Monday, July 29, 2013

NBC = No Bicurious Commentary?

While I believe all countries should boycott the Olympics on general principle - that principle being that it's quite possibly the most ridiculous waste of money engaged in on a bi-annual basis - I'll settle for a boycott in protest of Russia's habit of wielding the power of the state to beat the crap out of gays. According to Variety, the idea of a boycott is gaining steam, perhaps enough that NBC, the only entity legally permitted to use the word "Olympics" aside from the International Olympic Committee itself, will have to "come out," as it were, and choose "pride" over profit by joining the protest of Russia being- well, being Russia.

Where this will go is absolutely nowhere, of course. I mean, we just had the Olympics in China, for fuck's sake, and if the Chinese government isn't the most evil on earth, it certainly boasts the strongest combination of evilness plus power. Besides, history has shown that it takes nothing short of a global war to generate enough momentum for an Olympic boycott, and even then only if the host country is our primary enemy. Regardless, I'm glad this has come up, because I've been wanting to know something for a long time:

What is the deal with NBC and gays?

It's subtle, I guess, but time and again I've noticed NBC side-stepping gay issues, at least on its singing competition shows. The first time I recognized something odd was on the final episode of Season 3 of The Sing-Off, when the super talented and suuuper gay quintet, Pentatonix, talked about their charity efforts. The organization they chose to work with was The Trevor Project, a well known charity dedicated to preventing young gays from committing suicide.

I mean literally, that's what the organization does. That's not just one piece of it. It didn't start with gay kids and then expand to general suicide prevention. It's a 100%, totally gay organization. It's almost impossible to talk about the Trevor Project without talking about gays and gay issues.

I say "almost impossible," because NBC proved that it was in fact possible, just extremely awkward. Somehow they got through the whole day PTX spent volunteering without actually saying anything about anyone or anything gay. The Trevor Project was described in vague terms as "an organization that supports youth" or some shit like that.

Now, The Sing-Off doesn't make a big deal about the personal lives of its contestants, and that's great. I have no problem with eschewing personal topics. I don't need a dramatic non-musical aside about the struggles of gay choir boys from Texas. Not only is it not relevant who's gay, it's pretty damn obvious to anyone with eyes. So I'm all for avoiding the issue because it's tangential or out of respect for the privacy of the contestants.

But in this case, it makes no sense. If Mitch and, Scott wanted to stay in the closet, they would pick another charity. There's absolutely no reason to obscure the purpose of The Trevor Project. Quite the contrary, in fact: the purpose of the charity should be made absolutely clear since free advertising is the whole point of these charity episodes. The goal is to, duh, promote the charity! So I can't help but conclude that NBC was calling the shots here and that the shots are anti-gay.

I don't watch a lot of network television, so it was some time before I came across another example. But when I finally did, it was even more obvious, to me. The Voice, which does make a pretty darn big deal about the personal lives of contestants, never, ever, ever openly identifies a contestant as gay, even when their spouse is there with them. They even had a female contestant who actually figured out she was gay during the show and who was completely open and happy to talk about it. If I'm the producer of a reality show, you know what I'm thinking: ker-ching ker-ching.

Apparently NBC was thinking something more like: oh good, another opportunity to practice awkwardly avoiding gay stuff! The contestant talks about "personal discoveries" and "important changes and growth" that went along with her time on the show, but without ever identifying her discoveries/changes/growth as figuring out that she's gay. Again, she was not shy about this, and it was all over print media. But what NBC actually showed could as easily have been a girl figuring out that she really likes performing or doesn't like opera or loves Jesus or should maybe get a dog.

At the time, I did a significant amount of digging (read: Googling), thinking that there must be some hypersensitive LGBTXYZ activist freaking out about this, but all I found were crickets. Is this a general policy of NBC? Is it determined show-by-show? Is it just a freak coincidence of editing? I have no idea, but hopefully this gay Russian javelin-throwing competition thing forces the issue and brings NBC's policies "out of the closet" and into the light of day.

