Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Nuking Iraq

Nuking Iraq
© 2005 Ross Williams

Who’d-a guessed that there’d be a target-rich environment this late in the Iraq War and Occupation … and in the US no less?[1]

There isn’t a single public figure, on either side of this “debate”, who’s capable of being honest and candid. Everyone is trying to dodge and dissemble, no one can admit to his own hyperboles. Makes you long for the good old days of monarchical dictatorship. Nearly. At least then, if some governmental policy seriously miscarried, you’d know that some official would lose his head, and the nation would move on. When our governmental policies miscarry, the head that might otherwise be lost simply talks and talks and talks, endlessly rationalizing why up is down and failure is success.

One of the benefits of two-party democracy is choice; one of the drawbacks of two-party democracy is that this choice grants an easy, which is to say superficial, means of assigning blame. And blame is often the least of the worries. It doesn’t matter who was driving when you’re fender-deep in the snow bank. You need to get out of the snow. Recreate the accident over hot rum punches next weekend. For the time being, shovel.

Imagine two great big groups of dunces, one dressed in jesters’ motley and called the TweedleDums, the other dressed in Fauntleroys and called the TweedleDummers, both arguing over who is right. The Dums claim that 2+2=3; the Dummers claim 2+2=5. The Dums have the majority, and 2+2 is made 3 by law.[2] When the world falls over and everyone goes bankrupt because mathematics has been turned on its ear, the Dummers are going to blame the Dums for politicking an idiocy. Yet they were no better themselves, and their solution was just as wrong.

Parsing the politics out of policy is not usually that simple. Typically, the differences between Dum desires and Dummer desires lie buried in the weeds. Both will normally agree that 2+2=4, that East is East, and that Up is not Down. What they normally disagree about is what color the sky is while it’s all happening. Chartreuse versus pink with puce stripes. So the Dums propose legislation that declares 2+2 to be 4, East to be in the east, Up to be over your head in the direction of the Chartreuse Sky. The Dummers agree that 2+2 is 4, East is indeed in the east, and Up is over your head, … but in the direction of the pink-n-puce sky instead. And thus they derail or delay the legislation. So the Dums go home to their constituents and complain about the Dummers being against the new law because the Dummers believe that 2+2 is NOT 4, that East is anyplace BUT in the east, and that Up is under your feet.

And then – get this – the constituents believe the Dums. Or the Dummers. They’ll believe whomever will earnestly describe the sky in colors the constituents prefer to see. If one voter likes a pink sky, well, then, it’s obviously the chartreuse Dums who are wrong; they must think 2+2=3. If another voter likes a sickly green sky then the Dums are correct, and the Dummers think Up is Down.

In our country, the Republicans are Dum, and the Democrats are Dummer[3], and this type of nanny-booing goes on continually. “Republicans are obviously trying to kill old people because they want to restructure Social Security financing…” and “Democrats are socialists because they want to tax the rich into poverty…

One perennially convenient bit of “sky is pink” legislation was welfare expansion in the Sixties. The Democratic Congress and White House pushed and passed the – ha ha – Great Society legislation in the mid-Sixties, to the skepticism of a great many Republicans who pointed out fundamental flaws, i.e., the sky is not pink. In the Seventies, a Democrat was sent off to investigate some disturbing trends in Great Society results and discovered – lo! and behold! – the sky really isn’t pink after all. Gosh! Who’d-a thunk.

The Democrats swept the critical report under the rug[4]. Show of hands: who is surprised?

The nation evolved, Democrats lost majority status in Congress, Republicans came in and one of the things they did was implement many of the recommendations in the 20-year-old report, and called it “welfare reform”.

And whenever Democrats bring up the subject of welfare reform today, they do it one of two ways:
1] as an indication of the courageous figure that Bill Clinton was and is, … to have signed a Republican bill that had too much support to be vetoed – which is what both Bill Clinton and the Democrats wanted to do to it; or
2] as a criticism of Republicans who were being mean and overbearing to poor people, depriving them of the funding and sustenance they need to survive. If poor people suffer, it is all the Republicans’ fault. I.e., because the Republicans know the sky isn’t pink, they obviously believe East is somewhere in the Southwest – and that poor people should starve.

So, given that two-party politics is full of self-serving dishonesty by its nature, I read news articles discussing politics and policy with one eye pre-rolling and one hand ready to grab the barf bag. This past week has been particularly indigestionable.

First, Bill Clinton was in Dubai holding sway on military strategy as an arm of foreign policy. This is the same Bill Clinton whose draft-dodging pre-presidency concept of the military was “tool of oppression”, and whose presidential military use – one could say “meddlesome micromanaging” if one were to be undiplomatically honest – was dominated by refusing to supply US forces with armaments necessary to counter known threats in Somalia and taking stupid and unnecessary casualties because of it; sissy-slapping uninhabited deserts with a cruise missile and then running [twice]; and then violating virtually every rule in the tactical war book, and killing hundreds of civilians stupidly in order to avoid risking a handful of US casualties. This very same Clinton told a crowd of Arab students that the Iraq war had been a mistake.

How in the hell would Clinton know?[5]

Next, we get John Murtha, a Democratic Congresscritter from Pennsylvania, a Decorated War Hero® and war hawk who has decided to forget all the tactical training he ever received during his 37 years as a US Marine and military officer, and declared that we must immediately vacate Iraq, because – and this is his direct quote – “our troops have become the primary target of the insurgency.” He said this in a week where fewer than ten US soldiers and over a hundred Iraqis died at the hands of the “insurgents”; in a month where dozens of US soldiers and a few hundred Iraqis have died at the hands of the “insurgents”; in a year where a few hundred US soldiers and a couple thousand Iraqis died at the hands of the “insurgents”. Who is the primary target again?

John, dude, you’re either very bad at math, or very good at figuring out that your constituents want to hear you being very bad at math.

And finally, we get to everybody’s favorite punching bag, George Bush who, yet again, declared that we’re going to stay there until the Iraqis can do their own job of self-protection.

…so sell them helicopter gunships already, sell them the bombs and the bullets, help plan raids of Syrian border-area safe houses … and let the Iraqis handle it by themselves. If you constantly hold their hands, they’re never going to be able to take over. Once we stop holding their hands, we can leave. And then they can handle their own protection in the inimitable Arab manner: so brutally that it makes Abu Ghraib look like a church picnic. So brutally that it makes the ACLU’s worst nightmares of “secret CIA torture bases” look like a church picnic with rancid potato salad.

As always, everybody’s right[6], and everybody’s wrong[7]. And as always, nobody’s honest enough to admit when he’s wrong and someone else is right. So I’ll do it for them.

Bill Clinton was right – scratch that… the little bird on Clinton’s shoulder was right about one of the fundamental failures of the post-war occupation policy implemented in Iraq. You don’t create a provisional government from the top down. You don’t create any government from the top down. You can’t create a government from the top down; you’ll get … Iraq … if you’re lucky. Governing is done from the bottom up. That’s the basics of democracy, that’s the basics of despotism. Face it, it’s Government 101. If there is no food and water in the neighborhoods, then there is no sustainable government. In today’s world, if there is no electricity and phone service on your street, then there is also no sustainable government.

US occupation policy was to remove from power the Saddam Hussein government, and all its bureaucratic tentacles. This meant removing the Baathist functionaries who ran and operated the water and phone and electric companies. This meant replacing them with non-Baathist Shi’a who were probably very earnest but also probably very incompetent. This meant that the Baathists were now unemployed, had nothing to occupy themselves, and had the time and motivation to become “insurgents”; it also meant that there was no water, electricity and phone service.

These meant that the US occupation started out, from an Iraqi-on-the-street perspective, as a greater privation than they had under Hussein. At least with Hussein they had phones and lights, even if someone on the block occasionally disappeared.

