March 29, 2007

Great Wall

It would seem that my innocent musings have wrenched open a whole can of worms, rather, a series of cans. Given my background in debate, the scatter-shot nature of the discussion up until this point rather upsets my sensibilities. Thus, I find myself at an impasse having to either generate a single lengthy argument or a series of smaller posts. That said, the aggregate discussion seems to me to be an intricately interrelated series of arguments which have given rise to a number of easily-pruned tangents and this, in combination with my dislike for dividing my resources, leads me to erect the Great Wall of Text.

Before addressing the specifics of arguments, I am beholden to evaluate the general basis and premise of American Government, particularly as pertains to the Constitution, in order to have a basis for the rest of my arguments. It should also be noted that entirely too many of the comments I've seen up until this point have been based on a widely varied set of assumptions on this topic, hence my own need to tie this up as relates to my arguments and also as a primer for those who would continue to debate on with me.

Given the historical bent of this discussion, a historical examination reveals that the United States Government as defined in the Constitution draws heavily from the influences of Montesquieu and British Common Law, especially as initiated in the Magna Carta of 1215. More to the point, Montesquieu (himself drawing from Polybius, among others) is borrowed from liberally in the notion that, in order to protect the country from corruption, three separate and adversarial branches of government would be established to watch over each other. Likewise, the legal system itself draws from British Common Law, creating again an adversarial system with the interesting core premise that the burden for proof lies with the government, rather than with the accused. Further, as many were still concerned about the potential for tyrannical abuse, the Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution in 1791 so as to enumerate the rights of the citizens of the United States of America.

The above is an admittedly brief and spotty overview of the basis of American Governance and is in no way intended to substitute as a paragraph where many books are insufficient, but in the name of conciseness as well as relevance, I outline these points to note that while the early American government was certainly prone to outbursts of unrivaled idealism, the Constitution upon which the country is based is hardly the place to find that. Put simply, it is a document reflective of a Hobbesian view of Man which endeavors to create a system that will out corruption as much as is possible... and while certainly not perfect, it is fairly good at sustaining government even in the face of corruption. In other words, while there have been idealists in government throughout the history of the United States, I would argue that the system of government is fundamentally designed on much sturdier stuff such as a fundamental understanding of human corruption and a need for as much oversight as possible.

Before diving into the implications and modern results of this, there has been something of an idealism vs. pragmatism discussion going on that I feel ought to be examined. In short, while idealism is all well and good, there needs to be a reason to characterize such idealism. While amongst Christians, the basis for idealism is ultimately satisfied, it should also be noted that having an idealistic attitude is not at all the same thing as attempting to resolve the disputes within a large-scale mechanism such as a government with an idealistic outset. In fact, from a Biblical as well as a historical perspective, such idealism flies in the face of most established studies of human nature as well as the Biblical understanding of the ultimately flawed humanity. Biblically, it is clear that individuals can be redeemed, but humanity itself is doomed. Philosophically we have the ultimate failure of the Humanist movement along with a variety of other philosophical camps which have given rise to the contemporary movements which, while some continue to argue for the innate good nature of humanity, is most accurately represented by a somewhat more cynical point of view. Having so concluded (but obviously being open to discussion), it seems that even if current large-scale governments are not doomed to failure, they are certainly impossible to plumb except through a somewhat more jaundiced eye.

As such, at this juncture, I feel as if it would be necessary to pause and address some of the necessary consequential examples of governmental service as based upon a less idealistic and more pragmatic understanding of government. Firstly, there is the institution of war which, from time immemorial has been one of the fundamental duties of a citizen in any government in exchange for the citizen's protection by said government. As an aside, I don't believe that there was ever any mention in my part of a stupidity of soldiers but rather a necessity for them to believe at least somewhat idealistically in what they fight for, insofar as the pay is not sufficient to justify mercenary status. I would continue to assert this but would note that given my lack of faith in the intelligence of individuals and especially in their reasoning skills, it is not unreasonable that a skilled recruiter could utilize these shortcomings in individuals to recruit them even where such patriotic beliefs had formerly not existed. Of course, it could be that to some, the risks and rewards are already in balance, but it would seem that those individuals would be in the minority of Americans, especially as regards enlisting into the Army.

