Clear Thinker

Feb 282011

A 1901 version of the classic nursery rhyme

You might remember the nursery rhyme

Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full.
One for the master,
One for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.

An innocent enough ditty, and one I’d always thought to be related to the fact that black sheep are rare and so have a more valuable wool than normal white sheep – or at least may have formerly had more valuable wool until modern aniline type dies made it possible to get intense blacks from originally/naturally white wool (and perhaps genetics allowed for more black sheep to be selectively bred if needed).

But, silly me.  Apparently I failed to realize that it is really all to do with racism and slavery.  Some of the sad souls who believe this have changed the words to Baa Baa, Rainbow Sheep in a desperate attempt to be oh so politically correct.

But – wait – don’t they know that references to rainbows these days has a gay connotation?  Oh my, what will the gays think?  And so, some even more politically correct fools are singing ‘Baa, Baa, Happy Sheep’ – but doesn’t that now give offense to those of us suffering from a depression disorder?

Details here.  Read it and weep.

Three further comments.  First, to say that it originates from slavery is a very broad comment to make – slavery having been prevalent for many hundreds of years.  Second, a  Wikipedia article on the nursery rhyme quotes a source as debunking the ridiculous claim of the rhyme having anything to do with slavery, and third, I circle back to my opening comment.  Black sheep are good, rare, special and valuable.  This song makes a positive feature of black sheep, with people wanting the wool.

It seems the mere mention of the word ‘black’, no matter what the context, is enough to get some people knee-jerking their nonsense in response.

Feb 232011

Home Page for the Delaware Office of Human Relations

Time for some straight talking and clear thinking, folks.  Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for a decade or more, you’ll know that any type of ‘Human Rights’ or ‘Race Relations’ or ‘Equality’ commission or board or other quango group is appallingly biased and myopically focused not on free, full, and fair rights for all, but instead obsessed with finding often imaginary slights and affronts that may possibly relate to certain minority pressure groups, and blowing these up into major deals.

Meanwhile, those of us who form what is rapidly becoming an even more disadvantaged minority group – middle aged, middle class, European-Americans (hey – how come every other group has a double-barreled description of their ethnicity except us – why can’t we be proud European-Americans?) get to suffer the reverse-discrimination forced on us by these non-elected bodies (usually peopled by non European-Americans, and definitely peopled only by those with political opinions far left of center).

It is our fault, we are told, that almost every other group in the country doesn’t work as hard as us, isn’t as gainfully employed as us, doesn’t study as conscientiously, isn’t as healthy, and gets in more trouble with the law (notable exception to this – Asian-Americans).

Unfortunately, we can’t always just laugh and ignore their ridiculous posturing and victim-seeking mentalities.  Sometimes they have enforcement type authority and the ability to fine people and companies who run a-foul of their nonsense.

And so it was in Delaware, where the state Human Relations Commission fined a movie theater $80,000 for violating the state Equal Accommodations Law.

You need to read this article to see what the imaginary offense was, how it got to be presented to the Human Rights Commission, and what happened when the theater appealed to the state Supreme Court.

The facts are stark, and to make sure you don’t miss them, what happened was the director of the state’s Office of Human Relations was in a movie audience and felt slighted by a request for everyone to turn off their cell phones.  So, without telling any other patrons who she was – indeed, she vaguely pretended to be either a generic lawyer or someone who worked for a lawyer – she rabble roused the other theater goers then arranged for her Office of Human Relations to get the other attendees to agree to file a complaint, together with her, to the Human Relations Commission.

Except that at the last minute she took her own name off the complaint, so as not to be ‘a distraction’ to the process, and tried to slip into invisibility in the background, making it seem as if this was a spontaneous group of people who acted independently with no encouragement or coordination by her and her office.

Judging by the Supreme Court’s verdict, the Human Rights Commission created a kangaroo court that – of course – found the theater guilty, without explaining how it could make such a finding in face of credible evidence to the contrary, and compounded its errors of fact finding with errors of application of the law.  The Commission’s $80,000 fine was over-ruled by the Supreme Court.

