29 November, 2008

Mumbai could be anywhere

Mark Steyn writes:

What’s relevant about the Mumbai model is that it would work in just about any second-tier city in any democratic state: Seize multiple soft targets and overwhelm the municipal infrastructure to the point where any emergency plan will simply be swamped by the sheer scale of events.

Islamic terrorism is evolving, becoming at once less and more lethal. It is exceptionally difficult to prevent relatively small-scale terrorist attacks; co-ordinate enough of them in a short period of time and you wreak total chaos completely out of proportion to your actions.

Back in 2005, I imagined multiple terrorist attacks in Toronto. I've linked back to that blog entry a couple of times, each time I hear somebody say "it can't happen here." It can. It probably will, in fact, sooner or later. Because, as Steyn writes,

The Islamic imperialist project is a totalitarian ideology: It is at war with Hindus, Jews, Americans, Britons, everything that is other.

We are other. I'm proud to be other. I will fight and die, if necessary, to remain other. I'd like my fellow others to recognize that we're at war, though. With each new atrocity, I keep hoping we'll put two and two together and notice it makes four. 


This page puts a few things into perspective


The World Clock

I'm not sure where these figures are coming from, but many are interesting...and some are terrifying. Note--

--about three times as many births as deaths
--Earth's temperature trending up
--about a thousand barrels of oil produced every second
--war is not near the scourge I'd thought
--"abortions"...boy, an awful lot. One presumes this does not include miscarriages.
--three bicycles produced for every car. (Doubtless that ratio will increase, too.)



28 November, 2008

All the snooze that's fit to peruse

What I want to do is go to bed. I've had a brutal day, which you don't want to hear about because all the brutal days are pretty much the same in their brutality. Suffice it to say our store's too small, I don't have a crystal ball, and, well, fuck it all.
But of course the news intrudes upon the snooze. I'm not amused. Are youse?

(Can you tell I'm tired?)

Mumbai first. Jesus, it's progressed a ways beyond a "terrorist attack" and into the realm of "war" now. The casualty rate may not be anywhere near 9/11's, but the organizational level is an order of magnitude higher. Several boatloads of terrorists, armed with all manner of guns, grenades, and explosives. Targets so far: a popular tourist cafe, the train station, a couple of luxury hotels, and (of course) a Jewish cultural center. The head of India's anti-terrorist squad is among those killed, which has got to count as a major coup if you're a terrorist.

I find it chilling that, according to Global National tonight, the mujahedin went door to door in one hotel, seeking out westerners. They had a pretty good idea where they'd find them, too, having procured passport copies and room numbers from the front desk. 

The intent here seems threefold. First, as always, terror for terror's sake. Second, the terrorists are obviously hoping to provoke a response from India, enraging the Indian Muslim minority and drawing them into the simmering India-Pakistani conflict.  (By way of reminder: both India and Pakistan have nukes.)
Third, there is a pointed message directed at the West: we're still here, and we can both seek you out and wait you out.

Anybody still think we can talk to these people and they'll politely cease and desist as if they were Mormons at your door? (Final point...I occasionally lash out at the Christian fundycostals and say harsh things about them. Give them their due: they may want to convert you, but at least it's not at gunpoint.)

---------------
Canadian political news brews, toos.

(Sorry.)

The perception that Stephen Harper only notices the economic downturn as it might pertain to political popularity persists. The Opposition parties have taken notice, and served it, too: a coalition government is in formation, ready to take the Conservatives down. The Liberals and NDP are said to have already formed the rudiments of a cabinet, with Dion as prospective PM, Layton (possibly) as deputy PM, and the Liberals in charge of Finance.

Note for my American friends: it is possible in Canada to get a new government without an election. If the government falls on a matter of confidence, the opposition parties have an opportunity to request of the Governor-General that they form an alternative government. It's then up to her whether to call an election or not.

The Liberal motion reads:

"In light of the government's failure to recognize the seriousness of Canada's economic situation and its failure in particular to present any credible plan to stimulate the Canadian economy … this House has lost confidence in this government and is of the opinion that a viable alternative government can be formed."

That's only part of it. What they're really ticked off about is Harper's proposal to scrap the $1.95 per vote that goes to each party. Although it would affect the Conservatives, too, it's widely seen as an attempt to drive the Liberal Party into bankruptcy. 

It's true that Harper hasn't proposed any sort of stimulus package for the Canadian economy (which, it must be said, is still far healthier than the economy to our south...for now, at least.) His financial update proposes selling $2.3 billion worth of government assets, some sort of wage freeze for public servants, and a denial of the right to strike for public sector unions. Nothing for the battered manufacturing sector--but then again, doesn't that equal the very corporate welfare Canadians are usually against? Just sayin'. 

As of right now, Harper has responded to this by delaying the first opportunity the Opposition would have to raise this motion--to December 8. 

I haven't decided how I feel about this. On the one hand, a Liberal-NDP coalition represents more of the popular vote than the Conservatives got last month, so one could argue they're in fact more legitimate than the Conservative minority we have. But--and it's a big but--I know nothing about how Dion or Layton would govern us through this minefield of an economy. I trust the Green Shift is off the table, for now. I would hope that wiser heads prevail and that taxes are not raised. I'd much rather see this go to the polls, even though we just had an election. I do tend to side with Harper, minus the spin, when he says 

"While we have been working on the economy, the opposition has been working on a backroom deal to overturn the results of the last election without seeking the consent of voters. They want to take power, not earn it,"

Harper had better tread carefully. His first move (unless it's too late) should be to strike an all-party committee to try and deal with the economy in a fashion befitting adults. 


And with that, I'm off to bed. I'm rapidly losing coherence--may have lost it ten paragraphs ago, for all I know.

26 November, 2008

Why I read science fiction

My reading background is atrocious for an English major--even a half-assed English major who dropped out after third year. When I attended high school the curriculum hadn't been standardized yet...which meant that somehow I ended up taking Heart of Darkness and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" five times each. (Still like the latter, oddly; I hated the former the first time I read it and let's just say it wore on me afterwards.)
The first order result of this is that I'm not near as well read as I should be. Even such stalwarts of the high school scene as Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, The Catcher In The Rye, and Catch-22, anything by Hemingway--all have escaped my attention. As for the real heavies...I've dabbled in The Canterbury Tales, read exactly five of Shakespeare's plays, muddled through Paradise Lost, and tried to read the Iliad last year, giving up fairly quickly. As for monsters like War and Peace and A la recherche du temps perdu: you won't catch me in the same room.
I'm a close attentive reader if the story holds my interest, but I'm the laziest reader ever you'll find when it doesn't. And sad to say, most don't.