до свидания,

S. Misanthrope

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stupid of the Week #12: Dialectic Argument

Diana “I prefer cows to people” Hsieh's husband, Paul, gets to be published in Forbes, and look at what he fucking does: 

In case it's not immediately obvious why I'm freaking out:
-Of course you should be in control of your emotions if you have a gun, but you should be in control of your emotions if you're driving a car, too. Or writing an article in Forbes.
-In a gated community, you DO NOT have the right to walk around if you don't live there or aren't a guest of a resident. And between houses? Gimme a break.
-Paul goes on to claim that Martin had an unequivocal right to walk those streets, but Zimmerman did not, despite being a resident, by virtue of being armed with a gun.
-Let's just read that third item again. 
-Apparently it’s also wrong to call the cops on a suspicious person, because the Hsiehs are so fucking Libertarian they can't see straight. 
-So at the end of the day, if I have a gun, I can do LESS than if I don't. If I might take a shortcut down an alley unarmed, I CANNOT do so armed. If someone else is being attacked, I'm obligated to *run away* BECAUSE I'm armed. It's just so fucking important that I not ever take a life, even if it's the life of a monster raping a grandmother, and I have a clear shot.

Let me just take a moment to breathe and acknowledge that Dr. and Dr. Hsieh aren’t bad people, not everything they do is terrible, and that it’s quite possible they do a lot of good to which I’m blind, because cultural change is an impenetrable black box to me. Girl-doctor in particular I know to be honest, intellectually and otherwise, and that’s just a huge fucking deal in the O’ist community, because it’s damn rare. She also swears, though not particularly well. Yay Hsieh.

Remain calm, and look at pictures of ducks.

But. BUT: I’m still freaking pissed over this, and I’m not going to be shy about it. So back to it, now:

To clarify, this is NOT Paul’s legal advice. If he were telling us the “most important lesson” is that if you use your gun to defend your life, even in the last extremity of need, you will be fucking crucified, the law will not be on your side, and you may end up wishing you’d let the kid beat you to death, I would be fine with that lesson. It’s absolutely true.

What Paul is doing is validating the Z hate and, by extension, gun hate and self-defense hate. Why is he doing this? My guess is the same reason why I’ve seen dozens of supposedly objective, rational people yield point after point on this and other cases: dialectic argument.

It’s the cool new-but-not-remotely-new thing amongst what I call the Libertarian-Objectivisits, or LO’ists. See, where old-school O’ists (OO’ists) were all about pissing people off by taking extreme stances unapologetically and saying what they fucking mean without fear and without hedge, LO’ists are all about tolerance. *Automatic* tolerance of whatever kind of sex you want to have or whatever gender you care to assume or whatever values you want to hold, objective or not, rational or not[1]. Of course they draw certain lines around things like religion where it would be blatantly obvious that AR would not approve, but for the most part the attitude is “Hey man, whatever,” as opposed to Francisco D’Anconia’s “What for?” They’re incredibly weak on national defense and so fucking terrified of the government that they deny it the tools it needs to do its job in the most laughably knee-jerk way, despite “not being anarchists” and being totally fine with ceding to government the power of retaliatory force. Basically they’re fine with giving the government all of the guns and the authority to use them but not the authority to set up traffic cameras. Because that makes sense.

Anyway, part and parcel of the new “all-inclusive” O’ism/LO’ism is a constant, obnoxious use of dialectic arguments. It goes like this: the masses believe something stupid, we (O’ists) bend over backwards to find something we agree with the masses on and talk about that, the underwear gnomes come in, and then the masses respect us and listen to us, yay! That’s how you win a culture war, apparently. Not by challenging bad ideas and calling out bad logic (or straight-up tribal barbarism, as in the Z case), but by playing nice on common ground. We’re not that different after all!

Doesn’t this remind you of something? Another group whose strategy is to show how you actually agreed with them all along? Who does that again?

Oh, right, the group with whom O’ists of all colors have “nothing in common” and can’t even remotely cooperate with lest our moral stature be diminished and the mountains crumble and the Leviathan rise from the sea, etc., etc.