There’s a scene in the movie Patton, toward the end. The war is over, Patton is riding his horse around the arena, answering questions from reporters. One of them tells him, “General Marshall is wondering why you’ve employed the Nazis. Weren’t we just fighting the Nazis?” Patton replies, “You tell General Marshall that when he sends me 10,000 people to run their cities, I’ll fire the Nazis, but until then, the German people need water and electricity.”[8]

Hmmmm. The … needs … of … the … people … you say? What a strange and interesting concept. So why didn’t we think of that?

Might I suggest the reason we didn’t think of that is because we were more intent on driving out of power anyone who was remotely associated with Saddam Hussein than we were in replacing him with something viable in the short term. Ergo, no Baathists need apply.[9]

Idle hands … are the pan-islamist terrorist’s workshop. This needs to be a lesson for the Administration’s post-war/occupation planners. You created the groundwork for this part of the mess, or at least a significant portion of it. The time for culpability is now. Say it with me, State Department: “We should have hired the Baathists.”

Deep cleansing breath!

But don’t laugh too hard, Administration Critics. You’ve got your own mea culpas to swallow. Idle hands create terrorists. There is nothing in the world more time-tested and proven to busy up idle hands than capitalistic greed under a democratic, freedom-granting government. The Middle East is a terrorist breeding ground. Know why? The only capitalistic, democratic government of note in the area is Israel.

The long-term recipe for eliminating terrorism is a wealthy middle class. Middle classness is a result of capitalism – it grows nowhere else. Capitalism doesn’t work well under dictatorships or other forms of tyranny. Ergo …?

Ergo the Bush Administration was right. If we’re going to have a War Against Terrorism – and win it – then we need to do things that will ensure we win it, and not simply protract it. We would war against terrorism from now until doomsday if we did what the militarily deep thinking strategists of Michael Moore and Ward Churchill want us to do: respond only to those who have actually attacked us. In 1941, the Japanese Navy attacked us. Their Army was off limits… Furthermore, it was only a few hundred planes from a handful of aircraft carriers which attacked us, the rest of the Japanese Navy gets a pass… Rote, hyper-discerning response is a recipe for 1984-like perpetual war.

To win a war, you need to fight the fighters, and also the fighters’ support systems[10]. Most critics of the War Against Terrorism as playing in Iraq only support fighting the fighters, and leaving the support systems alone, because it’s rude to hurt “innocents”.[11] And thus we would be left with the landscape of an unwinable war. And who wants to fight that?

One of the first things a winnable War Against Terrorism needs to accomplish is not merely toppling the governments which support terrorism [like Hussein’s Iraq], but replacing them with democracies that create capitalistic wealth generation, so that its citizens will be too busy making money to make bombs[12] with which to settle their political intrigues and millennia-old grudges. Rich people don’t revolt.

Yeah, I know, now the whimpers start filtering in: “But the leaders of these terrorist organizations are the children of the wealthy from the relatively prosperous Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The theory that capitalism stymies revolution is flawed.”

Pay very close attention to what you said, you naïve, superficial and simplistic weenies. The leaders of these movements are wealthy individuals – just like the leaders of our own Glorious Revolution in 1775 … and our current political parties, it should be noted. Wealthy individuals with hot heads in a democracy with greater or lesser freedoms are called Town Crackpots. They are the Privileged Dissenters who continually backbite whatever city council they happen to have, whatever county board, whatever school board, whatever state legislature. Once in a while, they create enough of a stink themselves, and get enough of a following to be elected to something. Nearly always they demonstrate their prime talent is only anklebiting and not solving the problem, whatever it may be. They’re quickly known for being the ex-councilman Mr Town Crackpot.

You take that same privileged anklebiter, and give him access to tens of thousands of disaffected rabble who work for pennies a day doing nothing, or who do nothing because there is no work to do, and who cannot begin to save pennies or educate themselves into even a dimes-a-day job, and you’ve got yourself the leader of a revolution. Couple that with a theology which, in its fundamentalist form, teaches the obliteration or subjugation of all else in the world, … Couple that with a culture that teaches this fundamentalist theology as a majority-held worldview, … Couple that with a built-in scapegoat of Western Crusaders – never mind that this scapegoating relies upon a dishonest reading of history, … What do we end up with?

Gosh. The Middle East. Who could ever have guessed?[13]

Revolutions and mass movements are populated by the poor and uneducated; the affluent dissenters only lead them. Affluent dissenters with no poor, uneducated masses to follow them are the grouchy guys you laugh at when they get yet another Letter To The Editor printed.

But, Bush critics? Now’s the time to admit your own. You can say it, “Bush was right.”

There, now doesn’t being honest for once make you feel cleaner?

If you need to cleanse your palate, you can immediately follow it up with, “…but Bush was wrong about what to do to start an occupation…”. That’ll remove some of the partisan distaste, I’m sure.

And the distaste is purely partisan, too. Not only partisan, but circumstantially partisan. I’d strongly suggest that the current Bush Critic anklebiters are anklebiting current Iraq occupation policies because they are a Republican Administration creation, and not because they are fundamentally wrong, immoral or contrary to non-Republican values. I can say this for a few reasons: first, when Democrats controlled the nation’s trigger finger and spoke about Iraq, the Democrats sounded just like the Republicans did prior to the war; second, when Democrats controlled the nation’s trigger finger, the Democrats undertook foreign policies very similar to Iraq/2003 – in Iraq [1998] and Serbia [1999]; and third, when Democrats controlled the nation’s trigger finger, Democrats and other Bush critics – apart from a very scant handful of outright pacifists – didn’t complain one bit about the Democrats acting then just like Republicans are acting now.

Bush critics don’t want to seem two-faced, do they? Of course not. So the honest and decent thing to do is to admit it. “It’s what we would have done if we were in charge, but there were some mistakes and a few miscalculations – just like there were when we were in charge – and now we’re here, so what do we do next?

Ahhh, maturity. So nice to finally hear from the Dums and Dummers, even if I did have to supply the words myself.

So what do we do?

Well, first, as I indicated before, cutting and running violates every rule in the tactical rulebook. Murtha’s plan is dead on arrival. …unless we want to relive Vietnam, that is. All this talk about “Bush’s Iraq is Johnson’s Vietnam” will only be true if we do in Iraq what we did in Vietnam. The US won the military engagements in both places; the US lost the political will in Vietnam. Hence, the US lost Vietnam.

We all need to understand that Murtha’s cynical political calculation is cynical, … and political, … and calculated. He doesn’t mean what he says. If he did, then either he’s not the military guy he’s claimed to be, or he’s suffering from some form of debilitating dementia. Let’s just settle on Murtha having a fit of Partisanheimer’s Syndrome and be done with it. He’s playing front-page politics for the folks back home.

Even Hillary Clinton, the Carpetbagger from NY, is astute enough to understand this tactical reality[14]: you don’t cut-n-run. A power vacuum sucks in all kinds of dirt and debris, and in that part of the world most of the dirt is anti-American, and most of the debris pan-islamist.

Second, again, if we want to leave successfully then we can only do it after the Iraqi government can do for itself what we’re doing for it now. And they’re not going to be able to do what they need to do if we keep doing it for them. The Iraqis have thousands of their own soldiers and paramilitary – same as we have there. There are dozens of military operations in Iraq every month, large and small. Mostly small. How many do the Iraqis handle by themselves?


How many are they even 50-50 partners on?

Same number: none.

The official explanation is that “we’re waiting for the next election”. It’s great and noble and laudable and even touching that for the first time since Adam and Eve voted on which direction to flee Eden, this spot on the planet has been holding elections. But it seems that the process of democracy itself is gumming up the works, now. We’ve always waited on the next election. You don’t hold elections to determine whether or not the military should obliterate a safe-house for terrorists on the Syrian border; you order it to be done and just do it. And there’s no reason that the Iraqi military can’t start doing some of these by themselves.

Yes, right, the Administrations’ whines start pouring in. “But if they do it themselves and fail, then it will set back all their progress over the past two years…” Oh, yeah, golly. Somebody might fall over the first time they try to ride a bicycle without training wheels. So let’s never take the training wheels off, then. Izzat the solution? It’ll be too much of a set back to fall over? They might scrape their tiny widdow kneeeeees.