But – and here’s the most important part of the whole story.  Who is accountable for an action that should never have been presented, and a very wrongful decision that should never have been made?  And who will pay the costs for the theater company in defending itself twice – first to the commission and secondly to the Supreme Court?

Yes, it’s great that – eventually – justice was served, but at what cost?  There has been a huge consequence to the theater group, and for sure their legal costs will have matched or exceeded the $80,000 fine they were first stuck with, and they’ll have got plenty of bad publicity all the way through this three and a half year process.

The innocent – the theater – has been severely punished.  The guilty – the woman director, her ‘Office of Human Relations’, and the Human Rights Commission, all walk away totally free of any censure or negative consequence.

Something’s awfully wrong here, folks.

Feb 222011

George Washington, Soldier and Statesman

Feb 22, 1732 saw the birth of George Washington, commonly considered ‘the father of our country’.

He played a leading role in the War of Independence and was the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army (a position he resigned at the end of the conflict), he presided over the constitutional convention that was responsible for writing the Constitution in 1787, and was unanimously elected as the nation’s first president, serving from 1789 – 1797.

He died on December 14, 1799.  In the years since then, he has consistently been ranked as one of the nation’s greatest presidents (usually Lincoln is placed first).

If you’d like to read a treasure trove of sage advice, his Farewell Address at the end of his Presidency makes for at times heavy going, but very illuminating reading.

Here’s a Wikipedia article that summarizes/explains it plus gives links to the full text original source.

However, to compress his sage wisdom, and taken from various published utterances, here are some shorter quotes to remember him by :

On Freedom of Speech

  • If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter
  • When one side only of a story is heard and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it insensibly.

On Firearms

  • When firearms go, all goes. We need them every hour.
  • Firearms are second only to the Constitution in importance; they are the peoples’ liberty’s teeth.
  • The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.
  • There is nothing so likely to produce peace as to be well prepared to meet an enemy.

On Personal Success

  • Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.
  • Associate with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.
  • I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.

On Government

  • The administration of justice is the firmest pillar of government
  • Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action
  • However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.
  • It is important … that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres; avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.
Feb 202011

Photo NY Post/JC Rice

We all go through various phases in our lives.  The terrible twos.  The teens.  Perhaps a mid-life crisis.  Maybe even dementia.  But surely the worst of all stages is as we exit the teens and become fully empowered with all the rights of adulthood that society chooses to bestow upon us, but none of the maturity and sense with which to use our new rights.

The picture, taken from this NY Post article, illustrates a student demonstration against allowing ROTC back onto the Columbia campus.  The students are of course encouraged in their empty opposition by some of the ‘professional student’ types that never graduated to the real world, but who stayed on, first as teaching aides and then as junior professors and then as full tenured professors, people who are uniquely able then to ignore any and every aspect of the real world without care nor consequence, because their jobs, their amazingly easy working requirements, their once ever seven year paid full year of ‘sabbatical’, and their very generous salaries, benefits and pensions are all guaranteed, no matter what.

So we see a Sociology Professor Emeritus saying ‘Universities should not be involved in military activities.  Columbia should come out against spending $300 billion a year on unnecessary wars’.

I guess he has no problems with spending billions of dollars a year on sociology professors?  Or how about all the DARPA funded research grants that universities delight in taking – how does he feel about that?

But, back to the sign.  This is an astonishingly ridiculous thing to protest about for two reasons.  First, if there is an imbalance between rich and poor in the army, isn’t that a reason to encourage the army to recruit more rich kids from Columbia?

Second, do these people not know the services are all-volunteer forces these days?  No-one is, hmmm, ‘pointing a gun’ at the lower income groups and conscripting them into service.

Third, don’t these people want low income communities to be offered one of the best tickets out of a cycle of poverty that exists?  A services career gives a soldier training, education, a sense of pride and self-worth, a values system, and the motivation to improve his or her life upon leaving the services.  Rather than condemn our services for hiring people that few other employers would touch, shouldn’t they be commending them, and in turn joining as officers so as to help the lower socio-economic group enlisted men to improve themselves even more?

