September 24, 2008

For Whom To Vote

I've been mentally grinding on a post about the economy, but I think I'll wait on that for a bit. This just seems more pressing, if not more immediate.

What if there were a presidential candidate who was perfect in every way, save one? He* would be perfectly versed in constitutional law, a decorated general, availed of a vast and successful executive and legislative experience. He's smart, he's funny, his policies are well-considered and air-tight and they all dovetail perfectly with your own policies. One problem: in order to extend his life, he elects to eat one innocent child a year.

Obviously this is the extension of the traditional Machiavellian conundrum. But I think it begs an important question: "What flaws in an otherwise-perfect candidate render him (or her, I guess) unelectable?" And make no mistake about it, this IS a Machiavellian equation. Because in the end, so long as someone is going to be elected, there will be flaws in that person and places where he disagrees with your own political philosophy. Positions that you hold distasteful to be sure and, increasingly of late, positions that one finds unethical, immoral and simply untenable.

For example, let's take the traditional Christian Conservative issue d'jour: abortion. On a personal choice level, the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates of both major party have claimed (or have had claims made on their behalf) to be Pro-Life... so I guess that's easy. And on a matter of policy, while McCain's Pro-Life chops are certainly questionable in comparsion to other conservatives, Obama is (somewhat evasively) Pro-Choice, so I suppose this ethical issue is fairly open and closed.

But what happens when, as is the case with... say... gun control, both candidates publicly support the same stance and privately support different stances. Obviously, there is the question as to whether or not the candidate whose personal views contradict (or at least, do not synch) with his public views will actually uphold the stance that he espouses for public policy or whether he will turn to his personal practice. On the other hand, let's suppose for the sake of argument that two candidates both agree upon a point of public policy and yet one holds a contradictory view in his personal life... should that matter? In the end, the policy will be the same... and yet, his personal life is an affront to that policy. Accusations of pandering fly and vitriolic rants about "moral responsibility" and character begin to be flung around by single-issue groups at the fringe.

For me, this whole exercise is particularly puzzling insofar as it is one of moral shades-of-grey, even for those whose morality is always in black and white. And yet, it seems to me that political advocates belonging to any given group of moral absolutists (Christian Conservatives included) do their friends and members a disservice by failing to note the obvious moral shortcomings and compromises requisite in the game of politics. Perhaps, it is, as the Wizard notes in Wicked's Oz, "There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities" and moral absolutists are, almost to a man, representative of this.

To attempt to render all of politics into simple absolutes is both foolhardy and myopic and in the end serves to muddy the waters. Moreover, it contradicts the basic Biblical truths that emphasize the sinful and imperfect nature both of mankind and of the world in which we live. While it's certainly not easy, for Christians to fail at understanding and evaluating the moral tightrope which their politicians walk and failure to make educated decisions based upon that educated viewpoint means that this demographic will continue to be mistreated and poorly served by candidates such as George W. Bush who misuse their morality in a cynical and manipulative ploy to serve their own unethical and immoral agendas.

*Obviously a female presidential candidate falls short of perfection. Obviously.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 11:25 PM | TrackBack

September 21, 2008

The Moral Majority

For a long time, I could not conceive of voting for any other party but the Republican party. The logic goes something like this: From the theological perspective that I was raised with (and still believe in), abortion is murder because life begins at conception. If one holds to that theological vantage and one's logic begins with that premise, no other political issue* held the same weight as abortion, and thus voting for a non-ProLife candidate (relatively minor issues for rape and incest aside) was an impossibility.

Either as an artifice of maturing and becoming more educated or because of the current regime (but more likely owing to both), I have come upon a problematic series of counterarguments to my original stance. Namely: there are other issues of the sanctity of human life that have nothing to do with abortion that the current regime seems relatively willing to ignore at best.

A friend of mine sent me news a while back of a disturbing commentary by a presidential candidate on the recent SCOTUS decision regarding habeas corpus.

Allow me to quote an excerpt:

The United States Supreme Court yesterday rendered a decision which I think is one of the worst decisions in the history of this country. Sen. Graham and Sen. Lieberman and I had worked very hard to make sure that we didn't torture any prisoners, that we didn't mistreat them, that we abided by the Geneva Conventions, which applies to all prisoners. But we also made it perfectly clear, and I won't go through all the legislation we passed, and the prohibition against torture, but we made it very clear that these are enemy combatants, these are people who are not citizens, they do not and never have been given the rights that citizens of this country have. And my friends there are some bad people down there. There are some bad people. So now what are we going to do. We are now going to have the courts flooded with so-called, quote, Habeas Corpus suits against the government, whether it be about the diet, whether it be about the reading material. And we are going to be bollixed up in a way that is terribly unfortunate, because we need to go ahead and adjudicate these cases. By the way, 30 of the people who have already been released from Guantanamo Bay have already tried to attack America again, one of them just a couple weeks ago, a suicide bomber in Iraq. Our first obligation is the safety and security of this nation, and the men and women who defend it. This decision will harm our ability to do that.