Scraped knees happen. It’s not going to change by leaving the apron strings on them another month or another year. We used our trigger finger – and validly. Maybe a little on the N-th degree side, but still validly. The Iraqis have triggers and they have fingers; they’re getting more fingers all the time, and we can sell them as many triggers as they can buy. Let them go. Push the little bird out of the nest and see if it can fly, already.

That way, when there’s legitimate torture of Iraqi “insurgents” in Iraq – and not the “torture-lite” of Abu Ghraib – it’ll be done by the Iraqis themselves using time-tested and Mullah-approved techniques. And we won’t be the ones having to suffer the tear-stained slings and wet-panty arrows of outrageous Hollywood fortune. Direct your ire to the people torturing the terrorists: the Arabs. Or, better yet, direct it at those responsible for there being terrorism in the Middle East: the terrorists.

Third, we must have a sound public expectation of foreign policy. Which brings us around to the dopes who believe what politicians tell them, … and then complain because they were lied to. “Bush lied, people died”.

Wow; pithy. You might wanna think of slapping that baby on a bumper sticker, sometime. You might turn a few bucks.

Here are a few unassailable facts:
1] Politicians play politics. It’s what they do; it’s who they are. Mr Smith doesn’t go to Washington. Ever. Unless it’s as a tourist. If a politician thinks he can get the public behind his policy by scaring the masses into believing that the Other Party is trying to kill old people by eliminating Social Security, then that’s pretty much what he’ll say. If another politician thinks he can get the public behind his war by scaring everyone into believing another nation is the Boogeyman and is going to FedEx anthrax to everyone with an odd-numbered street address, then that’s exactly what he’ll tell you. It’s not difficult to figure out. To say “Bush lied” is to add the grand sum of bupkus to human knowledge.
2] People die all the time because of governmental policy, even – and especially – policy which is not built on the premise of killing people. To say “people died” because of Bush’s policies is to multiple human knowledge by the factor of double-bupkus.

I might suggest that if Bush lied to you, that maybe the problem isn’t with Bush; it’s with you. Bush didn’t lie to me. I knew he was playing politics. There was a legitimate reason for having a war in Iraq, and then there was the politics of getting the unknowledgeable morons in the country to go along with it. The legitimate reason had virtually nothing to do with “pre-war intelligence”, outed CIA agents, their contrarian diplomat husbands[15], weapons of mass destruction being mass-mailed, airmailed or emailed to the American public, or anything of the sort.

For someone to claim that a politician lied to him, he is advertising himself to be a simpleton. It takes two people to conduct a lie. One person to say something knowingly false, and another person to believe him. If you believed Bush when Bush played politics, then you’re a dope. It’s no more complicated than that.

And it’s amazing to me the number of people who claim to be cynical of politics and politicians, who will turn right around in their next breath and declare, with the righteous piety of a Chautauqua preacher, that Bush lied!! It’s also amazing the number of people who are self-deceptive, gullible nitwits. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that both groups of people are the same people.

When a fact cannot be confirmed outside the realm of politics, then it is politics and not fact. Facts can sometimes originate within politics, and by politicians. But if the politician’s claims cannot be independently confirmed, then … if you believe the politician, you’re an idiot.

Weapons of mass destruction? Possible, even plausible[16], but unconfirmed. Iraq violated the cease-fire? Independently verifiable by anyone who had a] followed the news, and b] read the cease-fire document.[17]

So what was the reason for Iraq/2003 again?

And then what was the political rationale?

These questions have two separate and distinct answers.

The people who cite political rationale as reality are the ones who make illusionists like David Copperfield very rich men. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, and you will forever be the same some of the people Lincoln famously described.

…which leads to perhaps the biggest problem with the American public. I am extremely critical of Europe and Europeans, for their smugness and self-righteous arrogance which is, particularly lately, unsupportable. It’s one thing to be smug and arrogant when you’re the best at something; it’s completely laughable to be smug and arrogant when you haven’t been the best at anything meaningful in generations. That’d be Europe. And especially France.

But Europeans are sometimes right about things. One of the things Europeans are right about is one of their biggest criticisms of America and Americans. Europeans think Americans are unknowledgeable, impatient and self-centered, particularly as it relates to international issues.

Waddaya know? They’re right. For the most part, Americans are unknowledgeable. How else would you explain the great oozing gobs of high school and college graduates who can’t even place the United States on a world map, or give a basic outline to the course of Middle Eastern history – that we see repeating itself today?

For the most part, Americans are impatient. How else would you explain the desire of the majority of Americans to have the war and occupation of Iraq be a microwave meal? Pop it in the microwave, nuke it on high for 45 seconds, and out pops piping hot peace, stability and democracy. Mmmmm, good.

For the most part, Americans are self-centered. How else would you explain American indifference to two generations of escalating pan-islamist extremism in Europe? It was only after that extremism touched the US that Americans decided it was troubling.

Of course, most of these criticisms go both ways: Europeans have acquired ignorance and impatience – possibly as a US export[18]. But they are correct, for the most part.

Historical ignorance is inexcusable as far as I’m concerned. There are people and political philosophies in the world who are literally out to kill everyone in their way. And the US isn’t one of them[19]; the US wants to make a peaceful and prosperous customer base. Peaceful and prosperous customers have the only color and creed that is important to America: green cash. Anything else is irrelevant.

Impatience is fatal. Anyone can wreck any policy overnight and make it a failure; making a policy succeed takes time – and always more time than the general public is willing to grant. If you can’t be patient, then it’d be far better to be strictly self-centered. At least that way you’re a money-grubbing workaholic paying taxes. You won’t have the time to pester our foreign affairs people with unknowledgeable demands that twenty years of foreign policy be started and concluded before the next election.

But stifling our fatal affair with impatience does not mean that our foreign policy can afford to be stuck in neutral. Being in Iraq for the next two years or five years or ten years is not the issue as much as getting Iraq more involved in the process of protecting Iraq. More involved.

Iraq doesn’t have the capability to undertake military operations on its own? That’s correct, they don’t. And they won’t until they undertake one. The very moment they do their own military operation, regardless if they succeed or fail, they will have the ability to undertake their own operations. With more practice, they will learn to succeed. With more success, they will be more independent, and we will be closer to the door.

The door is our goal at this point.

[1] Answer: anybody who’s been paying attention.
[2] Don’t laugh; Alabama once tried passing a state law to declare pi [π] = 3. The thinking – if one could be so presumptuous as to call it that – was that 3.14159etc was too difficult for elementary school students.
[3] …unless it’s the other way around
[4] The critical report was The Moynihan Report, and the critical – and surprisingly honest – Democrat who investigated was Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Hence the name of the report.
[5] He has speechwriters, and he’s coached is how.
[6] about something
[7] about something else
[8] Or something close to that. I’m going from memory. Rent the movie and find out for yourself.
[9] And Patton was fired as commander of the occupation forces in Bavaria, because he wasn’t singing from the same song in the “denazification” hymnal.
[10] etcetera; read Klauswitz.
[11] In great gobs of unfiltered irony, Ward Churchill’s notorious magnum dopus calls 9-11 a legitimate attack by “combat teams”, “soldiers, really” when they killed upwards of 3,000 accountants and stock brokers and lawyers, who he claimed were not innocent of the evils perpetrated “upon their people” by US politicians. So who is truly innocent?
[12] and thus commit churchillian [as in Ward, not Winston] war by “braying into cell phones”
[13] Again: anyone who has been paying attention.
[14] she has bright little birds on her shoulder chirping into her ear as well
[15] who would have been fired post haste from any other administration
[16] Iraq had boatloads right up until the UN stopped finding them in 1998 – when Iraq booted the UN out of the country
[17] http://www.un.org/Depts/unscom/Chronology/resolution687.htm
knock yourself out.
[18] they’ve always been self-centered themselves
[19] …in case there are any third world apologists wetting their panties over this

Saturday, November 19, 2005

I'll See Your Standard, and Double It

I'll See Your Standard, and Double It
© 2005 Ross Williams
[Originally written late spring 2005. -ed]

My wife and I had a discussion the other day. Now, normally, we agree about most things, and agree in principle on nearly everything else. Which is a trait of hers that I appreciate immensely. Sure beats the prior alternative I endured for roughly a millennium.