Secondly and most easily comes the paying of taxes. While it could and should be argued that the government has taken on a great deal of tasks which it certainly has no business doing, the fact remains that protecting a country, policing a country and developing public infrastructure DOES cost money. With regards to that, while there are many disagreements as to the amount of taxes and the distribution of taxes, the fact remains that the question of whether or not a nation needs taxes in some form to perpetuate is a rather silly one. And of course, if you refuse to pay your taxes, your fellow citizens (as represented by said government) have every reason and every right to be displeased with you and perpetuate their displeasure on you until either you have paid your taxes or found yourself imprisoned or expelled.

Thirdly and perhaps most interesting is the concept of jury duty. As Toad and others have aptly noted, the institution of the trial has become increasingly complex throughout American history, while at the same time the average American's ability to afford to miss work for jury duty has decreased. As discussed earlier, there are a variety of types of potential jurors, but by far the most representative jurors are also those who can least afford to miss work... hence the conundrum. While some would note that this is a problem of idealism in the authors of the legal code, I would simply note that the realities of the current legal system seem all but unforeseen (and relatively beyond the realm of prognostication, given the two centuries and change between then and now.) Hence, rather than a problem of misplaced idealism, it becomes a problem of bureaucracy... simply put, jury pay reform is a rather unimpressive problem in comparison to more pressing concerns. And while Toad is appropriately concerned with one lawyer in any case desiring stupid jurors, it should be noted that opposing counsel in that case should (we hope) be desirous of astute and well-reasoned jurors. And while there is certainly something to be said for the nature of lawyers, it should be noted that in an intelligence bell-curve, those most likely to beg out of a jury pool are the center of said bell-curve, leaving the lawyers to attempt to eliminate the top and bottom end, depending on the nature of their respective cases.

Beyond all of this, I am interested in assertions that America is past fixing, gone to hell in a handbasket, et cetera and that it is nothing like the Good Old Days. Given that the Good Old Days were characterized with nearly a century of slavery, child labor, gross poverty, and the like, I should note that this argument sounds more like an Unjustified Appeal to Antiquity than anything else. While there are certainly a number of problems in America unique to this generation, my assertion is generally that old problems have been exchanged for new problems and that perhaps there has been a certain level of entropy added to the equation, but nothing more.

It should be noted that at this stage, I have not yet endeavored a solution but have simply attempted to sum up my own arguments as an amalgamation and occasionally as a contradiction to those already expressed. Also, while my arguments have grown overlong, I do not feel that I have adequately closed a variety of points, but I do hope that I can serve to focus this discussion slightly. To conclude:

1) On the matter of the military, it would seem obvious to me that discipline and unquestioning obedience are key qualities in all but the highest level of the military. As such, while intelligence and cognitive ability are not completely without merit, they are certainly not primary characteristics desired in the lower ranks and thus the general stupidity of the general populace will have been essentially purified into many of these while those with intelligence and cognitive ability will frequently be placed in other positions and even still, will be trained with the discipline and unquestioning obedience that the military requires.

2) Taxes are necessary, regardless of how much waste there is in government and how unfair the mechanism is, taxes are in the end a regrettably unavoidable institution. After all, the government has to have money to defend the citizenship and police them.

3) While some might argue for shining happy people holding hands, those some can go get bent.

4) Walls of text make good textual neighbors.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 12:17 PM | TrackBack

March 28, 2007

While I Think

While I'm working on a unified response to the mess that is my recent comments page (thank you Anna and Toad for the warring walls of text), I leave you with this wonderful and slightly cultured comic. Normally I don't hotlink, but this particular comic provides hotlink html code, so I guess he wants me to do it.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 04:46 PM | TrackBack

March 26, 2007

Hurts My Brain

I've found another crop of interesting articles and news... I know, I probably ought to save them for the next time I go on hiatus. Ah well, let's just hope I don't.

Breast Enlargement > Prozac

In a somewhat amusing, self-evident and slightly self-serving study, Plastic Surgical Nursing has just published a study in which women who received breast implants overwhelmingly reported an increase in self-esteem and sexual function (a mix of arousal, satisfaction and experience.) Of course, the study's author is quick to point out that boob jobs shouldn't be used as a universal cure for depression.

Hamilton == Classy

Several of you have heard me talk of the crappy city of Hamilton (formerly Hamilton!), which is located about 10 minutes from my mother's house in Ohio. Apparently, due to a proliferation of deadbeat dads in the county, a Hamilton pizza joint is teaming with the Butler County Child Enforcement Agency to put mug-shots of deadbeats on pizza boxes.

Sadly, the method has only netted one arrest in 6 months of use. Some, like fathers' rights advocate Maury Beaulier think it's horrible, "It's just a way of shaming people." But isn't that kind of the point? In any event, it does have just the mix of redneck tackiness and indicators of crappy residents that I've come to expect of Hamilton!... er... Hamilton.