I really don't like fantasy. I prefer my characters human, for one thing--about the only book with almost entirely non-human characters to make my top 100 would be Watership Down. Whereas I love science (or, more properly, speculative) fiction--which many consider a subset of fantasy. The difference for me is important:

If anyone were to force me to make a thumbnail description of the differences between SF and fantasy, I think I would say that SF looks towards an imaginary future, while fantasy, by and large, looks towards an imaginary past. Both can be entertaining. Both can possibly be, perhaps sometimes actually are, even inspiring. But as we can't change the past, and can't avoid changing the future, only one of them can be real.
--Frederick Pohl

That's it in a nutshell. It seems paradoxical, but when I'm reading fiction, I'm looking for a sense of the real...and when I'm reading fantasy I can't "shake the fake".  There's always a little critter niggling away in my head going this never happened, this couldn't happen, c'mon, now, ogres and hobbits and elves, oh my! It seems--and I recognize how blasphemous this sounds--childish.

Oh, really, Ken? You can't abide a troll, but if you take that troll and give him a troll society about three hundred light years from here...and suddenly you're fascinated.

I have no defense. Except to say that if trolls do exist, they're probably...on some planet about three hundred light-years from here. And just what does their world look like? What are their hopes and dreams and failings, and how will they greet the human beings hurtling towards their planet? What does troll society have to teach us about human society?

SF is the literature of ideas. Some authors take a single what if? and run with it--James Halperin's The Truth Machine is a superlative example. What if somebody invented a 100%-accurate lie detector? How would that change the world? It's clunky literature, but the speculation is gripping.
Many of Robert Sawyer's novels take a single SF trope (like uploaded consciousness, rejuvenation, or first contact) and examine it in detail, from unexpected angles. 
Other authors toss off ideas like sparklers. Charles Stross loads his stories up with so many thought-provoking premises I occasionally have to stop reading just to catch my mental breath. His far-future novels read just as I imagine the far-future looks: crammed full of technology that's almost unimaginable to us and yet boring and routine to the denizens of his worlds. And for all that, the people are recognizably human...which brings up the relationship of man to his technology, a key SF theme. The dystopian works resonate with me because I believe our spiritual growth as a species lags far behind our tech; the utopian works resonate because I derive a deep sense of satisfaction envisioning the two spheres of human growth equal, each driving the other...and I do think we're headed that way, albeit grudgingly. 

Peter F. Hamilton--my latest discovery--manages somehow to maintain an intimate focus even as he's populating his universe with hundreds of characters on dozens of planets. I love this galaxy-spanning space opera: I feel like I'm reading six or seven books for the price of one.  

And there are many, many authors I haven't read yet and intend to. That's another trait of mine, true with both books and movies: I understand that things are called 'classics' for a reason, but with so many new things constantly coming out I can't be bothered to make time for the old. My loss, I'm sure. But I'll bear it.

23 November, 2008

Paradigm shift


Interesting essay here.

Excerpt:

...[C]onsideration of the common interest - rather than self-interest - must be our focus, as it is literally our lifeline. Developing a global consciousness isn’t some New Age fancy term for advocating hugging trees. It means that me, you, he, and she, and all of us together must be conscious of the well being of everyone of us, and every person and every thing, while doing our business or even while living our daily lives, whether it’s vacuuming the floor, shopping, or having coffee with friends.

I have long believed that we are all one, even before having the message crystallize for me so clearly in Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations with God series. I think this is the central (and yet often forgotten or minimized) message of many of the world's great faiths and philosophies.  You can couch it in whatever terms you want. New Age-speak has a host of them that grate on my ear: for example, this from the Namaste Cafe:

What we call "God" is the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent and all-encompassing luminous Presence of Divinity that envelopes ALL life everywhere. This includes every minute electron, atom and subatomic particle of life evolving in any time frame or dimension, known or unknown, throughout infinity. What that means, both literally and tangibly, is that everything that exists anywhere in the whole of Creation is a "cell" in the Body of God.

Wow, that's good weed, man.

Put another way:

Today's world requires that we accept the oneness of humanity. In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate and even existed in total isolation. Nowadays, however, events in one part of the world eventually affect the entire planet. Therefore we have to treat each major local problem as a global concern from the moment it begins. We can no longer invoke the national, racial or ideological barriers that separate us without destructive repercussions. In the context of our new interdependence, considering the interests of others is clearly the best form of self-interest."

--Tenzin Gyatsu, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, 1990

Or yet another:

"...Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matt. 24:40b)

I'm the farthest thing from a Bible literalist, and yet it pleases me immensely to take that particular passage literally. I think it expresses a Great Truth that desperately needs expressing as the economic vise tightens and the consequences of rampant greed begin to take their inexorable effect. 

You will find variants of the Golden Rule--"do unto others as you would have them do unto you"-- just about anywhere somebody's bothered to consider ethics for any length of time. I think it's safe to say that if you could only pick one maxim to live by, that'd be it. If we are indeed headed for another Depression, we must keep the Golden Rule ever more firmly in mind. To discard it in tough times is to abandon our shared humanity. 



21 November, 2008

I'm awake...

I'm currently suffering through a bout of insomnia the likes of which I haven't experienced for about a decade. It's not pleasant. Bouts of almost obscene exhaustion alternate with periods of lucidity and alertness. Unfortunately the clear periods tend to be between eleven and about four in the morning...I'm sure you can guess when the fatigue hits.

Anyway, I'm up for a while, I might as well get some thoughts out.

One--Ontario's passed a few new laws governing teenagers and their drivers' licenses. Drivers under twenty one years of age are now subject to zero tolerance for alcohol in their systems, and the first speeding offense will result in a thirty day suspension. Also, teenage drivers are only permitted one teenage passenger, not counting siblings.

I'm more than okay with the first two laws. The third, while well-intentioned, is not very well thought out.

Suppose you're a responsible teen driver. (They do exist: in fact, they're probably the majority.) You are no longer allowed to act as a designated driver for your drunk friends; nor can you drive your co-workers home after an evening shift wherever you work. If you live out in the country, where a car is a necessity, you're pretty much pooched as far as a social life is concerned. (You can just tell these laws were thought up and approved in downtown Toronto.) 
If I was a driving teen, I'd be up in arms over this.