I’m not going to claim that dialectic arguments have no place (although they certainly have no place on this blog), but constant reliance on this form of argument does have a corrupting effect on the intellect. You end up defaulting toward this common ground, like a rock climber searching blindly for a foothold. Like that rock climber, when you think you’ve found your spot, you go for it, without actually seeing where you’re going.

Also this guy was just reeeeally obnoxious.

The problem is that critical thinking doesn’t start with identifying common ground between yours and another’s opinion. It starts by gathering and analyzing relevant data in order to form your opinion. The habit of searching for common ground often leads people to skip the first step - to understand the facts - in their rush to agree with their opponents.

As I said, I’ve seen this time and again with people who are generally adequate thinkers. In this case in particular, so many people have, like Paul, accepted the popular narrative about the case to some degree. Almost every defense of Z I’ve seen has begun with “While it sounds like he made a poor decision here…” or “Although he could have easily avoided the situation…” or “No doubt he’s an idiot, however…” or “He’s most likely an irresponsible gun owner, but…” or worst of all “Any time someone dies it’s a tragedy.” That last one just really gets me, especially coming from a supposed O’ist. Really, any time? Hitler’s death was a tragedy? Stalin’s? Khomeini’s? Fuck you.

What happened to O’ists saying things like “Just because a savage squats on a piece of land doesn’t make it his?” [2]. Seriously, some people absolutely should be dead. And you know what? I include the kind of piece of shit who would jump and beat a man just for following him in that category. At best Martin was a thug. He had pictures on his phone of: stolen goods, a handgun probably in his own hand (illegal since he’s under 21), and a marijuana grow room. And, you know, he bashed a man’s head in. But by all means, let’s talk about the fucking Skittles.

What is this Jersey Shore logic that somehow Zimmerman started it? “Dude was following me. What was I supposed to do?” Um, you were supposed to not beat the crap out of him. What the hell is the principle that allows one to simultaneously believe that Martin’s attack was reasonable, but Zimmerman’s response to it was not? Everyone’s been all, “Well, duh, of course M attacked Z. He was being followed! He’s 17! He’s black!” Wait, what? We’re supposed to assume that blacks will respond violently to being looked at? What’s the word for that, again? For making assumptions about a person based on their race?


There are two minutes for which there are no (living) witnesses aside from Zimmerman, and those two minutes are crucial. While it’s entirely correct to be suspicious of Z’s word, trying to make your argument more palatable by saying “It’s quite possible Z got away with murder” every chance you get is irresponsible speculation. We’re trying to teach people to care about the facts; teaching them to speculate reasonably is something to worry about waaaaay down the line.

Anyway, back to stupid things O’ists of all stripes believe about guns and self-defense.

According to Paul, if I hear someone breaking into the shed in my backyard, my options are:
1. Leave my gun in the safe and try to stop the Bad Guy while unarmed.
2. Take my gun, hide in a corner so as to be certain I won't have to use it, and call the cops.

By the way, I got clarification from other O'ists that this is EXACTLY what they are saying. My strategy (get my phone, get the gun, call cops, yell out door or window that I've called the cops and get out of here, escalate from there) is IMMORAL. I have to just let the fucker take whatever he wants from my shed OR eliminate my ability to actually defend my self/property.

No. No, no, no, no. What you carry on your person does NOT change your rights. You can’t initiate force without a gun, and with a gun, you still can’t. It should really take only a few seconds of thought to see through the absurdity here. Say that, instead of a gun, you have Black Ops Krav Maga training and can kill a man with the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique in under 10 seconds. By Paul’s logic, this person pretty much had to be a shut-in. What about a dude who’s just really strong and knows some basic hand-to-hand? That guy can’t swear at the driver who cut him off lest it lead to a fight that he would win. He can’t even enter a “rough” neighborhood since a conflict might ensue. Dude probably can’t even argue over a bill in case it “escalates,” and he ends up with blood on his hands! And forget about walking your female friends home in order to protect them. What kind of monster are you? That’s what the police state is for!

Just another day at the office. Nothing to see here. Move along.