But on this topic, in this discussion, she doesn't agree. I'd be indignant about it, but it's far too trivial. It has a Significance Rating below the number of dill pickles necessary for proper nutrition.[1]

The state of Virginia had introduced into its state legislature a measure that would have imposed a $50 fine on its residents for "lewdly" or "indecently" having pants that did not cover their butts.[2] Presumably, this would affect only those between the ages of 14 and 22.

Personally, I'm in favor of this, but with a yawn.

My wife, she's agin it.

Her rationale: "their butts are still covered by their boxers".

Mine: "I think it's dumb to walk around like that, and I don't want to see it."

Later that night, there was a Victoria's Secret commercial on television, and she told me, "Uh oh! Cover your eyes! There's some indecency."

Not at all. There's nothing indecent about women being dressed like that. Especially in commercials. I can immediately change the channel if I'm offended. I can't easily "immediately" change the street I'm walking down or driving on if I'm disturbed by some kid's hairy ass, covered by boxers or not. It would either violate the laws of physics or the laws of traffic were I to try.

Plus, on a side note, there's nothing I consider offensive about a nubile young female dressed in such a way. I'm a guy, and yes, I have a very pronounced double standard. My wife is not a guy, and she's kinda the same way in reverse.

Viva la difference.

Of course, as a parent of 4, most of whom are, at this writing, on the shy side of puberty and adolescence, I don't want such sights to be paraded in front of my children in public. My job as a parent does not need to be made gratuitously – even if trivially – harder.

I fully understand that my position on this is a double standard – in several respects:

1] I have different views on this based upon the sex of the "perp".

2] I dressed in a way, at the age of 19, very close to what I would not now want to have to look at or have paraded in front of my kids.

3] I am a very strict lower-case-'L' libertarian, which is to say, the government's job is not to be our collective nanny. Their job is protect us from others who are trying to hurt us, not simply offend us, and get the hell out of the way pretty much the remainder of the time.[3] Making such fashionista pronouncements violates my libertarian sensibilities.

So, yes, I have double standards here. And I'm not about to rationalize any of these double standards by claiming that they really aren't. Yes, they really are.

What I'm going to say about it is: so what? Double standards are part of one's daily life. Everyone's daily life. I'm no different, and don't see why I should pretend to be – or why I should be expected to be.

My personal tastes, and not my political sensibilities, dictate my daily life.

My political sensibilities declare that homosexuality is perfectly fine and natural – even if confined to a self-limiting and one-digit percent minority. My personal taste runs to chicks. So therefore I'm straight. I'm not going to be a "political queer". This isn't hard to figure out.

My political sensibilities run to free speech; my personal taste wants peace and quiet. So when you wish to freely speechify around me and on my time, you're eventually going to be asked, in decreasingly polite terms, to take your screed elsewhere. Again, not hard to figure.

So when the issue is how people dress in public, it will fall upon the same philosophy. My personal taste thinks guys who can't manage to pull their pants up are idiots, and that we ought to smack idiots upside the head. Or the wallet. Yes, my political sensibilities declare that there is nothing wrong with it. Personally, I still don't want to see it.

Since we live in a society built upon the fundamentals of Democracy, I get to have a say in what the rest of you do in public. That's the way it works, even when it "doesn't hurt anyone". I'll be the first to concede that it doesn't hurt me to have a contingent of butt-baring dorks walking down the street in my eyeshot. I am disturbed by it, dismayed even, but not hurt. Not even really offended. If I feel strongly enough about it, I can petition my local lawmakers to pass an ordinance prohibiting that. The basis? I don't like it. Nothing more is needed. If the measure passes, then pull 'em up, guys.

And vice versa, by the way. Which is why, in certain places, I can't be seen "in public" with an open can of beer. Which is why I can't be caught driving down the road without wearing a seatbelt. Who am I hurting? No one. Yet I still can't do it.

Rationalize that, you "personal is political" people.

Our system of law is built upon the authority of the majority to enact laws which satisfy that majority. And, in our system of law, the majority's enacted laws are presumed valid until it is proven, not merely asserted, that the will of the majority unfairly impinges upon the established rights of the minority.

This is why city ordinances which prohibit loud radios at 4 AM are not unconstitutional, while ordinances which prohibit all radios at all times are. If you want to play your stereo loudly, do it when you're allowed to – probably between 8 or 9 AM and 9 or 10 PM.

If you want to smoke, do it where you're allowed to. Commonly at home or outside and away from main entrances.

If you don't want to pull up your pants, then leave them hanging off your knees when and where you're allowed to. Most likely at home or in the ultra-chic and uniformly nonconformist college dormitories.

Yes, you're right: all of these are double standards. So what? If the majority wants it that way, then the majority ought to be allowed to have it that way. This is still a democracy.[4]

And, conversely, if the majority doesn't want it that way, then the majority still oughta be allowed to have it the way they want.

The way our system works, if your actions are limited by law then you have legal recourse through the courts to eliminate the limitation. You have the burden of proof to demonstrate that the limitation is unfair in ways that courts tend to define "unfairness". My prediction: you probably wouldn't win on public pantslessness, even if you had boxers showing.

The way our system works, if your sensibilities are offended by a lack of limitation on others' actions, then you have legal recourse through the legislature to limit others’ actions. Of course, getting your legislator to do anything that you want is like moving a mountain with a teaspoon, and my prediction here is, also, you probably won't get a droopy drawers law just because you want one. Indeed, Virginia scuttled its measure – which is their business.

These are the way they should be. If you feel strongly, then call or write your legislator; if enough of you take the teaspoon to the mountain, some of the mountain will get moved. I don't feel strongly about it. I'm simply in favor. I won't be writing anything more on it. Too busy looking for Victoria’s Secret commercials.

[1] She: about a million a month. Me: zero. I’d go lower, but I’ve never seen a negative pickle.
[2] http://www.cnn.com/2005/ALLPOLITICS/02/10/droopy.pants.ap/index.html
[3] An upper-case-'L' libertarian comes with a political platform which is as collectivistly appalling as the respective Democrats' and Republicans' platforms.
[4] …although some double standards tend to make a very messy legal landscape, and need to be resolved in a consistent manner. E.g., an 18 year-old is an "adult", but can't drink or gamble. So then he isn't really an adult, is he? Figure it out, folks, one way or another. He is or he ain’t.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

I See London, I See France, I See Jean-Claude's Underpants

I See London, I See France, I See Jean-Claude's Underpants
©2005 Ross Williams

It's hard not to snicker at France. What's not to snicker at? It's full of French people. Frogs. Pretentious snobs with a disgusted, disgusting attitude toward everything not French and outright animosity towards the US. Charles DeGaulle got his poow widdow feewings hurt by FDR during WWII – FDR hinted broadly that Free France, led by DeGaulle, was more interested in having the honors and spoils of war than in having to do any of the pesky and dangerous fighting. DeGaulle had to take time from his busy post-war victory parade planning schedule to get his spectacularly large nose out of joint at his American critic, and he spent the rest of his life forming a series of unstable French Republics all dominated by the gaullist philosophy of "no matter what the US wants, do the opposite".

This has taken France on a strange and contorted path at times. US foreign policy, never given to much consistency itself, has been a Gibraltar compared to French meanderings in response to it. France left World War Two relatively early and never rejoined except to march triumphantly into Paris in clean, starched and pressed uniforms ahead of the American, British and Canadian forces who did the fighting. Because of that, France never had the expenses that the other Allied governments had. Britain, particularly, went broke, and within five years of the end of WWII, had divested itself of nearly all of its colonial holdings, cash drains on capitalist systems.[1]

France didn't go broke fighting the war, and therefore didn't need to give up on its colonies for financial reasons. France, in particular, possessed French Indochina and Algeria for up to two decades after WWII. France fought desperately to retain Indochina until Dien Bien Phu put a stop to it in 1954. Then, after the US took France's place, for a mixture of faux-noble intentions, helping a "friend" and stopping communism, France acted – and very loudly and acrimoniously – as if Indochina were the last thing in the world that was or had been important to it, almost to the ludicrous point of denying having been there in the first place. France and the French declared the US to be foolish, evil and imperialistic in wanting to exert dominion over Indochina – the very place France had been in foolish, evil and imperialistic dominion over since the 1890s. Two-faced? Nah...

