouldn't be doing this". This characterization is hardly in the "spirit of comity".

It seems that she is so blind to her misunderstandings of their character that she cannot even tell when she is doing it.

I see no attempt whatsoever to understand a complicated, difficult situation, where the government spent  more money they took in, and needs to make some difficult, painful adjustments.

The way it looks to me, the Republicans are trying to be the adults; they're attempting to  balance the budget. The leftists are stamping their feet like six year olds, yelling, "It's not fair!"

In all of the comments, I didn't see anybody who applauded Ravitch's talking points bring up alternative ways to balance the budget. They ignored the money issues entirely, or claimed that there was no problem. Somehow if we just close our eyes and pretend it's not there, the budget problem will...just go away. Not.

And they don't seem to realize that insulting the other side and calling them names is not the way to have civil, bipartisan discussions.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The painful adjustment coming to unionized teachers

I'm in favor of Scott Walker's changes to collective bargaining and union dues collecting in Wisconsin. The process of "bargaining" between public employee unions and elected politicians is too dysfunctional to leave alone. The politicians are not bargaining with their own money. They have no reason to care whether the state will run out of money five, ten, twenty years down the road. More than likely they don't know enough about economics to understand the issues.

On the other hand, it's undeniable that these changes will cause pain to the public employees. My sister is a teacher in Wisconsin. She's worked as a teacher for 35 years, and will be retiring this year with a pension of 80% of her full salary and lifetime medical insurance. She's pretty upset with the hit to her family budget that these changes will cause--but I would consider myself beyond lucky to be able to retire with a deal like that, despite the fact that I've been working just as long as she has, except in private industry.

But there's more than one "tragedy" going on here. One is that she's a very bright and capable person, who was probably bored of teaching more than a decade ago. But the way the benefits are structured, it made no financial sense for her to even consider changing to another profession. Another profession where she might have been able to contribute even more to society as a whole than she did as a tired, aging teacher.

It's my personal belief that everyone would be better off if teachers hardly ever taught longer than ten or fifteen years. Hire people who spent 20 years in industry and have a hankering to teach young people. Hire young people who teach before moving on to some other occupation. Hire retired people. Whatever.

This model of hiring somebody just out of college who will teach for the rest of their career is...just nuts. It's not a good idea.

Then there's this retirement package that's the equivalent of having a couple of million dollars in the bank. I'm glad for my sister. But it really isn't fair that this special class of people in this country have it so easy when the rest of the country is making the hard, painful adjustments that happen when the economy goes down for the count.

We need more create destruction in education. (And government, too.) One of the reason that schools suck is that the mediocre find a home. The tired and bored hang on and don't leave. The fearful, the mismatched, the people who should never have been teachers cling to the job anyway. I've worked in companies where people have been fired, where people have been laid off. It's not fun. But strangely enough the employees usually manage to move on. Sometimes they find a job that's more suited to them. Sometimes they have to make painful adjustments. But that process is what makes the economy efficient and productive. Government/education is not efficient and productive, and it only becomes less so as time goes on.

I worked for the local university which is run very much in this non-private-sector, semi-socialist model. They pride themselves on being "nice". They have decent benefits and job security. But they cannot pay you what you are "worth". They pay based on seniority and "job category" and politics. So people who are ambitious or good, productive workers move on more quickly than people who prefer safety and easy jobs. From observing the result, I'm not at all convinced that the people end up any happier in the end. A lot of them have jobs that bore them, are not working to their full capacity, and are not living to their full potential.

It's my belief that in the long run most people are better off with a tad more creative destruction and a lot less nanny-state coddling.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Koch Derangement Syndrome makes liberals look stupid

I've seen a lot of people who ought to know better make themselves look really, really stupid by bringing up the Koch brothers. This liberal's laugh-out-loud silly. Most of the available billionaires give money to the Democrats/liberals. What, they can't let the conservative five eighths of the country have one?

If you weigh all the money that George Soros alone has given to the left, it makes the Kochs' donations look like chump change.