Don’t get me wrong.  These rich young fools are welcome to believe what they wish.  But why do they seek to impose their own naieve view of the world on their fellow students?  If some students wish to join ROTC, where is the harm in that?

Feb 152011

These houses at the foot of the Swiss Matterhorn probably have full auto guns in them

I bet you didn’t see a headline in your local newspaper, or a lead story on television news this week about the Swiss rejecting a plan to restrict the ability of their citizens to lawfully own and keep fully automatic weapons in their homes.

Amazingly, a French website tells us what our local gun hating media prefer to pretend did not happen, in an article headlined ‘Swiss overwhelmingly reject plan to tighten gun control in referendum‘.

The profusion of guns in Switzerland (it is estimated there are between two and three million guns in 3.4 million households) has been blamed for a ‘high’ suicide rate.  But let’s look at the numbers.  According to this table, the suicide rate in Switzerland is 15.1 deaths per 100,000 people per year.  But this is not a high suicide rate – it is actually less than neighboring France (17) and adjacent Belgium (17.6).  Sure, it is more than Germany (9.5) but really, what these numbers show is that suicide rates vary widely, even among similar seeming countries.

The wide variation in suicide numbers may be a transient thing (ie one year rates are higher than the next year for whatever reason) or it may be a cultural thing (Japan has a suicide rate of 24.4) or it may be an economic thing (poorer countries have higher suicide rates) or it may even be partly dependent on the data collection methodology and how readily deaths are categorized as suicides (ie a very low suicide rate is shown in Italy – 5.2, a strongly Roman Catholic country where suicide is considered a mortal sin).

All we can say about the suicide numbers is that Switzerland scores lower than some comparable countries and higher than others, but is in no measurable amount unusually different to other countries around it.

Another thing the profusion of guns can not be blamed for is a high murder rate.  Quite the opposite – perhaps it could be credited for a very low murder rate, because there are very few murders in Switzerland.

Here’s a table of intentional homicide rates by country.  You’ll have to scroll almost to the bottom to find Switzerland, with a rate of 0.7 homicides per 100,000 people per year.  In comparison, France has a rate of 1.4, Germany 0.86 and Italy 1.2.

Of course, the anti-gunners want to ‘have their cake and eat it too’ – they’ll blame guns for what in truth turns out to be a normal, average suicide rate, but they go completely silent when trying to link the much broader variations in murder rates to gun ownership.

Even rabidly anti-gun Britain has a significantly higher homicide rate – 1.28 – than does Switzerland.

Of course, the same factors that apply to how you assess suicide rates also must apply to murder rates.  Murder rates vary for social reasons, for economic reasons, and many other things, quite unrelated to the presence or absence of guns.

It is always a grave mistake to try and take only one factor or variable and link it solely and exclusively to another factor or variable, when in truth there are many reasons why the measured variable changes.

But there is one situation where murders and other violent crimes can be weakly but somewhat correlated to the presence or absence of guns in the population as a whole, and that is in the US (due to it being a somewhat more homogenous society with fewer other variables).  Study after study in the US shows that the freer the access to guns, the lower the rates of violent and gun-related crime.

And that’s another story you probably don’t see in the media, either.

The Swiss have also recently passed referendums to ban the building of minarets on mosques and to automatically deport foreigners found guilty of committing serious crimes or benefit fraud.  Two more stories that may not have made the media.

Feb 152011

The Mossad Emblem

You might have heard of the apparent assassination of a high ranking member of Hamas by what was subsequently claimed to be a team of Mossad agents from Israel, who intercepted the Hamas terrorist in Dubai.  This took place in January 2010.

Here now is a fascinating and very detailed account of what transpired, that makes for reading that is as interesting as any James Bond story ever was.

But – a word of caution.  As well researched and detailed as this article seems to be, 99% of the information in the story comes from a single source – the Dubai police.  And they are hardly a dispassionate impartial source of information, and as the article lightly touches on, there are some surprising gaps in the record provided by the Dubai authorities.