Wrongful Purchase?!

According to the infamous Diebold Election Systems Inc., the State of Massachusetts wrongfully picked another company to supply thousands of voting machines for the disabled. Yes, Diebold claims that Massachusetts Secretary of State William F. Galvin and his office have wronged Diebold in picking the better machine... and Diebold is so adamant that it's suing the Massachusetts.

While the company admits that it actually has no evidence of wrongdoing, negligence or even improriety, it claims that the Secretary of State at least made a mistake and is seeking to enjoin the state from distributing the machines for the coming election so that it can have the court force the state to buy Diebold Machines. Wow.... just, wow.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 04:04 PM | TrackBack

March 23, 2007

Anyone Home?

*beep* *beep* *beep*

Cynic: (mutters) freaking interruptions... (wanders up front to meet customer)

Customer is a man in his late 50s with worn clothing and disheveled hair.

Customer: What do y'all do?

Cynic: Well, Sir, we build, upgrade and repair computers and provide IT support for businesses and home users.

Customer (confused): So y'all could look at my Compaq and fix it.

Cynic: Yes I could and I'd be happy to do so.

Customer: Could y'all look at my computer then?

Cynic: Uh... sure.

Customer exits and Cynic goes back to grab a couple of tools. After waiting for a minute or two for the customer to return, the Cynic notes that the customer appears to be fooling with something in his truck. He then notices the customer approaching the door with a large CRT monitor as a middle-aged woman comically stumbles along behind with a tower that is still attached to the monitor by several cables. This parade continues into the store until the man sets the monitor mid-floor to catch his breath.

Cynic: Sir, I really don't need your monitor. Cynic makes sweeping gesture at several monitors. I have some of my own.

Customer: Well, I need ya to test mine and make sure it works.

Cynic: "Ok..." Cynic attaches monitor to computer and indicates to Customer that it does, indeed, work.

Customer: You sure you don't want to keep it to test my computer... it ain't never really worked right.

Cynic: Sir, your monitor is large, bulky and unnecessary. For all intents and purposes, one monitor is exactly the same as another... please take your monitor.

Customer: But I'll need you to show me how to hook it up when I come back and I don't want to take it home and bring it all the way back.

Cynic: Sir, like I said, one monitor is essentially the same as another. Here, I'll show you now with your monitor and when you come back, I can show you again with one of mine. The connection is color-coded and everything and this is the only 25-pin connection on the back of your computer that matches this connector on your monitor. See? It's very simple.

Customer: What about them two knobs there?

Cynic: Knobs?

Customer indicates screws on either side of the cable

Cynic: Oh... those tighten in to hold the cable in place.

Customer: How do I use them?

Cynic (giving the customer a strange look): You tighten them in to hold the cable in and you loosen them to pull the cable out. They're just little screws to makes sure the cable doesn't come out accidentally.

At this point, having slipped out unobtrusively a minute earlier, Customer's Wife returns with a keyboard, mouse, and two speakers, along with a fax machine.

Customer: Oh yeah, could you make sure all of that stuff works too?

Cynic: Listen sir, I'll be happy to make sure that your fax machine works with your computer, but as for the rest of this stuff, I'll be happy to show you how it hooks up and assure you that it works when you come back to get it.

Customer: But I don't know how to hook it...

Cynic (interrupting): Yes, I know, and I"ll show you when you come to pick it up. after I know that the computer works properly. Now, let me help you guys out with this monitor.

Cynic promptly picks up The Giant CRT and lugs it out the door, leaving Customer to follow along.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 12:27 PM | TrackBack

March 22, 2007

Patriotism vs. Bread

Since my posting on jury duty last week, I've been struggling over the nature of patriotic duty. Put simply, does being an American mean that I ought to be willing to selflessly give my time and money for the greater good of Country? And on the other hand, is America going to stop functioning if there aren't people doing just that?

The whole notion smacks of high-minded idealism, and even casual acquaintances of mine should know how I feel about that. But on the other hand, is the government really paying soldiers enough that they would deploy as mercenaries if they didn't have the ideal of God and Country spurring them on?

Coming back around on the point while trying to avoid complicating things: while I certainly believe in supporting my country, I would be very nervous if my country required idealistic altruism to function. Namely, as a cynic, I find it very hard to believe that a country can function in the long-term if it requires the selfless goodwill of its inhabitants to do so.