My husband suggests that it's like collecting stamp; you want every last one. If you're missing that one stamp, it becomes the most important one in the world. So the fact that the Kochs don't donate to liberal causes like they're supposed to really ruins the set.

There ought to be a new rule, like Godwin's Rule, where the first person to bring up the Nazis loses. But instead it's the rule that anybody who mentions the Kochs is thereby marked for life as an ignorant, paranoid troll--we'll call it "Reich's Rule". Because even though Robert Reich is an idiot, when it comes to the Kochs, the level of his analysis drops to some negative sub-basement, where there has been no sunshine in decades.

I have a hard time imagining what is going on in these peoples' heads. It certainly is nothing resembling rational thought. Sigh. Of course, I realize more and more as time goes on that most people never ever do think--and yet aren't even aware of it. They spout back things they've heard elsewhere, they make appeals to authority, ad hominem attacks, sarcastic innuendo, wishful thinking, personal anecdotes...and they believe that they're thinking.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

NYTimes usual idiocy...Wisconsin fallout

The vote in Wisconsin to remove collective bargaining from public employee unions except for wages is arousing the usual partisan articles. The NY Times, in particular, make no attempt whatever to achieve balanced coverage. <snort> Business as usual there.

Democrats See Wisconsin Loss as Galvanizing

The title of the article makes the point that this is the Democrat point of view, so I guess that gives them justification for not including the other side. This particular paragraph really made me roll my eyes: "Mr. Walker has said the entire episode in Wisconsin would be forgotten by most people once the state budget was balanced and new jobs had arrived, but Ms. Greenberg said the way Republicans forced the vote would turn off independent voters."

The way the REPUBLICANS forced the vote?? Is this woman nuts? The Fleebaggers had left the state to avoid voting. How in the world does she think that looks to the independent voters? The Republicans had no choice but to vote without the Democrats because they refused to show up.

I'm not really sure  how the independents in the middle (a large number of whom are in that category, I suspect, because they don't want to think about these issues) will end up feeling about unions and Democrats in the long run. But I think it would be a big mistake for the Democrats to assume that this will work out to their benefit. My personal take on the current polls which show that a lot of people disapprove of removing collective bargaining "rights" is that most people have no idea what that means. Collective bargaining... uh, that means they can complain about working conditions, right?

But my best guess of the reason for the numbers showing disapproval is that most people don't like conflict. And the semi-professional leftist activists who have been demonstrating in Madison have created this aura, this vibe of conflict. People don't like that emotion. So they'll have a tendency to disapprove of whoever they see as instigating it. For the past few weeks the "instigator" was Scott Walker and the Republicans. They started it. But now that the bill has been voted on, the "instigator" of conflict role is going to shift to the other side.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if, in the end, this works out more to the benefit of the Republicans. They may be seen as the adults in the room, with the Democrats taking on the role of teenagers stamping their feet saying "It's not fair!!"

For a much better story of what happened in negotiations between the two sides in Wisconsin:
On Wisconsin! How Republicans won the battle of Wisconsin

Reading between the lines, it looks an awfully lot to me like the Democrats went and checked with their lords and master--the union bosses and national Democrats--and scotched the possibility of an agreement each time.

Of course that doesn't mean the the "story" that people remember will be the true one. People remember the stories they find appealing...

The Lamestream Media Cling to the Old Models

There are days when I'm in full political-junkie mode. I go to RealClearPolitics, and right-click all the headlines that interest me, queuing them up in a row of tabs across my browser.

Sometimes I'm incensed to find that one of the tabs has started blasting me with recorded video, that I'm not ready to listen to. It's usually very easy to see which one is the culprit. I look for a little lamestream media logo, like ABC. I go to the tab, and more often than not just close it. I want control over my viewing methods and choices. They want to control the horizontal and the vertical.

Not in my browser!

Then there's the matter of the institutionalized bias that I find in almost all of their stories. They play this game where they pretend that they're even-handed and objective. <snort> To be "even" and "balanced" you have to pick a balance point. And the formerly mainstream media has picked a balance point that's somewhere buried in the left side of the spectrum.