If there is ever a time where someone argues that the basic fundamental rights which all Americans are granted, such as the right to a speedy and fair trial by an impartial jury... if it is ever argued that those rights should not be extended to non-Americans and that those rights are too good for any subset of people, even suspects at Gitmo, I will have a very hard time voting for that person. Simply put, now I have to balance the lives of the accused against the lives of the unborn... and I would have thought that McCain in particular and the GOP in general wouldn't have surrendered the moral high ground so easily. And for so little reason.

*At this point, I should make apologies to those like Wheeler who have theological issues with the death penalty. While I respect that particular viewpoint, I am not (categorically) in opposition to the death penalty nor the modern American implementation thereof and thus this particular bit of politics is avoided here for the purpose of convenience. Actually, let me extend that caveat to Just War Theory for different reasons... namely that my personal convictions on that are nowhere near as solidified and that it's a wide-ranging debate that I really don't want to have at this precise moment in time.

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September 18, 2008

Why So Serious?

Just in case you felt that things around here were getting too serious.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 06:00 PM | TrackBack

Government vs. Business

In my best estimation, it's the job of business to make as much money as possible. Generally, this involves making good products so as to encourage consumer confidence in the company and to be a good corporate citizen so that the corporate image isn't tarnished to the point that nobody will buy from them or allow them to do business in a given area... but that's not the primary concern of business. The primary concern of a business is to make money.

The primary concern of a government is the protection of its citizens. This takes on a lot of roles, but the primary calling of governance is the establishment of order and the protection of citizens from various threats that citizens are, in and of themselves, incapable of defending against.

When it comes to business, a government's first role is to be sure that its citizens are protected from the malicious actions of a business. After all, sometimes, a business is all to willing to poison the nation's dogs in the name of making profit because that's what makes the most money. I'm discounting, at the moment, the shortsightedness of a business that might (and often does) lead it to do malicious things. Simply put, at the best of times, what is good for business may not be good for the citizens of the country, and the government is then beholden to protect the citizens of the country.

"But Cynic", you cry, "it's not that simple. Business is run by citizens also and if you hurt business you hurt not only those citizens but also the citizens that business employs." And you are correct, it isn't that simple. But this is only somewhat a case of Machiavellian intrigue and balancing the good of the many with the pain of the few. It should also be noted that no matter how many people profit from it, there are some things that are still wrong. And really, willful criminal activity tops the list.

The real question is about things like the recent bank crisis. And in that case it's a mixed matter.

1) There was some willful criminal activity going on. I'm not saying that it went all the way to the top (I'm also not saying that it didn't), but there are a lot of well-documented cases of loan officers fraudulently signing people up for loans by filling out the paperwork with straight-up lies. And that's not to mention the people who were, themselves, lied to about what sort of loan they were being signed up for.

2) Companies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae were instructed, by the government, to relax their rules in order to increase home ownership. Starting back in the Clinton administration and continuing through to relatively recently, deregulation and bending the rules for these two lending giants was the order of the day so that home ownership could increase across America, especially for those who traditionally couldn't afford a house. Why couldn't you traditionally afford a house? You couldn't make the payments. How do we change that? Fundamentally, that's not something that you can change without a bunch of smoke and mirrors... and you see where that's gotten us.

3) Servicing mortgages is a very lucrative business... assuming those mortgages pay out and don't foreclose. This very basic premise is something similar to the adage "Investing early in internet companies is a very lucrative business... assuming those internet companies don't go bankrupt." For those of you who can't see where this is going, companies like Country-Wide, Indie Mac, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and others simply could not help themselves when it came to buying up mortgages, and when they couldn't buy mortgages fast enough, they started buying up subprime mortages, "liar loans" and other shady loans. As one insider was noted to say "If we didn't buy those loans, someone else would and we'd be losing money." ... Or not, as it turns out.

In the end, my problem on picking a candidate, or really, the Republican vs. Democrat thing in general comes down to an unwillingness on either side to see the needs of the constituencies of their rivals. Democrats are generally clueless when it comes to respecting the rights and needs of business, as evidenced by the brouhaha over NAFTA in the Democratic primaries. Republicans, on the other hand, seem all too inclined towards the vice of P.T. Barnum and just move to ensure that business is good. Comically enough (well, it will be with hindsight), both attitudes seem to have combined for this perfect storm.

I should also note that, in this matter, my Libertarians are actually no better and probably worse than either party. While Libertarians certainly would never have created Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae, you'd be a fool to think that they'd step in to protect consumers from... well... anything short of poisoned food, and maybe not even that. When a Libertarian says "caveat emptor", he means it.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 07:31 AM | TrackBack

September 11, 2008

Everyone's a Critic

Criticism of Sarah Palin from the Mouths of Karl Rove, Bill O'Reilly, Dick Morris, Nancy Pfotenhauer and Sarah Palin:

Even Jason Bourne is Afraid:

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 07:31 AM | TrackBack

September 08, 2008

What If You're Right?