Back when I was in school, it was common to hear from teachers (and parents) that "a few bad apples spoil the bunch." I remember getting in a long, involved argument with my parents on the subject of car insurance for teenagers. (At the time, I still had every intention of joining the rest of the world behind the wheel: it was only later that my driving phobia asserted itself.) It irked me to no end that teens paid more in insurance, simply because statistics showed they were more likely to get into an accident. They even broke it down further, as I recall: boys paid more than girls, and you could get a discount for being a A student, as if that had anything to do with your inclination to drive like an idiot. I guess it does, actually: some actuary says so. But what really bothered me was that this all-seeing actuary could look at me and determine,  on the basis of my age alone, that I was an asshole driver and should be dinged accordingly. 

That was the first argument among many where I'd made up my mind and no amount of reason could make me see any different. So much so that I still feel exactly the same way twenty years later.

My worldview is at odds with most peoples'. I think people are fundamentally decent. I trust people until they give me a reason not to. That's not because I'm some kind of saint: I've just noticed over the years that most people live up or down to your expectations of them.  That's totally contrary to the spirit of insurance, which distrusts one person not because of anything they've done, but because of what other people they don't even know are wont to do. That's simply not fair.

Cue the parent-voice in my head: Life's not fair, Kenny-me-boy.

Yeah, well, sometimes life can go ---- itself. 

I think everyone should pay the same insurance rate to start out with, and those who drive like assholes should pay the asshole premium. But only after they've been proven to drive like assholes. Likewise, once you've got your full license (which, by the bye, I'm not averse to making it much harder to obtain), you should be free to operate your vehicle any ol' legal way you please...with the understanding that anything illegal you try will be punished. Regardless of age.

And that's the first blog. The tiredness is starting to creep back in. I think I've got one more of these in me before I can (hopefully) sleep.


16 November, 2008

Silly questions

One I've had since grade school--

Why is it called "evaporated milk" when it's still a liquid?

They taught me that "evaporated" meant 'boiled away'. So when you open a can of evaporated milk, you should get a puff of milky gas. (That sounds lovely, doesn't it?)

One almost as old--

Why can girls have 'girlfriends'--which are, obviously enough, friends who are girls--but boys can't have 'boyfriends' without being flaming queers?

I wrote an essay on this in high school, and again in university, without coming any closer to an answer. 

Why is so many of the same people who call themselves 'pro-life' also for the death penalty?

That's just one of many vexing correlations I've noticed--the two issues seemingly have nothing to do with each other and are, at first blush, anyway, kind of contradictory. 

I've noticed, too, that  people who like cats tend to like books. Do cats like books? Let's turn to Bill Richardson, for today's helping of poetry:

Cats Are Fickle Things

They say that cats are fickle things,
Impervious to laws:
Except the rule that when one reads,
They'll knead you with their claws.
The reason that they need to knead's
Instinctual perhaps.
We only know for certain that
They hop into our laps
The moment that we lift a book,
Then splay upon our loins
And rake their nasty nails along
The stretch from knee to groin.
Each time you take a book in hand,
It's never known to fail,
They try to lie upon the page,
Manoevering their tails
So that they brush against one's lip:
They then assume a pose
That's possitively yogic,
With their butts against one's nose.
And if you put them on the floor,
They carry on abominably;
The only way they're happy is
To know you well abdominally.
Oh kitty cat upon my lap,
You know I love you well;
Though why you have to read with me,
I simply cannot tell.
But love, I want my book in peace,
And so I'll risk your wrath,
By dumping you upon the floor 
And reading in the bath.
--from The Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast

Moving on...

What is the purpose of cursive writing?

I ask that one in all seriousness. A quick look online gives one reasonable answer: it's quicker. (In Australia, it's sometimes called 'running writing'.) But then the question simply shifts: what is the purpose of printing?
I still have vivid, unpleasant memories of "learning" cursive script. (I never really did: despite my mother's best efforts, my writing is atrocious.) Part of the reason I hated the experience was that I never saw the point of it all. Mom made me write out page after page of cursive capital Ks--to this day, the K I sign Ken Breadner with looks more like a printed capital C squinching backwards against a small l like it wants to mate with it, or something. I wanted to crumple every last page and set fire to the lot, because I already knew how to "write" a capital K. 

Why does the body crave sugar--which is, in fact, a poison? What possible evolutionary advantage does that serve?

Why are thundersnowstorms so rare (but not unheard of)?

I posed that to the sci.weather newsgroup in 1991 and sent it off to The Weather Network some years later. Never got a response either time, which means it's either a stupid question or nobody knows.

How is it that the human race took its first baby steps towards interstellar civilization--landing on our only satellite--thirty years ago, and then, trembling on the verge of growing up, abruptly lost interest?

There's enough raw wealth in this solar system to make multibillionaires of every person living on earth today. Getting at it is difficult, but possible even with today's technology. Moreover, the tech used to get us to Luna has had untold positive spinoff applications here on Earth. But "we shouldn't waste our money on space when there are so many problems here on Earth."
Stupid, stupid, stupid.

15 November, 2008

Help!

"IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, please remain calm, stay seated and wait for your federal bailout."

I get it.
Really, I do. The word "bailout" triggers an automatic vomit reflex in all and sundry. I'm not immune myself, not after I've seen how so much of the bailout money went to executive bonuses, and so much more went into funds to buy up other companies, rather than, oh, I don't know, restore liquidity to the market. 
And if you dare suggest a bailout for the beleaguered auto industry, the vomit reflex will be aimed squarely in your face. What did they do with their billions in profit during the good years and silly unions, negotiating unsustainable contracts and why should we bail out companies that can't lead their way out of a paper bag are some of the milder comments I've seen.

(In the interests of disclosure, it must be noted my stepfather works for CAMI Automotive. I've tried not to let that colour my perspective on the foregoing. Probably failed.)