To me, it looks like their worldview bias is so ingrained that they can't even see it. Oddly enough, people on the right in this country have an easier time seeing their own bias, because so many of the public institutions are on the left side--the formerly-mainstream media, the government schools, the universities--that most people on the right are constantly reminded of the the viewpoint of the other side.

Oddly, it's seems easier to live a life with a leftist worldview and no contact at all with those on the other side. I've lived almost my entire life in some of the most "liberal" (i.e. leftist) communities in the country, so maybe my experience here wouldn't be valid in other areas of the country. But one of the reasons for this leftist isolation is that some people of a leftish persuasion won't even talk to you if you express an opinion that's not politically acceptable (to them). They'll walk away. They'll avoid you and scowl at you. This doesn't make for a comfortable atmosphere in which to share alternative viewpoints.

It's a kind of coercion of consensus. And consensus is important to the left, because it's the basis on which they adopt their rather arbitrary list of beliefs.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Crossing the line to harassment with FOILs

Several years ago a new charter school, New Roots, was started here in Ithaca, NY.  The whole issue of charter schools is a touchy one, of course, with some supporters of public schools considering them an attack on the whole principle of government schools. Certainly the charter school process in New York state is not ideal. Personally, I would like to see far less involvement of government bureaucracies and far more independence. Nonetheless, the rules for how to start a charter school are public and are--one hopes--intended to be used.

A couple of local residents, Corrine Frantz and Pat Ehrich, started a petition to try to stop the New Roots school from starting. Nonetheless, New Roots' application to be a charter school was approved, to the dismay of these two women. They even started an organization, the "Coalition for Sustainable Schools"--the name tries to turn New Roots' theme back against them--whose mission and goal is to make things as difficult as possible for the well-meaning people who started the charter school.

Pat Ehrich filed 24 Freedom of Information requests to New Roots over a several month period. Understandably overwhelmed with the huge job of starting a school from scratch, they did not respond according to the letter of the law. So Pat Ehrich shopped around for a better location for a lawsuit, and filed a lawsuit in a county a number of counties away, and got a $20,000 judgment from a friendly judge.

Over the past several years she has kept up a constant stream of accusations of misconduct or claims of misbehavior. Does this woman have no life? Why in the world is she spending so much time and effort harassing people who followed the rules that were laid out by the state of New York?

One suspects that she took their success as a personal affront. To spend so much time and energy harassing this poor group of well-meaning charter school operators...The mind boggles. Turning such a negative and destructive mission into a part-time job makes me think that this woman must be pretty unbalanced.

Just because something is legal, doesn't mean that it's right. And this kind of harassment is not right.


Friday, March 11, 2011

Germinating Bodhi Tree Seeds (ficus religiosa)

Sometime last year in a fit of whimsy I purchased a little packet of Bodhi tree seeds from an eBay vendor in India. At one point I sprinkled a few of the tiny seeds on some dirt in a dish that I covered with plastic, but nothing happened, and the packet of seeds sat on my desk for months.

When March started and we had a few days of tantalizingly spring-like weather, I got a seedling starter set from Amazon -- a seedling heat mat and a thermostat, a small grow light. I started with some tomato seeds. The pelleted seeds from the local grocery chain germinated horribly--only 2 of 24 seeds sprouted. So I gathered up some seeds from tomatoes that were rotting on the ground from last year. They sprouted fine.

Then I remembered the Bodhi tree seeds. Everything I read said that they were hard to germinate, be patient, it might take months, blah, blah, blah. So I took a pinch of the seeds and sprinkled them on some wet seed starter mix in a take out tray covered with the plastic lid and put them on the heat mat (set at 80 degrees), under the grow light.

Nine days later the tray was full of tiny little two-leaf seedlings. I now have about a hundred little Bodhi tree seedlings. So apparently the internet is not full of useful information on this particular topic, or I was just insanely lucky. I suspect that the seed starter heat mat was the key here. Ficus religiosa is known to like heat and moisture.

Now...what am I going to do with a hundred seedlings? Visions of farmer's market Bodhi tree booths drift through my head. Then the thought of all of the work of re-potting over and over and more grow lights and rooms in my house occupied by tiny little fig trees. Oh well.