Don’t be too quick to rush to judgment as to the success or failure of this mission, and as to whether the group of people who allegedly conducted the ‘hit’ were truly professional or not.  A lot of armchair experts have been fast to criticize all sorts of aspects of what has subsequently become public.

The bottom line is that none of these people have been identified.  They all safely left Dubai and none of them have been arrested, and the only information we have comes from the Dubai authorities (although of course this last point is somewhat unavoidable).  While it is easy to criticize some aspects of the operation afterwards, the fact is that their mission security was never compromised in-country; they achieved their objective, and they safely exfiltrated subsequently.  And the possible trail of video ‘evidence’ has not caused any subsequent identification of any of the operatives.

Indeed, it would have been a complete success were it not for the suspicions of Hamas who sent someone to identify the dead body and who then created a high level investigation into what, until then, had been deemed an unsuspicious ordinary death.

One could even wonder if the very obvious links from the fake passports back to Israel do not in fact imply that rather than the Mossad being careless/complacent (a criticism very rarely leveled at the organization) if this wasn’t a ‘false flag’ operation designed to implication the Mossad in something that may have instead been sectional warfare between Hamas and other factions of the Palestinian groups.

It is also unexplained how the team of people were able to get to Dubai two days before their target – obviously there was a source inside Hamas that was feeding information to the operatives, another factor which tends to even handedly point to other Palestinian groups as much as it does to the Mossad.

You can also see the three videos the Dubai police compiled from surveillance cameras all around Dubai.  Here’s the first of the Youtube compilations, the other two can be seen in links from the first.

Bottom line – we can’t be sure exactly what (or who) we are seeing, and how much is truth and how much is fabrication.  But it is, nonetheless, a fascinating insight into part of what goes on beneath the surface of the real world.

Feb 112011

Groupon - too sensitive to ridiculous protest

Whether it be due to their outrageous cost, or the huge audience that watches them, making television advertisements to show on the Super Bowl represents one of the highest stakes biggest challenges for corporations and their advertising agencies.

A 30 second Super Bowl ad in 2011 cost about $3 million to show, and it probably had over a $1 million budget to produce.  Add other fees, agency charges, and whatever else, and these ads are running easily $5 million.

But in return, advertisers get an audience of (in 2011) 110 million viewers, and the massive prestige associated with being a Super Bowl advertiser.

The objective is to make an ad that ‘goes viral’ – an ad that people talk about and remember, and the way to do it is to make an ad that is unusual, distinctive, humorous, and even perhaps a bit controversial.

The hype (and reality) of Super Bowl advertising is such that there are even websites out there dedicated to collections of Super Bowl ads, trivia, discussions, and everything else imaginable.

This year saw a series of three Super Bowl advertisements for a startup web company, ‘Groupon’.  This company sells you discount coupons for local businesses, and they are currently one of the ‘hot’ new dot com companies, particularly after having turned down a buy-out offer from Google, who offered them an extraordinary $6 billion for their company in December 2010.

Why not have a look at one, two, or all three of their Super Bowl ads before reading on the rest of this commentary so you can form your own opinion before reading on.  Here they are :

Groupon Tibet Superbowl Ad

Groupon Rainforest Super Bowl ad

Groupon Whales Super Bowl Ad

So, what do you think?  A bit cheesy, perhaps?  But otherwise inoffensive and generally unremarkable?

Actually, what I first thought was that they were maladroit attempts at political correctness, first getting a big name star to pay some lipservice to a ‘social issue’ that liberals get all stressed about, then offering a way to save money on something which was slightly amusingly related.

But offensive?  Should they be pulled from subsequent repeat playings?  Not in a million years.

However, the more gentle and easily upset delicate souls in our country – the ones who might be gentle and easily upset, but who then are not at all gentle in their demands for the world to change and conform to their own special view of what is right and proper – disagree with me (yet again).

The world's tiniest violin?

It seems that Groupon suffered from lots of criticism that these ads were ‘making light of the plight’ of the three subjects featured.  Time to play a tune on my tiny violin, I think.