Vice Presidential Candidate Joe Biden was on Meet the Press on Sunday and he had this to say about the abortion issue that has been plaguing his running-mate since their visit to Rick Warren's Saddleback Church several weeks ago: "[As a Roman Catholic] I'm prepared as a matter of faith to accept that life begins at the moment of conception. But that is my judgment. For me to impose that judgment on everyone else who is equally and maybe even more devout than I am seems to me as inappropriate in a pluralistic society."

Through work and observing the political process and just generally by osmosis, it's been interesting to observe the impact of a pluralistic society on my own thinking. And I suppose Biden's take on the matter is all well and good from a Kantian point of view where one's feelings on religion are to be divorced from one's invidual lifestyle and philosophies of the tangible world and one's dealings with it.

At the same time though, how can Biden, as a professing Christian, claim to agree with the statement that life begins at the moment of conception, or accept that as true, and then have that belief have absolutely no impact? I cannot reconcile that at all. To me, that is by far and away the most contemptible thing that any thinking person could profess.

Simply put, if you believe something, and you believe that you are correct, that belief should change you. If your ethical beliefs have no bearing whatsoever on your actions, either you don't believe them or your actions are not impacted by your rational thought... unless you profess that your beliefs are just whimsy with no more or less authority than those of any others. Which is all well and good, until one reaches a conclusion that has bearing on human life.

To me, this is made more fascinating by the thought of changing Biden's statement to impact a straw-man argument such as "I believe life believes at birth, but I cannot impose my beliefs on those who believe that life does not begin until adolescence and that murder, as such, cannot begin until that point. For me to impose that judgment..." You get the idea. I'm sure there are whole schools of philosophy that I am neglecting here and that there is a flip-side to this argument that someone would like to entertain. That said, I cannot find it and I have a hard time seeing how any Christian could hold such a viewpoint either.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:59 PM | TrackBack

September 06, 2008

Dear Major Political Parties

What if I don't like the arguments for Palin or Biden?

Seriously... do some digging around on Biden. He's really not anything at all like the image that Obama would prefer to be projecting. That's largely why they've kept him shut up.

And Palin? Please.

How does the governing party run on a change platform? Palin is different because she was up in the middle of the frozen tundra while Bush was ruining things? Ok... I'll grant that. And really, to look at Palin's reactions to Ted Stevens and the earmarks sent her way, I'll even entertain the argument that she's an alternative to the 2000-2006 Republican Trifecta. But let's get back to the bigger problem: she's only the Candidate for Vice President.

Honestly, if she were running for President, I'd probably be able to reconcile her candidacy with the message she's running with. She's an outsider, she's already stood up to the party big-shots and the biggest argument against her is the same argument against Obama: no experience. But she's running with McCain, who used to be the party outsider. Yeah... before he sold out sometime back in 2003 in a bid to help Bush get re-elected and, presumably, in order to get the party to approve him in 2008.

So right now, I've got two unfortunate options:
1) Obama/Biden
2) McCain/Palin

It's enough to make me want to vote Libertarian. Again.

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:29 AM | TrackBack

September 02, 2008

Chrome is Slick

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, Google Chrome is amazingly slick and fast. Really, it's everything that Firefox 3.0 wanted to be, but tons faster, tons more stable and much less of a memory hog.

It also has an awesome features page to tell you more, and an even cooler illustrated book about the features (that you really won't appreciate unless you're a big CS nerd.)

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 08:52 PM | TrackBack

September 01, 2008

Book Meme

I found an interesting meme of 100 books in the English language that someone thinks that you ought to have read. These lists are a dime a dozen, though I happen to like this one in particular, probably owing in no small part to my having read a sizeable number of the books on the list and Tolkien and C.S. Lewis making multiple appearances. Really... it's highly slanted towards British authors, but it's worth looking at. I thought about hiding it below the fold, but my front page isn't all that occupied these days by text. It should be noted that my responses in particular as far as ownership goes are subject to my memory, made harder by the fact that easily half of my books are still in boxes. Oh... and I'm still not 100% sure what Anna does or doesn't have.

1) Bold those you have read.
2) Italicize those you own.
3) Underline the books for which you have SEEN A MOVIE OR TV PRODUCTION.

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (obv. have only seen movies of some)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger (no movie, unless Conspiracy Theory counts)
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis (BBC FTW)
34 Emma - Jane Austen (SO MUCH HATE!)
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding - if you ever get a chance to see this, watch the Simpsons' episode instead
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (again, seen some, not all)
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad (Apocalypse Now counts, right?)
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (have seen both movies)
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

Posted by Vengeful Cynic at 10:14 PM | TrackBack