France had been in foolish, evil and imperialistic dominion over Algeria since 1830[2] when they put an end to nearly five centuries of Barbary Piracy and Ottoman-version pan-islamist thugery in the central and western Mediterranean. Algeria gained its independence in 1962[3], but only after enduring ratonnades, the "La valise ou le cercueil"-ing of the Pied-noir, and other actions that would have done the Gestapo proud.

The French army went on "rat hunts", which were little more than indiscriminate extermination sweeps of Algerian Arab-muslims, they implemented "suitcase or coffin" purges of "black-foot" Algerians – mostly Jews and other ethnics who had escaped the Spanish Inquisition and fled to north Africa – and both at a time when their sainted DeGaulle was in Cambodia exhorting Indochina to resist racist US "imperialism". Three-faced? Nah...

France, situated behind West Germany from a Soviet-bloc invasion, was very willing to allow NATO to defend it from stated Soviet intentions in western Europe, as long as France didn’t have to help. Military participation in NATO would mean that other NATO countries – notably the US – would have access to French soil, and that was not going to happen. France was literally living in the sheltered and pampered post-war shadow of US and NATO protection, having the US serving French foreign policies in southeast Asia, all the while backbiting the US and criticizing American foreign policy as imperialistic at a time when France was doing the exact same things to different peoples. Four-faced? Nah...

Jumping ahead four decades – and not for lack of ironic material capable of embarrassing frog foreign policies for their blatant hypocrisies during that time, but in the interest of arriving at the point – France vociferously denounced US policies in deposing Hussein at a time when France was deposing the west African government of Ivory Coast, and criticized US policies in Iraq as greedy oil-imperialism at a time when greedy French officials were receiving bribes and illegal oil trade from Iraq. We might settle on a five-faced France for the benefit of brevity, but this is truly just a scratch on their scaly surface.

The point of this is not to snicker at the transparently anti-American French during their current nationwide riots. ...riots by largely teen-aged Arabs and muslims living in ghetto-ized "suburbs" and that French police are powerless to control. It's not to guffaw at the froggish sanctimony toward the US on the subject of racial integration, where US unemployment wavers typically between 5 and 6% nationwide, and minority unemployment between 10 and 12% – whereas French unemployment is around 10% and averages 20% for its own minorities, and in some communities it's around 40%. While it is amusing to consider the French enaction of liberté, égalité, fraternité, I'll refrain from dwelling.

The point of this is not to embarrass France by describing how social democracy's policies of coddling a nation's citizens to the point of emasculation isn't any more effective a social policy, and indeed by comparative numbers is less so, than the mis-stated "tax breaks for the rich"; it's not to humiliate France by pointing out that even though they are famously contrarian on the War Against Terror – participating only when it's in their interests – and famously objected to the extension of that war to Iraq, France has not been immune from the pan-islamist outrage against The West as France claimed they would be. The desire to say "tolja so", "why doncha crack a history book" and "well, duh" is strong, but I'll resist.

Underneath everything, France is a sovereign nation[4] and is perfectly free to choose whatever self-serving national policies it likes, even if they are hypocritical, even if they are marginally incompetent, even if they are chock full of bombast and bile and not much else. France can do pretty much as it likes, and more power to them. Of course, I'll sneer at quite a lot they do, but we're both freedom loving peoples, France and I, and if the French are free to sneer at the US, I'm free to sneer right back.

No, the point is not specifically to sneer at France for claiming to be a US ally and friend and acting, for sixty years, every way but; that's just a serendipitous side benefit. It's to warn America about the patterns emerging in France, and how we can avoid them happening here.

France has been a focus for pan-islamist hotheads for centuries. It rarely mattered what France did or didn't do, the muslims didn't like it, and frequently punctuated their dislike with bombs. France was spoken about, for those centuries, pretty much as America is talked about today: the center and source of all that is wrong in greater islamia. France has responded in recent decades in their typical post-Vichy manner: capitulation. If the muslims don't like what we're doing, then let's try to be likable to the muslims. This never works. Not once in history has this worked. The purpose of a government is to satisfy its own citizens, not the rest of the world. There’s a whole slew of historical illiterates walking around saying that because, e.g., French citizens are protesting the US that the US is doing something wrong and must change its policies. On the contrary, the fact that foreigners are protesting the US means that the US is doing something right.

A government, any government, is required to be self-serving, to serve its own national interests. A government, any government, which doesn’t serve itself is a government that will eventually have nothing to govern. Serving yourself means that you will annoy other nations’ citizens who are not served by your policies. This is most of the reason why I’m not all that offended that France has been doing what it’s been doing for the last 60 years: their job isn’t to satisfy me; it’s to satisfy themselves. From all indications – check that, make that some indications – they’re doing a decent job of it: there’s passels of Americans righteously indignant about the French. They are doing something right.

But while trying to be annoying to American policies, and succeeding, France forgot to succeed in self-serving along other avenues. France tried hard to pacify pan-islamist hotheads by opening their borders to the insurrectionists who needed political asylum – like the Ayatollah Khomeini. France became the muslim emigration destination of choice, and 10% of France is now muslim immigrants, new- or first-generation. Pan-islamists still hate France because France is still an integral part of the same West that pan-islamism has hated for centuries. France merely became malleable and, in the eyes of pan-islamists, a useful idiot.

A lot of things are going on here, and not all of them are strictly France's fault, per se. In certain ways they are trailblazers, and as all explorers know, when you're the first to go somewhere, you'll be the first to get the results – good or bad. If other people follow behind the trailblazer and don't heed what happened, then it's their own fault for running into the bad things the second time; they were adequately warned. That is the main purpose of following maps and it's the main purpose of studying history.

One of the first things going on in France is a case study in what happens when menial labor is too undignified a task for the native population. Somebody, somewhere in the world, is in need of the menial labor wages of a first world power and will come in to do it. In the case of France, it was north and west African natives – denizens, or victims, of France's foreign dalliance. In America's case, it's Mexicans. Mexicans don’t hate us, as a general rule, which largely explains why so many Mexicans are here and breaking our laws to do it. … as opposed to how pan-islamists generally feel toward western nations, including France.

When menial labor is beneath the dignity of the unemployed first-world citizen, the unemployed citizen then becomes a financial burden on his government. In the social democracies of western Europe, this is no small matter. They not atypically have double-digit unemployment rates, but the unemployed will not take the available jobs. They're too menial. Menial jobs at menial pay still have to be done, so now comes the wave of immigrants to whom "menial" is relative. Relative to starving, "menial" is high living. If you're going to have a social democracy – and the US doesn't, but some US political forces would like us to go further in that direction – then it needs to be understood that unemployment happens, menial jobs at menial pay exist, and a condition of receiving unemployment benefits, even long-term unemployment, ought to be: perform menial jobs for X hours a week until you find a job in your own field. Make menial labor a requisite for government benefits, and menial pay an addition to unemployment benefits. Even the original social democrat, FDR, understood this much.

France goes out it its way to penalize non-Frenchness. It has an académie française, which rigidly controls the official French language for froggish purity. “Chocolate chip cookie” and “hamburger” are notoriously “too American” and prohibited from being spoken or written in France, under penalty of law … such as that may be[5]. Imagine American English without a taco. It would be nonpareil, except among the French.[6] There is a difference between recognizing a language as “official” for governmental purposes, and controlling how people use language. “Official” languages are good ideas; the fewer languages in which the government must converse the better and cheaper the government services can be. But demanding that software be changed to logiciel simply because software is English and English is “wrong” is plain old garden variety xenophobia. Imagine, for just a second, the panty-wetting that would occur among our academic hypocrites were the US to impose frog-style language strictures in American society – the same academic hypocrites who are busy falling all over themselves today in praise of gratuitously anti-American French policies. It staggers. There aren’t enough Depends® undergarments and zinc-oxide to prevent the epidemic of diaper rash that would follow.