If I lived in any other province, I'd be right there with you, upchucking away. But I live here in Ontario. This province manufactures more light vehicles than anywhere else on the continent. Including spinoffs, the auto industry accounts for over 400,000 jobs and a third of Ontario's exports. Given this and a host of other stats showing the vital nature of the automotive sector to this province, the consequences of letting it fail are really too dire to contemplate.
Besides, many of our auto plants have been cited for superior quality control, by no less an authority than J.D. Power. The days of slipshod, lazy line workers are well in the past.
There is some truth to the unsustainable union contracts...in some plants, anyway. GM's pension plan was in trouble even before the market went kerploof. But everyone realizes the times are getting tight, not least of all the Canadian Auto Workers union; they willingly renegotiated contracts with the Big Three in the last year, giving millions of dollars in concessions, in the ironclad knowledge that if they didn't, they'd lose their jobs altogether. 

It's also true that the domestic automakers in particular have been slow to respond to changing public demands. But even that's more perception than reality. Ford's Focus, Flex and Fusion models have won numerous awards; their fuel economy is comparable to, and in some cases superior to, like-sized imports. Unless you're driving a Hummer, you're getting middlin' decent sippiness to go with your zippiness. Hell, even the Escalade comes in a hybrid now. Besides, before this year's oil spike, the Ford F-150 (made in Ontario) vied with the Honda Civic (made in Ontario) as the best-selling vehicle in Canada. Car companies build gas-guzzlers because people buy them. 

These companies generally work five to seven years ahead; right now the 2013 models are on somebody's drawing board. In that context, it's perhaps a little more understandable how flat-footed the run-up in oil prices caught everyone. (Now there's talk that oil might fall to $30 or even lower before recovering. Sounds great for happy motoring, but it would crush the Canadian economy.)

But...everyone knows the oil's running out...if not now, then soon, if not soon, then at least within the foreseeable future. Car manufacturers should be weaning themselves off oil now, and if they're not, they don't deserve bupkuss.

So car companies have been guilty of shortsightedness. That merely suggests they're run by human beings. Being human ourselves, we should not judge them. As I suggested in my last bailout-themed post, we're all in this minivan together. Or something like that. 

Speaking purely pragmatically, perched on the precipice of what looks to be, at the very least, a severe economic downturn...I can understand the opposition to a bailout. Suppose the government does step in and provide billions of dollars to the automotive sector, allowing them to continue as before. Right away you run into a problem: models moldering away on dealership lots because few can afford to buy. You might be making the world's best car, getting a light-year to the gallon, but unless people are buying it, your assembly line will be a breadline in short order.
It's an ugly problem with no simple solution. I sure as hell don't have one. All I know is the crippling of our province's automotive sector cripples us all. I'd like to open this blog to suggestions...how do we keep the plants running and people employed? Anyone? Anyone at all?





12 November, 2008

Not this again.

About a week ago, I told off a collection of bigots on the Dan Simmons forum where I'm a semi-regular contributor and one of the resident odd ducks.  

Dan Simmons is, for my money, one of the most impressive authors working today. He's won awards in nearly every genre he's tackled and written superlative examples of space opera (Hyperion), horror (Song of Kali), hard-boiled detective fiction (the Joe Kurtz novels) and historical literature (The Terror).  A former teacher of  the 'talented and gifted', he's both. Intellectually, he can run circles around me. 
He's one of the few authors I've run across (Charles Stross is another) who (a) has his own web forum; (b) posts regularly to it (c) engages his readers in conversation and debate on any topic that happens to catch his or their fancy. The forum members are almost uniformly of higher than average intelligence and their backgrounds are diverse enough to make life there very interesting. What really sets the place apart, though, is the openness and general civility. Competing views are aired and thrashed out with an absolute minimum of ad hominem attack, although things can get quite heated. Simmons himself will jump in and fling insults about, but--it took a while to realize this--they're always directed at a mental process, not the person him or herself. 

Oh, and the forum leans fairly heavily rightward, politically. The social conservatism is mostly kept in check, but let's just say there are a number of disappointed McCain supporters there who care (in my view) a little too much about their pocketbooks.

Anyway, the night after the American election, I posted a quick, two-sentence lament over the passing of California's Proposition 8, to wit:

The amendment to the California Constitution "protecting" marriage looks like it's going to pass, albeit narrowly. Sad to see that on a night when history is made electing one minority member President, so many people saw fit to stomp all over another minority.

That touched off a shitstorm. I should have known it would; the forum had gone through the issue before, writing about a book's worth before agreeing to disagree. Still, I felt I had to say something: Prop 8 directly affects my closest friend and the sentiment behind it affects countless others. 

All the arguments against gay marriage were duly trotted out--including a novel one I hadn't heard: homosexuals have every right to get married, the same as straights; they just wouldn't be sexually attracted to their spouses. Marriage, not too long ago, had nothing to do with sexual attraction anyway. So what's the problem?

The mind boggles, reading that. I have a very hard time thinking so coldly and dispassionately. I mean, suppose you, a straight man, were told you could only marry another man. What's your reaction likely to be? Bear in mind that sex with a woman under these circumstances--sex outside marriage--is a sin. So you have a choice if you want to remain virtuous: go without sex...or try to engage in a kind of sex that at the very least does nothing for you and at worst actively disgusts you.  You'd probably find such a prospect alarming.

So I'm arguing and getting nowhere. Arguing and getting nowhere. Arguing and getting nowhere. I mentioned that the United Nations sees marriage as a fundmental human right, to which the reply was "thank God the United States isn't subject to the 'exhaustive' list of things the U.N. considers 'rights'.  (I beg to differ...)

In the midst of all this, somebody told me "the case for these [gay marriage] rights has not been compelling" and I, politely, snapped:

When you say "the case for these rights has not been compelling", right there is one disconnect among many for me. You shouldn't have to make cases for human rights. When you start questioning human rights as they apply to human beings, on some level you're dehumanizing them.

Whereupon Mr. Simmons jumped in and stomped on me with both feet, leaving me seething for days. Here's the full text:

 Originally Posted By: KenBreadbox
mrstandfast: I'm sorry. I saw a number of pro-Prop 8 commercials essentially characterizing homosexuals as monsters and fools and retaliated in kind. I will try to define my terms and advance the argument as best I can...when I can. Time constraints prohibit the kind of in-depth argument I'd like to mount.

When you say "the case for these rights has not been compelling", right there is one disconnect among many for me. You shouldn't have to make cases for human rights. When you start questioning human rights as they apply to human beings, on some level you're dehumanizing them. Lest we think marriage is not a fundamental human right, let's go to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

Article 16.
(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Now, you will note the first clause does not specify that men must marry women, or that women must marry men. It simply says that men and women of full age have the right to marry. It also implies (in my mind, at least) that marriage in and of itself is sufficient to "found a family". I only note this because so many people seem so determined to deny family status to any couple without children--which includes most (but not all) same-sex couples.