And so, as a result, Groupon is now pulling their ads and apologizing profusely to anyone and everyone who imagines they may have been offended by the advertisements (see article).  I’m not sure who are the bigger fools – those who managed to be offended, or Groupon for capitulating to their demands.

Now, for sure, this isn’t a First Amendment issue, at least not directly, per se.  But it gets perilously close, because what we have here is a pressure group of people who imagine they are offended by something and then successfully demand a company change its promotion to conform with their specific view of what is right and proper.

Freedom includes the freedom to be offensive, and freedom requires us to accept the risk of sometimes taking offense at something we encounter.  And that wonderful liberal construct – the multicultural society – surely requires us to accept and allow different groups to act in ways they choose, without seeking to censor or silence them.

But, as we all know, ‘multi-cultural’ is code for ‘we must embrace un-American views while not requiring people to consider pro-American concepts at all’; we must hide American flags but welcome Mexican ones, etc.

Most of all, what happened to our sense of humor, and our ability to laugh at things rather than become grievously offended by them?

Feb 102011

A Koran and crossed swords in their logo, but we are told to believe the Muslim Brotherhood is secular and peaceloving?

The executive branch of the US Government is falling over itself to push Egypt’s President, Hosni Mubarak, out, and are assuring us that this will be a Good Thing for Egypt, for the US, and for the world as a whole.

Apparently we should ignore the fact that for almost 30 years, Mubarak has been a sensible force for good and moderation in the Middle East.  He was the first leader in the region to make peace with Israel, he has resisted Muslim extremism, and he has no ambitions to become a nuclear power.

Yes, depending on how you choose to define such terms, he was probably also a despot and a dictator; but so too are many other of our allies (and our enemies) around the world.

Anyway, we are now being told that his downfall will be a Really Good Thing.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that in holding such a view, our political leaders are flying in the face of common sense and the general sentiment of other friendly governments in the Middle East (of which there are precious few).

What of the immediate future in Egypt?  It seems possible that Mubarak may be succeeded by a government headed by the ‘See No Evil’ ineffective former nuclear weapons inspector, Mohamed el Baradei – someone who did an excellent job of consistently refusing to acknowledge that either Iraq or subsequently Iran had any ambitions to become a nuclear power.  His success at playing a game of ‘See no Evil’ was so great that he was jointly awarded a Nobel Peace prize, along with the organization he headed, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2005.

This of course puts him in the illustrious company of other visionaries such as our current President (awarded the 2009 Peace Prize, with his win being decided on almost his first day of office; he has yet to show any substantive accomplishment that could possibly retroactively support his win); the joint prize awarded in 2007 to the now almost completely discredited IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) riddled with scandals after putting forward bald faced lies as climate-change supporting ‘facts’, and Al Gore; or the 2002 winner, the ineffectual Jimmy Carter (perhaps his largest contribution to ‘peace’ was having the Iranian revolution occur on his watch).

But, I am digressing.  Back to Egypt.

Notwithstanding the probable puppet presence of el Baradei, it is becoming uncomfortably and increasingly plain that the people pulling the strings will be the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that has publicly announced its implacable enmity to all things western (see more information on this organization here).

Or have they?  Today, our Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, told a congressional hearing that while the Muslim Brotherhood may be nasty and bad in other countries, in Egypt they are peace-loving, largely secular, and really nice people.  See the video clip here.

Expressions of astonishment have erupted all around the country and world.  For just one such statement, here’s an NBC reporter, in Egypt, asking on camera ‘who on earth said that; it is totally wrong’.

So, here’s your choice.  Who do you believe.  Our nation’s Director of National Intelligence, who assures us the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood are really nice peace loving people?  Or me?

I say they’re no more peace loving now than they ever have been in the past, and while they might move slowly to take over power in Egypt and to make it into another extremist Muslim state in the mold of, eg, Iran, that is their clear aim and objective.

Lastly, a question to ponder.  If our DNI turns out to be completely wrong on this, two thoughts.  First, why would he have made what seems to be, to the rest of us ‘ordinary folk’, such a ridiculous claim?  Second, who will be held accountable and what consequences will they experience?