But while the US isn’t outrightly xenophobic, there are parallels between the French treatment of their first-generation menial underclass, and America’s. Legal immigration ought to be welcomed; these are people who, by the millions, voted with their feet and determined that America is the better place to be. If that doesn’t make you feel better about the place you live, then perhaps you ought to take their place in the Mexican unemployment line. Bulgaria is also looking for people just like you who can quibble and kvetch about doing what needs to be done, and yet somehow avoid doing it.

Even illegal immigration ought to be seen in a positive public relations light. So many people are willing to break the laws of the US in order to live and work here. Mostly – and contrary to the paranoic right-wing fantasies – these folks are not breaking US immigration laws in order to take the US down, but instead to work and make money. … to send home to their families who have none. They are here to exhalt in America, to build it up, one head of lettuce at a time.

While illegal immigration is, as the very name indicates, illegal, there’s no real purpose in being high-handed and officious about it. Simply round them up and send them back when they’re caught working jobs unemployed Americans wouldn’t be caught dead doing. It would even be good policy to thank them for their interest in America, thank them for doing those jobs illegally, and give them a pamphlet – in English – on how to gain legal access to the US in order to do those same jobs the next time. When you find your unemployed neighbor in your flower garden pulling up the dandelions that your lazy teen-aged son hired him to pull, it’s not wise or neighborly to accuse the neighbor of stealing your television and the silver tea set. Circumspection is called for. Get mad at your lazy teenager, if you’re going to get mad at anyone, and ground him for a month.

But just as indulging paranoiac right-wing rants is not a good idea, neither is the left-wingers’ notions of just ignoring the problem and treating law-breakers as if they’re law-followers. Illegal immigrants do not get drivers licenses, they do not get social security, unemployment, disability, welfare or food stamps, and they do not get education for their children. These are benefits accorded to people who live here legally which, as the very term demands, illegal immigrants are not. They get treated pleasantly as they get shipped back home, and told – pleasantly – to return when their papers are in order. You don’t bawl out the neighbor your lazy teenager hired to weed the garden, and you also don’t give that neighbor your spare bedroom, an allowance, a dinner plate and the keys to the car.

The US and France both treat its menials as if they were social outcasts. They may be social outcasts both in their home country and in the country they’re living in, and to the degree they are in violation of US law, they need to be deported. But treating them unkindly is extremely shortsighted, and is one of the common rationalizations used by the teenagers in France for burning cars, burning French women, beating French men, and being boorish, obnoxious and violent pan-islamist dweebs[7]. And frankly, they’re not acting out of concert with how they are treated by the smug, self-righteous and xenophobic French.

We haven’t had Mexican day-laborer riots yet, California lettuce picker strikes notwithstanding, and we should aim to keep it that way. Our laws need to be followed, but we don’t need to act like storm troopers – or worse, like the French – in accomplishing it. Leave the illegal immigrant violence in the hands of our liberal college weenies who undertake proxy riots, full of self-loathing blather and collectivist, onanist delusion.

Speaking of delusions … did you hear the one about how unskilled illegal immigrants are stealing American jobs and driving down our wages? This is a favorite fantasy from the political right in our country, who seem to know scads of American citizens lining up to pick lettuce in California, peaches in Michigan, and clean Walmarts[8] in between for below-minimum wage. Americans don’t want these jobs; if offered, Americans wouldn’t take these jobs. I can say that because Americans have been offered these jobs and don’t take them, time after time after time, thus leaving them for the illegal immigrants to do. Mexican CPAs and computer programmers do not dash across the Arizona desert in the dead of night to take the place of huge wads of middle class Americans at half the salary. They stay in Mexico, where middle class is the same thing as Big Shot. If they come to America, it is as a tourist.

The Mexicans who are here illegally are working jobs Americans consider beneath them. They do not steal Americans’ jobs, because they take the jobs Americans don’t touch. And if they don’t steal Americans’ jobs, they can’t “drive down American wages”. It’s mathematically impossible. If you earn $20/hour putting sprockets on flanges at an assembly plant, does an illegal immigrant earning $2/hour cleaning toilets at rest stops on I-70 change your hourly wages?

No. The suggestion is preposterous, so stop making it.

What the illegal immigrant working at below lawful wage-rates[9] does is add a low-wage worker to the workforce. His low-wage job lowers the average wage. But here’s the thing: the average wage would be lowered no matter who held the job, American or Mexican. If an American had a sudden culture crisis[10] and decided to take that low-wage job, the average wage earned in the US would still decrease. That’s the way math works. So the question becomes: is it better to have two people employed, even if one is low-wage – even below-wage? Or is it better to have only the middle-class wage-earner employed and keep the unskilled low-wager jobless?

Interestingly, this is one area where both the idiots on the left and the idiots on the right are in complete racist agreement – only for different reasons. Both mimic French shortsightedness. The idiots on the right are rationalizing French xenophobia – “we must be fearful of illegal aliens because they might be terrorists”. You probably recall how Catholic Mexico is brimming with pan-islamists indignant over the US military bases in Saudi Arabia. Or, okay, “we should be fearful of illegal aliens because they’re here to steal your jobs”. The only vegetables Americans voluntarily pick are from their own gardens[11]. Reality exists, people. You seriously need to spend more time there.

The idiots on the left are a little more clever in their racism; they disguise it behind abstract classist bigotry masquerading as “progressive” politics. It’s wrong to hire people for below-minimum wage[12] because “no one can live on those wages”. A brief perusal of Reality debunks the leftidiots as well: illegal immigrants, mostly Mexican, can live on below-minimum wage. They can’t live a middle class “lifestyle”, certainly, but they can live. I can say this, because there are an estimated 7 million[13] illegals doing just that. And millions more are willing to do likewise.

The lefty lugnuts are factually incorrect in their assertions that people can’t live on below-minimum wage. In other words, they are lying.[14] People do it all the time. Do the low-wagers want to get, and live on, low wages? Probably not, but that can’t always be helped. Most people want to make more than they’re making right now – I know I do; an artificial barrier called “minimum wage legislation” has nothing to do with it. But in piously claiming that people can’t live on such wages, the idiots on the left are very neatly ushering in a whole series of unintended consequences, most of which have a significant racist component embedded within.

First: Reality dictates that low-wage jobs are unskilled jobs. Unskilled labor tends to be done by minority and immigrant workers, if it’s done at all. Declaring that “people” aren’t allowed to work below minimum wage is equivalent to declaring that minorities and immigrants aren’t allowed to work at all. That’s racist.

Second: Demanding that the minimum wage threshhold must continually increase requires businesses to re-evaluate their finances. When a law requires that a sizable chunk of a company’s workforce be given a, say, 10% pay raise, then the company must do one [or more] of several things:
1] raise prices to compensate;
2] fire, “lay off” or “attrit” current workers;
3] delay hiring new workers
4] reduce employee benefits.

Reality dictates that a business must make a profit or else it quickly ceases being a business. When a business ceases being a business then everyone loses: the owner, the employees, and the government who not only doesn’t get payroll and business taxes, but must now also underwrite the existence of probably most of the former employees.

To the degree that businesses must raise prices, raising minimum wages is inflationary – which disproportionately hurts the low-wager, who is commonly an immigrant or a minority, and thus becomes racist.

To the degree that businesses must reduce the low-wage staff, raising minimum wages is racist.

To the degree that businesses must delay hiring new workers, raising minimum wages is racist.

To the degree that businesses must reduce employee benefits, raising minimum wages is effectively racist.

Helping people with other people’s money normally results in hurting the people you intended to help. If you think raising the pay of unskilled workers is a good idea, then hire them and give them a raise. Telling other people to hire them and give them a raise is bossy, rude, and often means it doesn’t get done. …mostly because they can’t be hired. Not enough money in the payroll budget.