Other reasons why I'm mad:
-He perpetuates the same misrepresentations of the Zimmerman case yet again (claiming the cops told Z not to follow M) only with a twist: he actually quotes the exchange right before he misinterprets it. Here’s a tip from someone who has spent a lot of time with police: when they “order you” to do something, it doesn’t sound like a polite response to bringing wine to a dinner party. An order is less “We don’t need you to do that,” and more “Stay in the car, sir, NOW.” [3]
-The whole thing is essentially an appeal to authority: CCW training will tell you X; Z didn't do X. Who cares? Elementary school taught me to “bring enough for the rest of the class,” but I don’t hand out cigarettes to every person in the restaurant after dinner. A good chunk of what any authority figure tells you is 1. bullshit, 2. immoral for an O’ist, and 3. designed to cover his ass from lawsuits above all else.
-He deems this the "single most important lesson." Well, maybe Forbes did that. Headlines, meh. Regardless, that’s nuts. Try learning that people are insane and our civilization doomed.
-Most importantly, it is FUCKED UP to use your ability to get published with respect to this case to help out the overwhelming anti-Z side when there are about 8 billion more objectionable things about this case, including, but not limited to: prosecutorial misconduct, the closest thing to a kangaroo trial we can have in the US, the libel case against ABC, unrelenting death threats against Z and his family (and even people unrelated to him who happen to have the same last name), and these violent mob "protests" after the verdict. He even references another article that made the exact same point, so it's not like this perspective was missing from the debate! Ugh, way to be part of the problem.

Fucking O'ists.

Yours in rage,

S. Misanthrope

[1] I tried to come up with an example that doesn’t carry the risk of making me sound like a homophobe, but alas, these really are the best instances of what I consider excessive tolerance. Not that it isn’t a welcome counterpoint to the really awful “Objectivists” here and there who promote all kinds of horrible anti-gay views (particularly recently), but I do not think acceptance/tolerance should be the default mode when you come across bizarre behavior. You should *question* rationally in these cases. I find it particularly weird since I’ve observed a number of instances where the same people who accept at face value a person’s claim to be a bisexual, polyamorous, gender-less sex worker are total prudes about things like pickup lines, cat calls, strippers, porn, and one night stands. No comprendo.

[2] Richard Salsman, both a physical and an intellectual giant.

[3] Or possibly “Stay in the car, sir, MEOW!"

Monday, July 22, 2013

Stupid of the Week #11: These Guys

I don't have the endurance to play "dumbest thing said about the Zimmerman case" to its farcical conclusion, but I do think this priceless contribution to the national debate deserves a shout-out:

To clarify: this is a group of doctors retaking their "class photo" in thug attire and inquiring, in a grammatically dubious manner, whether or not they do indeed now look like thugs.

Yes. Yes, you do.

It's quite simple, really. Your clothing, unlike your race, is a choice. You decide what you put on each day, what fabric face you present to the world. And that choice is designed intentionally to communicate something about you in a social context. A white coat says doctor. An over-sized hoodie obscuring your face paired with baggy jeans says gang-banger. It's really not a difficult concept.

You know what would actually be racist? If I saw a black person in a doctor's coat and assumed it was Halloween.

Lest we generalize unfairly, let's pay tribute to an outspoken black man who does understand the difficult concept of "clothing":

Rock on, Mr. Chappelle.

~S. Misanthrope

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

WWZ Addendum

In my prior post, I completely forgot to mention the one character who is worse at his job than Brad Pitt is at keeping clumsy Harvard boys alive: Nameless WHO Doctor #1. NWD1's job is to analyze a sample of zombie blood. If you've even heard of The Hot Zone, you probably recognize that this as a Level 4 job. Apparently NWD1 was sick that day during med school, because instead of donning an impenetrable space suit and entering a secure, air-tight facility, he just dumps this ultra-virulent substance into a run-of-the-mill Petri dish in an open lab with other nameless doctors milling about.