There's my first salvo. Intercept and destroy.
-------------------------------------------

Dan Simmons comments:

Bold in quoted statement mine.)

This statement shows a profound lack of understanding of culture, government, the United States, of democracy, and of the entire idea of "rights." It's a staggering misperception and the fact that more and more young people tend to think this way -- that whatever they think should be a "basic right" needs to be imposed on entire societies by force -- makes it no less a misunderstanding.

The constitution of the United States created no rights. It tried to define the universal human rights that should be protected through guaranteeing that NO GOVERNMENT SHALL INTERFERE WITH THEM. Thus the right to free assembly, free speech, voting, etc. But the list was very short -- and meant to be. The idea that there is a cosmic, universal, Gaiea-given right for men to marry men (and have sex with them) and women to marry women, (etc.) is absurd.

Marriage is such a basic societal function that every culture in history, while having variations in it, has reserved its own right to legally and socially (and usually religiously) define what marriage is and to whom its status will be granted. These definitions and boundaries to marriage are decided within each culture by human beings based on their basic religious and civil mores and have nothing to do with "basic rights" that have to be imposed by force on citizens and cultures unwilling to recognize them.

Throughout history -- and in some Arab nations today -- it is a man's "right" to marry any number of women he so chooses. The United States does not now and never has recognized that right. Indeed, the U.S. government refused Utah's admission to the Union for decades until the Mormons there legally and officially abandoned polygamy. Thus this "basic right" was denied.

Throughout history -- and in some nations today -- a man's "right" in marriage was to be the de facto owner of the woman he marries. She is legally counted as property and protected in the courts as such. This "basic right" has never been accepted by the people and culture of the United States. It is denied.

Throughout history -- and in many parts of the world today -- it is a basic right of men to marry (and to have sex with) women and girls of any age. A man might marry a girl of six and, if he wishes, force conjugal relations at any time he wishes. The societies supported this (and continue to support it even in some modern industrial nations). The people of the United States -- because of their religious and philosophical background -- have never acknowledged this "right." It is a right denied.

Throughout history and in much of the world today, cultures recognize and legally enforce the "right" of men to divorce their spouses unilaterally and easily -- in some cultures by publicly saying "I divorce you" three times while dropping a stone each time you speak. The United States denies this basic right so commonly associated with marriage.

Until recent years in certain post-industrial (and, whether incidental or not, post-Christian and post-religious) nations, there has been no culture anywhere in the world, no culture in all the annals of history, that granted the term "marriage" with all its accruing legal rights and privileges, to homosexuals wishing to live together. If it is a basic human right, it is one which no one -- not even the homosexuals from ancient Greece (where many city states had elaborate social accommodations for the man-boy relationships, but which held the practice itself to be illegal and immoral) through thousands of years of European pagan and then Christian societies, Asian societies, Islamic societies, African societies, aboriginal societies in Australia, South Pacific tribal societies, Aleut societies in the arctic . . . nowhere in history or the world did men wishing to have sex with men or (much less common) women admitting to wanting to have sex with women -- believe it was any sort of "right" for them to have a public union recognized by the society as marriage.

The United States preserves the democratic mechanism by which to change its official state (but never the many religious) views on what constitutes even so central an institution as marriage -- which has always, in all cultures, at all times, been defined as a recognized union between men and women -- but the idea that this new demand for homosexual marriage is a "right" that trumps all democratic process, and one that must be inflicted on the majority of Americans not wanting it as a feature of their society, and that a small minority of special pleaders should be allowed to enforce such a basic change to society, culture, and laws simply because they shout "basic right!" -- goes beyond being arrogant. It's essentially fascist.

Someone on this forum recently argued -- actually, stated as if it were a truism -- that the best sort of government was a "benevolent despotism." Benevolent by whose definition? Despotisms, by their very nature and definition, are never benevolent because they deny and suppress the most basic right acknowledged and defended across more than two centuries by the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States -- the right of a free people to decide their own destiny by free speech, free ballot, and by the will of the people being heard and heeded by their government within the safeguards and protections of the constitution.

These "progressive" judicial fiats that attempt to change the legal and cultural definitions of the single most basic human association and legally protected institution in our or any other culture are not merely wrong-headed, they're dangerous to the very structures of freedom that protect homosexuals and other formerly unpopular groups from real discrimination and harm.

Several years ago, almost two-thirds of Americans were polled as being "very sympathetic" to homosexuals' demand for various "rights." The support of the idea of legally recognized civil unions was -- and remains -- very high.

But gay groups and their supporters overreached by demanding judicial recognition of the basic and profound redefinition of marriage as one of those "rights." Public support went from two-thirds in favor of supporting "gay rights" to almost two-thirds opposed.

It's not Americans' basic tolerance and sense of fairness that changed. It's their recognition that this superior, arrogant, anti-democratic demand that the historical and social definition of marriage itself be changed -- without due democratic process and simply through claims of moral superiority by a minority and their supporters demanding special treatment -- is wrong.

It's not right and it's not their right.

DS

I can't even begin to tell you how furious this made me. It's that kind of "let's-be-reasonable-and-when-you-grow-up-you'll-finally-see-it-my-way" style of arguing that chafes on me like a lack of lube.  (Sorry...)
Besides, it's irrelevant in many places and plain inaccurate in others. It engages in an extended logical fallacy (the appeal to tradition: "this is how it's always been") and concludes with the statement that "it's not Americans' basic tolerance and sense of fairness that has changed". 

Oh, really? First off, the last Prop 8-type bill passed in California, eight short years ago, 61% to 38%.  A full sixty one percent voted to outlaw same-sex marriage. This time, despite massive spending by religious groups (chief among them the Mormons, who don't even have a dog in this hunt), Prop 8 passed 52% to 48%. If current trends hold--and there's no reason to suggest they won't--California will revisit this issue in a couple of electoral terms and gays will have their marriages back. Which is no excuse for the eighteen thousand-plus couples that have had their marriages nullified, of course...but it does show that Americans' basic sense of tolerance and fairness is changing for the better. In some areas. 