So how did we get to the point of having millions of Mexicans playing Red Rover with the border patrol? Simple, and trivially so: we’re very good at what we do here in America. What we do is make money. Money helps. Mexicans want help, and they’re willing to work for it … ergo, they come here to do it.

They wouldn’t need to come here if either American wages weren’t so high[15], or Mexican wages weren’t so low. Do you want to lower your wages in order to keep illegal Mexicans in Mexico?

Me neither. So … their wages need to increase, don’t they? Arguably, in many cases, they need to have wages to begin with. For that to happen, though, they need to have something to do, something to make, something to sell. If they’re going to sell something, then someone else needs to buy it.

Which someone might that be? do you think?

That someone is reading this right now.[16] The more Mexicans who can work in Mexico because Mexico has jobs means fewer Mexicans cramming cheek by jowl in U-Hauls heading north from Tijuana.

Talk to your grocery store manager. Ask him where the Mexican-caught fish is in their frozen seafood counter. Find the Mexican produce. Then buy it.

Going on a vacation? Riviera Maya. Beautiful area. Bring money. Spend it.

Americans have complained over the past few decades about American manufacturing closing its Des Moines plant and moving it to Cuernavaca. Xenophobes on the right and labor unionists on the left. Each, for their own racist, selfish and short-sighted reasons, doesn’t want Mexico to have ex-American manufacturing. Too bad. Do you want to keep US manufacturing here so much that you’re going to strike for lower wages and fewer benefits? Didn’t think so. This is what happens when you don’t: jobs move south.

Good for the Mexicans. They need more of that. A little more of that, and we’ll be crawling with even more Mexicans. …tourists on vacation. Spending their strong pesos in our stores and keeping us employed, so that we can take vacations in Mexico and spend our stronger dollars to keep them employed. They’ll be wetbacks in the pool at the Holiday Inn; we’ll be wetbacks in the reefs off Cozumel. And all because we decided that being French to our immigrants – legal and otherwise – is too … French.

We aren’t smug and intolerant; we aren’t self-righteous and xenophobic. The French are these things – and look what it’s getting them. Burned cars and broken windows; the Kristallnacht of the New Millenium.

When you see a migrant farm worker, someone who might be a migrant farm worker, or someone who looks like he might be a migrant farm worker, rather than leap to conclusions and define him as an illegal immigrant and be rude, or leap to the same conclusion and define him as someone who needs yet another special defense from US law[17], simply be friendly and say “hello”. Or hola. Whatever. He probably isn’t illegal – unless he’s in the trunk of a Buick with fifteen others. If he’s not illegal, he’ll think you’re simply friendly, which is never a bad thing to be thought of[18]. If he is illegal, it’s not your job to do anything about it, and he’s not taking a job that you’d do anyway, so being friendly still doesn’t cost you anything, and you might even have clean toilets at Wal-Mart.

And you won’t make America seem like the bitter, self-righteous and xenophobic paradise that France has become. Vive la difference!!

[1] The major exception being, of course, Hong Kong, which made a handsome profit for the Crown
[2] much of north and west Africa, actually, which France considers its military-slash-interventionist playground
[3] Algerian nationalists kept bombing France well into the 1970s
[4] and, unlike Iraq, France hadn't mortgaged its sovereignty in punitive international treaties
[5] the Toubon Law, for what it’s worth
[6] I wrote a number of years ago, for a local Mensa magazine, about a French couple from Lyon, enamored of Japanese culture, who were prohibited from naming their daughter Keiko, because it wasn’t a “proper” French name. It was a bureaucrat from some French ministry or other, alerted by vigilant hospital staffers, who descended upon the once-happy new family and informed them that their daughter was illegitimate – after a fashion. This type of self-righteous condescension simply does not happen in America. It would erase much of the color and amusement we get from each other’s mere existence. Goodbye Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa; so long Shaquille O’Neal; see ya scores of Moeshas and Shantals; hit the road Paris Hilton – if it were only that easy.
[7] While only some of France’s rioters may actually be pan-islamists, all of them are acting like pan-islamists.
[8] http://money.cnn.com/2003/10/23/news/companies/walmart_worker_arrests/
[9] or even at minimum wage, for that matter
[10] otherwise known as “responsibility”, perhaps
[11] except in the case of children, who will pick them off their plates
[12] and we must also continually raise minimum wage, besides
[13] or 8.7 million, or 13.5 million, or something-million. Even the “experts” don’t know: http://uscis.gov/graphics/shared/aboutus/statistics/2000ExecSumm.pdf
[14] No! Who’d-a thunk it possible??
[15] and “below minimum wage” is high wages to an unemployed Mexican
[16] he’s also writing this, but the writer spends much money in Mexico already, and plans to do much more soon, and for a long time
[17] isn’t it amazing how many non-Americans need to be defended, by Americans, from US law?
[18] …unless you’re French, I suppose

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Biting the Hand that Pets the Dog

Biting the Hand that Pets the Dog
© 2005 Ross Williams

I love animals; I tend to despise animal lovers.

Not the regular guy who has a dog, or the normal lady who has a cat, or the kids who have the gerbils. I'm talking about the people who seriously love animals. The folks who talk about animals as if they were 4-legged humans. Those who declare, and seriously, "animals have rights too". The PETA-types.

Animals get rights when they vote themselves their rights. I'd suggest they work on evolving an opposable thumb to manipulate the voting machine first, or at least to hold the magic marker they'll use to write the picket signs they'll need to carry.

I had my first go-round with the uber-sincere animal lovers when I was married to my animal-loathing wife. We lived in a small cottage in suburban St Louis with a fenced back yard. We went to the local Unitarian church – the Church of the Politically Correct, as I called them[1]. In the back, where normal churches have their Feed the Children pamphlets, this church had Greyhound Rescue and Rainforest Action Network pamphlets.

I picked up a greyhound pamphlet one Sunday morning. Discussed it with the wife. Since it was a rescue... and she was into political correctness… she would agree. If I did all the work.

I expected as much.

Some time later I called the lady at the Greyhound Rescue "agency", and had a very troubling conversation with her.

I introduced myself and said that I was thinking of buying a greyhound from them; she immediately corrected me, and sounded affronted at having to do so: they do not sell dogs; they adopt them out. I'm sorry, but this is a dog, not a child, and I'm giving you money for something and getting that something in return. That's buying. ...but I let it slide.

O-o-o-okay, so how do I go about getting one of these dogs, then?

First, I'd have to fill out an application, on which I would certify that I already had a wide range of things, one of which was a fenced yard. I would also have to certify that I would never do certain things with the dog I would adopt, which included racing and breeding the dog. Once I did all that, someone from their "agency" would come to interview everyone in the household for suitability. Then they would check the character references on the application, then visit the residence where the dog would "reside", and there was a credit check in there somewhere.

It was around this point in the conversation that I let slip an audible, "It's just a dog, lady." And I was regaled with the Greyhound Rescue version of the "dogs are 4-legged people who have rights" sermon. She got to the end of her lecture and asked if I had any concerns. This was years ago, but I mentally noted that she asked about my "concerns" rather than "questions".

I did have concerns, and I told her about them. First, when I pay money to get a thing, whatever it is, it is called "buying", and it becomes mine to do with as I please – within the constraints of applicable laws. Property rights are fairly important to me, and I will not willingly cede them to self-righteous strangers who claim to know better than me what is best for my property. Second, it is only a dog. Third, I've got no intention of racing or breeding dogs, because that sounds like far more trouble than it would be worth, but I would be damned if I was going to sign anything certifying it. Since the dog would be mine – and not hers – it would cease being her business what I did with it as soon as the money changed hands.

Finally, I have a severe problem with people who act all pious about what they do, as if their piety gives them the obligation to tell others what they can and cannot do, what they must and must not do, and how they must behave while doing, or not doing, all the foregoing. It is self-righteous in the anthropomorphic extreme to elevate buying and selling dogs to the level of pseudo-pious "adoption".