He does follow protocol, though, by donning super-secure blue latex gloves. Good work, Doc! Oh, but then, for no reason at all, he decides to smash the dish with his hand, cutting and infecting himself in the process. Apparently NWD1's coworker, NWD2, had no idea about the zombie apocalypse happening just outside, because instead of fleeing in terror, he waltz's over to give NWD1 (now NZN1billion) a comforting pat on the back. Next thing we know, they've lost the entire useful wing of the facility, all because the WHO didn't take the whole zombie thing a little more seriously.

And we *still* can't find Pepe!

Grrr, Argh!

S. Misanthrope

Movie Review: World War Zzzzzzz

Or "Whatever happened to Pepe?"

World War Z is a film in which Brad Pitt is as bad at whatever his job is supposed to as his wife-like thing, Angelina Jolie, is good at running. A series of glaring errors and incompetencies propels our full-maned hero all over a globe reeling from the first phase of the zombie apocalypse, whilst his family and all other characters do absolutely nothing. Luckily he has one skill, the power of observation, that allows him to save the world, or at least to slightly delay the end of the world long enough for several sequels to be put into production. In other words, it's your standard zombie flick.

The problem is that it isn't supposed to be your standard zombie flick. It's supposed to be the serious zombie film. Gritty, realistic, pick your adjective. We're supposed to come away thinking "Wow, that's what would really happen if zombies attacked!" Personally I came away laughing hysterically at the zombies that literally squawk like parrots and twitch like they're trying to qualify for the Special Olympics.

Aside from being the wrong kind of dumb, the zombies are apparently our answer to renewable energy: they run impossibly fast, jump incredibly far, and live for weeks on end with no apparent food, water, or other sustenance. Is the virus-that-maybe-isn't-a-virus according to a toothless version of the bad cop from House actually a power-generating nanobot? Did Patient Zero swallow a nuclear reactor? Or does our "realistic" zombie film simply take place in a universe whose only rules are 1. looks cool for the CGI team and 2. isn't too taxing on the writing team? I think you know where I'd put my money.

Taking their superpowers at face value, it's clear these zombies pose a legitimate challenge to our hero and the world. I certainly wouldn't expect Larry (Seriously, I think his name was Larry. Larry the Action Guy. Film at 11.) to have an easy time of it. In fact, with zombies like these, I wouldn't think it would be necessary at all for Larry to take inexplicably stupid actions in order to contrive conflict. I wouldn't think it, but I would certainly be wrong.

Here's a quick list off the top of my head of incredibly bone-headed moves responsible for driving the plot of this film:

-Larry's boring daughter has boring ass-mar and loses her boring inhaler, necessitating a trip to a pharmacy that is being looted by panicked citizens.
-The entire boring family goes into the store. No one stays with the RV, an obviously valuable and arguably necessary tool for survival in this situation.
-The family splits up once inside the store full of crazy looters. For some reason, two looters decide they'd rather vaguely molest Boring Wife despite this being a thoroughly public place and there being more pressing issues than...whatever the fuck they were doing to her, I don't know. This shit's PG-13, how am I supposed to tell the difference between rape and a stop-and-frisk?
-This WHOLE TIME Boring Daughter's ass-mar is FINE. She is breathing normally. Why are you in this store? WHY?
-Back outside, the RV is gone. OBVIOUSLY. Now they must stay in a zombie-infested building and escape by helicopter off the zombie-infested roof, but not before making friends with some not-white people (who die the instant the White Protectors leave) and picking up a stray: Pepe, the adorable Mexican boy slash future boyfriend of Boring Daughter.

-Now safely aboard a U.N. aircraft carrier (Is this a thing? The U.N. has its own navy?), Larry learns that he must go on a mission to track down Patient Zero, else his family will be kicked off the ship, because space is so very limited. No one seems to have a problem with Pepe taking up space, however, proving once again that Mexicans are invisible to those in power.