Also, Mr. Simmons' assertion that almost two thirds of Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage does not jibe well with its acceptance in other parts of the world, most notably above America's border. In Canada, nearly two thirds of people polled in 2003 supported same-sex-marriage, with the data showing the young were more likely to be in favour. This is the reverse of conditions Mr. Simmons cites for the United States...and also the sentiment about a decade before in Canada. In short, acceptance of same-sex marriage is inevitable. We don't see it as a "special" right--just a matter of equality. 

When I calmed down enough to come back to the debating table, I was armed with all manner of statistics and such supporting my side and refuting Dan Simmons'. But in the end I decided not to use them...because they prove acceptance is growing for something the forum members, by and large, don't accept. My posting them would only rub everyone's nose in it...and I'm not...quite...that mean. I went, once again, with an appeal to empathy:

This will be my last word on the matter, and then I'll give up. I feel like I'm tilting at windmills.
Once again we're drawn back to "marriage is a union with an established composition, and same-sex marriage is a violation of this composition." Or in other words, "this is how it's always been done, so any other way of thinking about the matter is invalid." Also known as a logical fallacy: the appeal to tradition. And not even universal tradition. Same-sex marriages date back to the Roman Empire. Lo and behold, they exist today in several parts of the world...including within the borders of the United States of America itself.

So yes, I've ignored Dan's history lesson because, while eloquent, it couldn't be more irrelevant.

Marriage is, in almost all cases, between a man and a woman. So what? 

To answer that, you need to know the purpose of marriage. And since each couple has a different answer to that question, marriage being deeply personal--I submit you can't. Oh, many have tried. Quoting Charles Stross:

"[M]arriage is for the purpose of having children," they say, conveniently side-stepping the question of why they aren't in favour of mandatory divorce for childless or elderly couples, or why they oppose allowing gay couples to adopt. Or, "marriage is a holy sacrament," which kind of assumes that everybody shares their definition of "holy".

I've heard the idea that marriage is the basic building block of society so many times, I'm surprised I don't believe it yet. The *individual* is the basic building block of societies everywhere, and always has been. Surely that's a fundamental truth in a country that values individual freedom as highly as does the United States. An individual is not required to marry in order to be a fully functioning member of society; nor is he or she required to be a product of a married mother and father. Even the social stigma of bastardy has all but abated in civilized places.

As to marriage being a right--well, yes, in fact I do side with the United Nations on that matter. I should think all married persons would: imagine a world where you didn't have the legal right to marry your spouse and get back to me on that. 

My issue with Proposition 8 is, and always has been, the revoking of rights previously granted. Over eighteen thousand couples were married in California before this travesty of a proposition robbed them of their marriages. Put yourself in the place of a newlywed gay couple, if you can, and imagine learning that "the people" have decided your marriage is unacceptable and unlawful. Anyone with a shred of empathy would scream bloody murder.

Other states are free to pass their hateful "Defense of Marriage" acts--defense against what? Why, that awful gay agenda, of course!--and progress will have to come from the judiciary. The onus ought to be on "Focus On The Family" and groups of their ilk to explain how humans in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York are different from those in Arizona and Florida; why people in America should be denied rights granted in Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Spain. Good luck with that.

That's it--I'm done. My words probably won't convince anyone: this is one of those issues that people have made up their minds on and can't be swayed. But I find I must, however, write them, for the sake of friends and relatives who deserve what I myself enjoy: the security of marriage.

Only then did some measure of support come out of the woodwork. There has been some attempt to goad me back into the debate, but I haven't bitten and don't intend to. There are vast, probably unbridgeable chasms between both sides of this argument. The underlying assumptions and definitions are wholly incompatible. And so--I know how I feel, and you know how I feel, and that's all I have to say. 

10 November, 2008

Taking the Fifth...and the rest of them, too

If you had told me even ten years ago that I would soon be able to fit my entire music collection in my pocket, I would have first checked to make sure both legs were still attached...and then rejoiced. 
If you had further told me that practically every song I've ever loved would be in one online store, available for less than a dollar, I would have lost my wee little mind.
And then if you had told me that, while a great many people did frequent this online magical music store, a greater many shunned it like the plague, on account of them having the colossal nerve to charge anything at all, I'd have goggled at you like you'd lost your mind. Upon further reflection, I think I'd have realized that free is better than cheap, from the consumer's point of view, anyway...but when you're buying music (or books, or movies, for that matter), there's more than just your point of view involved.
I'm a sometime musician and composer myself. I don't play as much as I used to; this blog has largely replaced my keyboard as a stress relief valve. I've never had anything published--wouldn't even know where to begin--but if I put myself in the place of someone who had been published, I think I'd be a mite ticked at people just naturally assuming they could reap my skullsweat for free.

Okay, I'll admit it: I've Limewired stuff. "Free" is a powerful temptation, sometimes. But then, with Limewire, you never know what you might be getting free with your free stuff. We've got industrial grade virus protection on this computer, and so that hasn't been an issue, but  I have downloaded corrupted tracks, music with commercials spliced into it, and on a few occasions, nothing at all--which is a tad unnerving. Okay, I just downloaded something...what the hell is it?

So nowadays I try to stay within the clean, well-backlit confines of the iTunes Store. Every now and again my wife is kind enough to pick me up a $20 gift card, and when I have one of those on me, civil war breaks out between adolescent Ken, the Ken with absolutely no restraint or understanding of 'delayed gratification', and the Ken of Sober Second Thought, the Ken who agonizes over using up precious gift card space on so much as a single song, lest there be a better song out there he hasn't thought of. Or one that might be released next week.

It was with one of those gift cards that I went searching thro' the fair this past weekend, I checked for the umpteenth time to see if the Proclaimers' album Born Innocent had been released.  There's a single song off that album called "Role Model" that I heard by chance a couple of years ago and fell in love with.
Nope--not there, not in Canada, anyway. Although it's been available in the British iTunes store forever. 
(That's annoying, I gotta say. I have no problem paying artists for their work, but if you're going to give me the option to browse stores from all over the world, LET ME BUY WHAT I CAN SEE. That's just common retail courtesy, as far as I'm concerned.)
I mused again about buying up Amy Grant's Age to Age. This is Amy in her pre-"Baby Baby" days, when God was at the very center of her music...and despite having little use for her God, at least as He is commonly worshipped, I still love her early output.  But not enough to buy right now.
I listened to snippets of Pink's latest and liked it...but not enough to buy right now. The new Hockey Night in Canada theme still isn't on iTunes. Toby Keith's latest--pfft. 
Hmmm.
I have an old friend with whom I've recently reconnected on Facebook. He was a professional-level trumpeter in grade nine and it's little wonder he's a professional trumpet player today. 
In my high school days, I was a pretty fair euphonium/baritone player myself...not in Craig's class, but good enough to aspire to that level, if you know what I mean. Anyway, there are reams and reams of (mostly British) band music Craig introduced me to: cornet solos, euphonium solos, you name it. I was obsessed with this stuff for years. The virtuosity of some of these players--well, even after you've heard it, you still can't believe it. 