She was greatly offended by my concerns and told me so.

I told her that I didn't care[2]; I was pretty offended myself by her self-righteousness.

She told me that it didn't look like she could work with me to "place" one of their "rescues".

I told her that "placing" a "rescue" is exactly why I wouldn't buy a dog from them in the first place.

And I got another sermon on how and why their "agency" does its thing. In no particular order, their "thing" contains the following sub-things:
1] they are a not-for-profit organization, so
2] money is not their objective;
3] their interests are solely on the welfare of the dogs, which are
4] being saved from certain destruction after their racing days are over.

I informed the lady of the things she already knew but did not have the honesty to admit to me. They included:
1] "not-for-profit" is a tax-purpose definition, and has little to do with the operation of the business, which
2] still employs people, whose income is dependent on donation or sales income, so money is an objective;
3] if their "sole interests" were on the welfare of the dogs, then they wouldn't charge the "qualified" new owner, and
4] if the dog is being saved from "certain destruction", then everyone but the dog-eating east-Asian should automatically qualify.

On top of which, they are getting these dogs for free, or nearly for free; their only major continuing expense is housing and feeding the dogs, and if "money is not their objective", then they wouldn't be charging $125 or $150 for a greyhound. They'd recoup their costs only. Face it lady, I told her, you're peddling dogs for money, and acting self-righteously bossy while doing it. Or words very close to that.

After a few more short rounds of judgmental statements, we hung up. Needless to say, I didn't get a greyhound from her and she doesn’t get Christmas greetings from me.

Several years later – and several years ago – I was looking for a horse. One of the places that was suggested to me was the thoroughbred rescue[3] people. They had an email address. I wrote them. They had many of the same requirements as the Greyhound folks – existing pasture, must agree to not race or breed. I had much the same "concerns". If I'm buying a horse, then it's mine, not theirs. And I'm suddenly not interested, but just for curiosity ... how much are you selling your thoroughbreds for?

They quoted me a price for a thoroughbred, a mare, that was coincidentally the same price as a neighbor of mine was selling a brood mare, also a thoroughbred. It was several thousand dollars – I forget how many exactly. I tend to glaze over after a comma goes into the price.

So, let's see if I have this right ... I can spend, say, $6,000 and buy a brood mare thoroughbred from my neighbor that I can do with as I please; or I can spend the same $6,000 and buy a "rescue" mare thoroughbred that I canNOT do with as I please...

Is there any real choice here?

Why should I spend my money to fill someone else's ego with self-righteous piety? That doesn't make any sense to me. If you're "rescuing" animals out of the kindness of your heart, then go all the way with it. Give the animals away, free of charge, to people you select as "appropriate". When it's your money, your time and your effort, you have the right to be selective and pious.

You abandon most of your rights to selectivity, and all of your claims to piety the minute you exchange someone else's money for your efforts. At that point it becomes a business transaction, buying and selling, and whatever piety you may have had now becomes irrelevant.

The "rescue agency" may indeed have rescued the animal from neglect, abuse, abandonment or certain death, but the "rescue" transaction is over and done with when the rescue agency takes possession of the animal. When the rescue agency wants to transfer the animal to someone else, it becomes a new transaction entirely – a sales transaction if money is involved. I am not rescuing an animal from abuse [etc] by buying it from a rescue agency; I am buying it. I am also not "adopting" it when I trade money for a dog; I am buying it.

I agree very much with the aims of rescue agencies, but I require that they be honest about it: I am buying the animal that they rescued. I prefer that my dealing with them reflect those terms. Purchases of property in this country come with property rights. I don't voluntarily abdicate my rights to others, even if they have really swell intentions and noble sentiments. And when my purchase of property is made contingent upon my acquiescence to the demands of the seller – I refuse to buy.

This is one of the reasons I refuse to deal with the Humane Society. I have needed, at times, barn cats. Cats that I will feed often enough to get them to stick around but not enough to keep them fat and lazy. I want them hunting. I have mice and moles and rabbits that I want dead. That's what cats are for; that’s what nature provided them claws and really sharp teeth for. I went to the Humane Society for a barn cat.

"How much do you charge for barn cats?" I asked.

You'd have thought I asked if I could please skin a live cat right in front of them, and eat it raw. "We do not have 'barn cats'!" protested the Humane lady who had a sudden pallor; "we have indoor cats. Any cat you get from us must live inside." Nope, sorry; don't have moles in the basement, mice in the pantry or rabbits in the lettuce drawer.

I discussed this exchange with a lady I knew at the time; this lady had a barn and barn cats – several barn cats. She tried to rationalize the Humane Society. "They put their time and money into rehabilitating these abused and neglected animals; they have the right to say what you can do with them."

First, their rights to dictate end when money changes hands; and second, they don't spend as much money as they'd like you to believe they spend. This was corroborated by the uniquely honest rescue shelter from which I eventually got my barn cat. The shelter operator[s], an old couple who sincerely loved animals, but understood them to be just that: animals, said that their overhead consists of dog and cat food, much of which is donated, and the occasional all-nighter when one of the animals gets sick, and not much else. Otherwise, they get dogs and cats free – they are brought in by residents and veterinarians; they own the "shelter", a ramshackle cinderblock building with multiple chain link fences criss-crossing behind it; and the veterinarian donates his time and materials for the tax deduction he gets. I got my cat from this place. $15, as I recall. She lives outside and seems happy.

But there's still the misconception that shelter pet care costs a lot of money, particularly for veterinary care. The rescue agencies, particularly, trumpet these costs. "This dog is up-to-date on its shots ... the adoption fee is $75."

It would cost me less than $10 to give my dog "up-to-date" shots, and largely donated food doesn't cost them $65, even for a year, unless the dog is getting steak tartare and caviar. Of course, I live in a state in which rabies vaccine is a state-controlled commodity, which means that the administrator of the vaccination must be licensed by the state to do so, and a county tag is issued to be worn by the dog at all times indicating currency in rabies vaccine. But I know how to inject animals, and I've done it several times; I could give my dog all the vaccinations she needed for under $10. Even less than that, if I was doing multiple dogs.

There are websites[4] where you can purchase, by mailorder, pet medications, including all their vaccines. A 25-dose vial of multiple vaccine [distemper, parvo, lepto, etc] costs about $75 for the lot. And rabies vaccine[5], both the 1-year and the 3-year vaccine, costs between $0.67 and $0.80 a dose for a 50-dose set. For a veterinarian to visit an animal shelter and vaccinate, say, 25 dogs on a Saturday afternoon costs him about $90 in materials, and probably under an hour of his time. When my dog goes to the vet, walking in the door costs $20, a rabies shot costs $40, and the multi-vaccine $25.

Well, the guy is a doctor after all, and he studied animals and their diseases. I'm just a guy who likes animals and isn't squeamish about poking them with a needle. There's a difference. But it doesn't cost what most people think it costs – or what rescue agencies want you to believe it costs. And the vet gets to claim a couple thousand dollars of "charitable donation" to a "not-for-profit" organization for that $90 and hour of his time. More power to him.

The rescue agency isn't out a dime. And good for them, too.

Animals are great things, but they're just animals. They're just dogs, or they're just cats, or they're just whatever. We should be kind to animals but not get overly, not to mention irrationally, pious about them. If you want to rescue animals, then by all means rescue them. If you want the animals you rescue to have better homes, then look for those homes and give the animal to that home when you find it. If you want the animals you rescue and find homes for to provide you with a living, then you automatically forfeit whatever piety you may wish to claim: you are now trading animal for cash, and are not really any different than any pet store, any puppy mill, or any kitten farm.

Hiding behind faux-piety doesn't win any points with me, but honesty goes far.

[1] and still do
[2] I didn't, and still don't.
[3] uh oh!
[4] google on "veterinary supplies"
[5] Rabies vaccines not for sale in the states of AK, AL, AR, CA, CT, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, MD, ME, MN, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NV, NJ, NM, NY, OR, RI, SC, TX, UT, WA, WV, and WY