On the other hand, some could argue that if a citizen is giving to his country out of a realization that his country cannot survive without it, he is pandering to his own self-interest rather than giving selflessly. Put differently, he is serving out of englightened self-interest, which is something that my cynicism can encapsulate, as can the patriotism of all but the most rabid individuals. Unfortunately, this is typically met with the problem that people are stupid. Enlightened self-interest necessitates enlightenment... and we know how people are about that.

Even moreso than a simple appeal to the ignorance of the masses, enlightened self-interest points to larger problems at work within the unwashed citizenship. As I alluded to in my first post on jury duty, there is a simple problem of finances for many of those who would be among the best jurors in terms of diversity. I think the problem can be expanded with a nod to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs... put simply, while the General Prosperity of one's nation is all well and good, the more immediate needs of food, water, shelter, etc. tend to come first. Thus, if an individual's needs aren't being met, he has no need to begin worrying about the welfare of his country. All of this to say is that an empty stomach tends to stand in the way of a more enlightened self interest... but then again, I would argue that there is little that is more enlightened than acquiring food when one is starving to death. This is, of course, less a conclusion to the matter and more an interesting impasse. Solutions and responses are encouraged, and perhaps those will bring a conclusion to the matter.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 09:15 PM | TrackBack

March 19, 2007

Spring Break Open Thread 2007: The Winners

Yes... I know, it's not the morning. The problem is, while Toad has clearly won the quantity prize, I'm not so sure if anyone won the quality prize. So... here's what I'm gonna do... another contest.

Go through the comments and find the comment that you feel should win the quality contest and leave a comment here advocating that comment. The most well-advocated comment will be rewarded, as will its advocate. Oh... and you can't advocate your own comments... sorry. Oh... and I'm not advocating for anyone unless I'm well-bribed.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:10 PM | TrackBack

March 13, 2007


Several things. First off, I would like to note that Texas (at least Gregg County) pays $6 for waiting in the jury pool from 9am to 12 pm. Yep, $6 for 3 hours. That said, you are given the options of donating the $6 to charity, collecting it, or donating it back to the county. Yes, donating the money to the county... because the taxes aren't enough... the county needs charity.

Secondly, it has been inferred by some that my post yesterday asserts that all jurors are chumps. This isn't true, as I clearly note that there is a category of individuals who get paid for jury duty time who are not chumps. That said, these individuals, being intelligent and well-educated, are also typically the first to get tossed off of juries. Go figure

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:32 PM | TrackBack

March 12, 2007

The Problem of Jury Duty

Being as that my wife was selected in the jury pool today for a trial tomorrow, I figured I would take a quick stab at my issues with jury duty in America, in general. Take as a caveat that I've never been on a jury, nor have I even made the selection pool.

First off, in Texas, jurors are paid $40 a day for jury duty. To an 18-year-old college student, that might sound like a sweet deal, but it should be noted that $40/day is less than minimum wage for an 8-hour day, which is an insult to just about anyone who isn't on Welfare who gets a jury summons. Oh... and they don't pay you blow your Monday morning in the selection process, regardless of if you're picked or not.

Secondly, in most states, businesses aren't compelled to pay you for missed time, they're just forbidden to fire you. Look, I understand the capitalistic basis of the American economy as well as anyone... but if the system argues that the time of a worker is worth money and an employer shouldn't have to pay employees for time that they don't work, it stands to follow that the legal system should see at least some value in a juror's time and pay said juror accordingly.

However, being as that the above enumerated problems have not yet been addressed, anyone who makes a decent wage at work is going to have real issues missing work just to go sit on a jury. Patriotism is a good and fine thing, but it really doesn't buy one's groceries. Thus, anyone with a brain and a job who isn't going to pay him for lost time does his level best to avoid jury duty. And who remains? Individuals who have never been on juries before (and thus are clueless as to how to avoid jury duty), people who want the $40, those without the cynicism to avoid jury duty, and those who can either afford to miss work or have a nice enough job that they're already being paid for jury duty.

Allow me to address these groups one at a time and point to the fact that the best candidates for the jury pool are the ones you've eliminated already. First, people who have never been in a jury pool don't realize that they have the means to get out of it and thusly they may (or may not) make good jurors... it's a crap-shoot. Second are the people who actually want the $40, and no offense, but that particular subset is largely limited to those who are either too young, too inexperienced, or too indigent to get a job. Thirdly (and I'm working out of order), we have those with the education and/or experience to have a job that will grant time off for jury duty... which is to say a white-collar, mid to high-end job. Which is good that it usually indicates life experience, thinking skills and a logical mind and bad in that one of the two lawyers involved will spend his or her time sniping all of these individuals out of the jury pool. Oh, and lastly, we have our guileless Polyannas who think that they should bend over backwards for the judicial system. I'm not going to criticize them at length except for to note that whenever you find yourself in a situation where you're doing the government a favor, it defies logic. It's like donating money to the government... what the hell are you thinking?