Like this:




I hadn't listened to much of this for a long time, but just as Facebook has reconnected me with Craig, iTunes has restored my obsession with British band music. Also my memory: and so I went off in search of David Childs...and found an entire album of jaw-dropping music.

$9.99 down...

I remember, years back, my parents somehow getting a complete set of Beethoven symphonies on CD. It cost $40 or $50, as I recall.  The orchestration was okay but the tempo was several notches too fast throughout. It was probably the first time I really became aware of the cult of speed in society--hearing Beethoven's Fifth zipping along doubletime will do that. 
I typed "Beethoven" into the search field, looking for, oh, I don't know, maybe the Moonlight Sonata, or Egmont Overture--I didn't even know. And what comes up first but all nine symphonies, complete, by the London Symphony Orchestra...for $9.99.

Holy crap.

It's been years since I listened to my parents' CD: I'm not even sure, to be entirely honest, I've ever listened to all nine symphonies. I know the Fifth intimately, having played it in high school (and by the bye, am I the only person in the world who can't stand the first movement of that symphony? It's been overplayed to death, to the point where even people who absolutely hate classical music know DA DA DA DUM...) I love the other three movements...and you never hear them. Always DA DA DA DUM...

Anyway, long story short, that was too good a deal to pass up. It took almost seven hours to download the collection. The actual downloading went by quickly, about a megabyte every three seconds...but then it would take ten or twenty minutes to "process" each file. Argh. 

Now my iPod is a little bit more cultured. Beethoven's cool, you know--even if you're not a big fan of classical music, you've heard more Beethoven than you think you have. Bugs Bunny is replete with Beethoven. When I listen to the faster movements of his symphonies, I can hear nascent rock 'n' roll. It's not much of a stretch to imagine Beethoven reincarnate, moshing in a pit at a metal concert. Or maybe I'm nuts. But hey, at least being nuts has a nifty soundtrack.


08 November, 2008

They could have just asked me...


Boy, I love it when science confirms something I've known all along.
Bullies don't pick on you because they have deep-seated feelings of inferiority, or because they're seeking attention.
They torment you because they LIKE IT.
We've all heard it, those of us who've been bullied and dared to ask why. "Because I felt like it, asshat!" Adults, whether they be playground monitors, principals or parents, never accepted that no matter how clearly it was explained to them.

Corollary (which I've also long believed): anyone who derives pleasure from another's pain has a mental defect. (I'll except people engaged in BDSM scenarios--it's a scene I've never understood, but pain administered with enthusiastic consent can't really count as pain, can it?)

Meanwhile, I very much would like to call up the University of Chicago and open up a giant box of I-told-you-so.

07 November, 2008

Work rant


It may not compare to Catelli's, but I've had a couple of days that simply must be blogged lest I blow up.
We've had Black Diamond cheese bars on sale this past week for $4.44. Last time they were on, I sold more cheese bars than any other store in the chain, despite being briefly out of stock one day. That particular sale had just ended when I was required to order for the next one, i.e. this one. So I ordered heavy.
I had no way of knowing that every chain in the Tri-Cities area would have cheese on sale at roughly the same time, some of them cheaper than us. And so--ha-ha--I sold just a little more than half my stock, leaving me with enough cheese to constipate the world. 
Not too bad a problem--it's still on sale at that same price, and will be until I'm down to some manageable level of stock. 
I said all that to say this: a huge skid of Black Diamond cheese bars arrived our store yesterday, unordered, unexpected...and, as it turned out, unbilled. I got paged to receiving and damn near shit myself (good thing I've been eating lots of cheese, eh?) 
"What the ----'s that doing here?"
"No idea. Did you order that?"
"I didn't order that. Did you order that?"
"I didn't order that either. Why would I order that? I've got three of those skids already, for ----'s sake!"
(The language in recieving gets a bit spicy. It's where we can say all the things we want to say out on the sales floor.)

Upstairs I go to the computer, which is located as far from receiving as it's possible to get and still be in the same store. I start paging through Adobe documents, looking to see if we were charged for this cheese. There are at least twenty documents. My milk counter's emptying rapidly and I have displays to build and that driver's waiting for instructions and so far as I can see we weren't charged for this cheese. So somebody's screwed up and it wasn't me, for once. Whew. Send the ----ing cheese back. Problem solved. Go stock the milk and build the display and do all the other things you should have been doing while you were paging through billing documents.
Once that's done, start working the order that came in on that truck, which is long gone.
Wonder where my 40 cases of Imperial margarine (2/$3) are. Realize with sickening sense of dread that Imperial margarine came in the form of Black Diamond cheese bars.
Call for help. Office closed.
Call shipping. Explain situation three and a half times. Can you find my margarine and ship it out with our produce load tomorrow morning?
Sure, they say. 
Oh, and can you call us one way or another to let us know if it's coming or not?
Sure, they say. Whew. Problem solved.

And they did call back last night, after I'd gone home, letting us know they couldn't find the margarine anywhere. So that news was waiting for me this morning.
Call retail service. Explain situation five and a half times. Request courier. 
Sure, they say. We'll rush it right out to you.

Produce truck shows up. Three guesses what's on it.

Frantically call around and try to get that courier cancelled. Can't be done. Courier shows up an hour later with another 40 cases of margarine. So now I've got  margarine up the ying-yang. Maybe I can use it to grease everyone up and offset the cheese effect.

If only that was my crisis for the day.