-After literally just landing at the first stop in their Quest, the virologist genius from Harvard (because that's where virology geniuses come from), whom Larry is tasked with protecting, freaks out, trips, and shoots himself dead. Larry's sole job was to keep this guy alive. Larry sucks at his job.
-A group of soldiers who don't owe Larry anything decide to do him a big solid by refueling his plane. Larry returns the favor by forgetting to silence his phone. What happens when you forget to silence your phone during a movie, Larry? You get fucking torn apart by noise-loving zombies, is what. A whole bunch of people die and whatever was stored in the back of the plane is lost as dumb Larry and the moderately competent pilot escape and head to...

-...Jerusalem, Israel. That's right: Jerusalem in is Israel now, did you know? Not only is it fully owned and operated by the Israeli government, they also built a massive wall around it just in time for the zombie apocalypse, and no one at all had a problem with this. Apparently there is a single-state solution!
-So Jerusalem is the genius city that's totally safe from zombies. They're even letting refugees in through these long chain-link tunnels that keep the zombies out. But wait, how is the entrance to the tunnel secured? Never mind about that.
-Ok, now Larry the Genius uses his powers of observation to recognize that that yodel-singing Jews and Arabs do is really obnoxious. Oh, and it drives zombies into a murderous rage to the point that they can suddenly scale this massive wall via human pyramids (apparently the zombies are fans of competitive cheerleading.) Of course Larry forgets about his power of speech and fails to warn anyone in time. Also the helicopters shown prominently circling the city and keeping an eye on the zombies fail to do anything about the giant zombie mound at the wall. And even though the top of the pyramid could only reasonably allow maybe four zombies to climb over the wall at a time, the entire city is immediately flooded with zombies. Of course. And naturally this singing was the loudest noise during this whole zombie siege, which is why the zombies didn't freak out until now. Louder than the bombs, and the helicopters, and the planes, and the guns. NATURALLY.

-So much for Israel. Time to hijack a plane, because the only smart character, the moderately competent pilot, decided to fuck off as soon as the zombies scaled the wall. Of course there turns out to be a zombie on the plane, even though literally every other zombie has been far too much of a spaz to hide anywhere, let alone hide for almost the full duration of a flight from Israel to Somewhere, Europe. Anyway, at the last minute, everyone becomes zombified and the only option is to crash the plane. Obviously.
-Fast-forward a bit to Larry the Illustrious entering a code on a keypad, a task which requires two hands, apparently, leaving no hands left to carry the only weapon he has. Maybe he'll pick it up before he goes through the door..., he won't, he'll just leave it outside like a FUCKING IDIOT. Now he has to dramatically inject himself with a random disease and attempt to walk past the zombies unarmed. Luckily this works and now Larry can make all the noise he pleases. [Spoiler Alert: He does.]

-But wait! The big bad U.N. thought Larry was dead, which apparently vetoes his family's right to stay with the fleet. Off they go to Nova Scotia, where...well, actually, where nothing happens. Larry reunites with them and everything's fine. Time for a long monologue about how there will DEFINITELY BE A SEQUEL, GUYS.
-Now the real question of the film: what happened to Pepe? Is he still on the carrier? Is he in Nova Scotia? Did they eat him? Seriously, guys, what the fuck happened to Pepe?

Of course I could blast holes like these in just about any zombie flick, and yet I like a great many such films. WWZ perhaps could be forgiven for its pretense at being a serious film if it were at least a fun action film. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, WWZ is the one thing no decent film can be: rated PG-13. This means we have a zombie film with almost no violence and zero gore. Even if you don't like violence or blood in movies, this is a terrible thing. WWZ was toned down to the point that it was literally impossible to know what was going on.

Example 1: the virologist "shooting himself in the head" looked for all the world like he tripped and broke his neck. I didn't know the guy shot himself until Larry said it.

Example 2: Larry amputates some Israeli chick's hand (with a knife, while she's just holding her arm out casually, because that's how you make a realistic film), but the cut is made completely off-screen. I didn't know what he actually did to her until ten minutes later when he changes the bandage.

Example 3: Larry basically stomps a zombie to death while the camera remains pointed at Larry from the waist up. This isn't some artistic moment exploring the tragedy of brutally killing what used to be a human being or anything. It's literally just Brad Pitt's slightly gleeful face while we hear rather tame crunching noises in time with his steps.