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 04:48 PM | TrackBack

March 09, 2007

Spring Break Open Thread 2007

Because I don't get a Spring Break, because Wilson's blog is on indefinate hiatus, and because I am bored and in dire need of silliness, I am stealing the Open Thread for this year's Spring Break.

This year's rules:

1) No flamingos.

2) No singing, dancing, smoking, drinking, or speaking in strange tongues.

3) Polysyllabic words and those which use more than 5 letters of the alphabet are strictly forbidden.

4) Posts containing more than two hyperlinks are also forbidden, unless:

4a) Said links are to amusing websites... and then all posts with links are forbidden.

5) No quibbling, snivelling, cavorting, bandying, perambulating, prognosticating, equivocating or verbing.

6) There is to be no campaigning for candidates in various elections - imagined or not.

7) As always, contestants who post after 1 am will be disqualified.

Suitable prizes will be distributed in the way I feel most appropriate to such contributors who fulfill one or more of the following categories (or at my discretion): (a) the most frequent commenter and (b) the commenter who breaks the rules the most effectively. As always, all LU alumni and students are welcome to participate, but this is not limited to you.

Winners will be announced after the thread closes... probably. Oh, and the thread closes at 11:59 p.m. (Central) on the 18th (Sunday).

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:54 AM | TrackBack

March 08, 2007

True To Form

As always, when I come back from a break, we get more twisted linkage and funny stuff. The longer the hiatus, the more fun stuff. Thus, buckle in... here comes a doozy.

Housing Market Slumping

For those of you who follow the news, especially as relates to the US Economy, you will recall hearing a wide variety of speculation as to the viability of the US Housing Market, especially as regards to overinflated housing prices due to speculation. Well, the home-builders are predicting an ongoing housing slump. And because they're home-builders and not bankers, they're telling it like it is in language that the common man can understand. The CEO of the second-largest building company in the nation says it best: "I don't want to be too sophisticated here, but 2007 is going to suck, all 12 months of the calendar year."

Best Legal Deposition EVER

This is 5 minutes of pure awesome. It's PG-13 or so owing to the lady's language. Incidentally, by minute 2 or 3 you might be tempted to stop watching, but keep going because it gets better. On an unrelated note: the clothing is awesome, as is the slapstick.

More Legal Fun

Herein are contained the legal woes of one Harry Franklin. Mr. Franklin continued to file suits pro se which numbered well over one hundred at the point at which this district court judge finally penned a complaint regarding Franklin's litigious and frivolous nature:

This is another chapter in the Harry Franklin saga. No longer am I tempted to call it the final chapter, as desirable as that would be to me. I mention mournfully that only the finality of death-his or mine-would enable the other of us to use the term “final” in that way. And, of course, if mine comes first, I have no doubt that another judge will someday express lamentations such as these. They will be packaged and labeled, by reason of tradition, as opinions.

Visit the link above to see a best-of run-down of Franklin's numerous lawsuits which include suits alleging the abridging of his right to be supplied with t-shirts, a $2 million suit against a television station for misidentifying a 14-wheeler as an 18-wheeler, and a lawsuit against the state for passing legislation that stands in the way of him being governor.

Ingenuity, Desperation, or Something

Shock of shocks, bathrooms were vandalized with graffiti at a Tampa high school last week. Problematically, in a school of 3000 students, all but one set of bathrooms were closed, causing problems with tardiness and long lines. In search of an answer and to avoid tardiness, students have taken up the low-tech alternatives of bushes and even water bottles as options to relieve themselves. Wow.

In The Name of Science

Because of the endangered nature of elephants, there is a larger than usual interest in ensuring their reproduction and procuring offspring. As with other endangered animals, this typically involves advanced scientific methods like sperm injections, artificial insemination etc. Unfortunately, the... unwieldy... size of an elephant poses unique difficulties... and risks. Ever gotten a black eye from an elephant's dick?

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:33 AM | TrackBack

Month Off

Since everyone else gets a spring break and I don't, I guess I decided to take the month of February off. Though, as Wilson notes, everyone seems to be posting with more frequency than I am. We are taking steps to change that, effective immediately.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:35 AM | TrackBack