I'm starting to wonder if I should ever go on holidays, or at least if I should call in every day to check up when I do. Because despite verbal and written instructions given to three different people, a very important piece of email was somehow missed. The response to that email would have allocated stock for the ad coming up next week; in the absense of a response, I'm getting set quantities spread out over every warehouse delivery starting Sunday (much too early). I tried rather valiantly to get them to adjust the delivery dates, only to hit a brick wall at every turn. "You're much too late", I was told. "What you're asking for is far too labour-intensive."
I wanted to teleport myself through the phone and commence the bitch-slapping. No, it isn't. See, here's what you do. Make the changes I'm requesting--you can do it with fewer than thirty keystrokes, I'm sure of it--and  they'll simply ship us the same quantities in two deliveries instead of ten. It's actually less labour, because they won't have to do anything at all on eight different d--
Solid, implacable wall of can't. I HATE that. I even tried bribing the guy with margarine and cheese, to no avail. 

I'm going to bed. Tomorrow's Saturday. What can possibly go wrong?

Site for geeks


If you have even the slightest bit of sf geekery in you, you'll want to check this site out. Technovelgy.com is a treasure trove of science fact and science fiction. Enjoy

06 November, 2008

Hopefully the last of the Obama-thon


...at least until the man's inaugurated.

Long, fascinating article here.

So much of the press has focused on Barack's paint-by-words ability, and many critics have wondered what's going on underneath all the speechifying. I find I like Mr. Obama more and more when I read things like

So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f–––ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'.

I do wonder about U.S.-Canada relations with an Obama administration in place. It's a truism that Canada gets along better with Democrats--but it was a truism for many years in Canada that "heil Harper" was the proper and correct greeting when facing the stern and cold visage of our current Prime Minister. I find it very interesting that opposing political factions in each country tarred Harper and Obama as extremists, when both of them are closer to the center than anywhere else. 

What will be the reaction from Obama when Canada pulls out of Afghanistan in 2011? Do Canadians even recognize that Obama means to concentrate his forces there?  What will Conservatives in Canada say when Harper makes his overture--very soon, now--to Obama about a shared greenhouse gas emissions policy? Although most people discount Obama's earlier promise/threat to tear up NAFTA as electioneering, there's little doubt Democrats are more protectionist than Republicans, and Obama will be under significant pressure to at least tinker with trade agreements to make them (even) more U.S.-friendly. And Canadians will...???

Obama will have to walk numerous balance beams, blindfolded en pointe, to maintain anything approaching the adulation he has now. If he can somehow fulfill any of his grand promises, while unifying America and avoiding terrorist attack, he'll go down in history among the greatest presidents who ever lived. I hope--there's that word again--people are prepared to be disappointed.

05 November, 2008

Stunning in so many ways

Watching Global National this evening. In covering the massive party that was Washington, D.C., last night, one sentence jumped out at me:

"There was a police presence, but it wasn't necessary."

Wow.

I hasten to mention that this has absolutely nothing to do with race. I've just come to expect little mini-riots and some amount of looting whenever more than a hundred people gather no matter the reason or how joyous the occasion. Your team lost a championship? Riot and loot! Your team won a championship? Loot and riot! 

That some 200,000 people can gather and remain peaceful says more about the appeal of Barack Obama than Barack Obama has managed to himself. That such peaceful celebrations can take place all over the United States is nothing short of incredible. And it gives me the first faint flickerings of hope for humanity in some fifteen years--ever since I observed university students, the leaders of tomorrow, stomping on cars and kicking in windshields because--wait for it--exams were over. Ever since that moment, I've despised groups and sought desperately to avoid them. In light of last night, I'd love nothing better than to consider rejoining that tribe called Human. I won't hold my breath--the next team championship will probably result in rioting and looting in both contesting cities. But it sure is nice to be reminded of what people are capable of.

 

One journey's over; another begins

Dear Rest Of The World:
We didn't fuck it up.
Signed, America

Dear America:
Congrats!
Regards, Rest Of The World

--from a comment thread on reddit

It's time.

--headline on the cover of THE ECONOMIST

I stayed up past 1:00 a.m. last night. I can't remember the last time I did that, and I've certainly never boycotted sleep in favour of something political.
I'm glad I did this time. Looking at the coverage of the huge Obama rallies all over the United States and the world gives me chills, goosebumps....and something else I've never associated with anything political: hope.

Hope. Obama ran his entire campaign around hope and change. The "change" was an easy sell: even most Republicans are sick and tired of the current state of the union. "Hope" is a much more potent and potentially dangerous word, because it means whatever you want it to mean, and it's flat impossible to live up to everyone's expectations. 

Reality will set in, as reality so often insists on doing, very soon after January 20, 2009. (Why such a long interregnum, anyway? That's one of the things that scares me, is that Dubya has more than two months to cook up some parting shots and loose them on the world. And he may not have to lift a finger: the election rally on the Dow notwithstanding, the economic collapse proceeds apace.) How Obama plans to raise the financial capital to implement new policies very much remains to be seen.

That said, I share the widespread optimism. Electing a black man to the highest office in the land is a giant leap forward for America. Electing "that one" potentially represents an even bigger leap forward. If Obama runs the country the way he ran his campaign, he'll be unflappable in the face of whatever is thrown at him. He'll enlist millions of Americans and harness the power of  the Internet to effect societal change. Completely independent of his politics, Barack Obama represents a new generation and his worldview is a breath of fresh air. There will be no ignoring the environment on Obama's watch, particularly not on the grounds that the Lord is coming soon, so what's the point? 

And an obligatory mention that isn't obligatory at all: Senator John McCain gave what I sincerely believe is the most gracious concession speech I've ever heard. The man has my respect. I do think that many of the, ahem, more questionable, Palinistic decisions he's made over the course of the campaign were to some degree pressed on him by his party.

A few words about that party. There's a joke making the rounds lately, to wit:

"Why don't many Republicans believe in evolution?"
"Because they've gone from Abraham Lincoln to George W. Bush. You wouldn't, either."

The GOP is desperately in need of a revitalizing, moderating force. Sadly, they're unlikely to go looking for one, let alone find one. It's the moderate Republicans that by and large have been booted from both Houses, leaving behind a rump, with all the stink that entails. Palin's already musing about 2012. Social conservatism is still, inexplicably, a huge vote-getter in the Excited States of America. (Perhaps the only bitter undertaste I have today concerns the passing of propositions to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. They passed easily in Arizona and Florida, and as I write this Proposition 8 in California looks likely to pass, albeit narrowly.) 

Congratulations to Barack Obama. Congratulations to Americans, who've shown (just when many of us had given up hope) that they can live up to the noble ideals on which their country was founded.