Conclusion: violence should be seen, not heard.

The end result: this movie is boring as fuck. I have never been so bored in a movie theatre in my life. I actually turned around in my seat to see what people in the audience were wearing, because that was more interesting. I braided my hair. I counted things. I tried to devise a way to use the Kindle app on my phone without disturbing my neighbors. I tried basically everything short of walking out (which a number of smarter audience members did.) I literally took a nap, which at least makes the title apt.

In short: do not see this film.


S. Misanthrope

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


I don't know if it's just me getting older or what, but I've suddenly found myself on the receiving end of a slew of unwanted offers for extra-marital carrying-ons. For the last five years it's been "Hey baby, are you single? No? Aw, too bad for me. Bye bye!" Which I'm very, very cool with. I can't remember if I wrote about this before or not, but I'm actually a huge fan of cat-calls and flirtation generally. But part of the point of being in a committed relationship is having an easy way out of these types of situations.

Well, it's been a magical 5 years, but it's now apparently over. Now "I'm married" is heard more as a jumping off point to start negotiations than a shut-down. If there's some other magical combination of words that can just close that door completely, I haven't found it yet. "Married and happy?" "Married and monogamous?" "Married and just really, really busy?" How about "No means no?"

So let's just lay this out there clearly for all the world to see: unless you recently played Sherlock Holmes in a) a British television series or b) an American movie, I AM NOT INTERESTED.

Seriously, though, Robert Downey Jr. should call me.

Monogamously yours,

S. Misanthrope

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Clowns Left, Jokers Right

Time for some disorganized thoughts on the whole thing with the NSA tracking every cellular phone call (whom you called, when you called, and where you were when you called), email, and credit card transaction made by a U.S. citizen in the last 10+ years.

First, who the fuck is surprised that a domestic spy agency is engaged in domestic spying? Are you all fucking blind? Was half your DNA swapped out for ostrich genes while you were distracted by 9/11? Have you been "flashy-thinged" by the Men in Black so many times that you are actually, genuinely unaware of the NSA's function?

Even if all of the above and more are true, you have no excuse. Everyone from Dan Brown to Kelly has elaborated on the role of the NSA in our lives. Being surprised by this "news" is like being surprised to learn that cocaine is an extremely safe substance demonized by the government for primarily racist and puritanical reasons. Wait, you didn't know *that* either? Jesus Junkie Christ on a pogo-stick, I just can't talk to you people.

For the sake of my sanity, then, let's pretend you're not surprised. Don't worry: there are plenty of more ways in which you are wrong about this issue. In fact, let's narrow the field further to consider only Objectivists. I've found that this debate has beautifully highlighted what I've known for some time: there are no Objectivists. Oh, most of you are close enough, I'm sure, and I'm not about to exclude myself from the category I like to call "Objectivish," but when it comes down to brass tacks like the "meta-data" question, it becomes very clear that the "ish" part is actually quite specific.

People who adhere to, live by, or attempt to promote the ideas of Ayn Rand fall into two neat little categories (at least within the United States) when it comes to politics, and which category you belong to very much depends upon what ideology you aligned yourself with prior to Objectivism. Republicans become Conservative-Objectivists while Libertarians become Libertarian-Objectivists. We don't need a third category for Democrats, because let's not kid ourselves: liberals don't become Objectivist. It just doesn't happen.

Conservative-Objectivists are, like Conservatives are (in theory, anyway), "strong on defense." They want to nuke Iran (or Saudi Arabia or Russia or whatever). They want to go after Islamists with everything they've got. They want total war. And along with that total war, they want to empower the government with whatever it needs to succeed in that war. In the case of the NSA, this means being a-okay with continuous, indiscriminate surveillance of everyone in the world. Besides the fact that they "have nothing to hide" and consequently do not fear Big Brother's watchful eye, they are willing to pay any price to avoid future terrorist attacks, even at the cost of putting an entire city on lock-down to catch one kid.

Libertarian-Objectivists are characterized by a knee-jerk fear of the government. Any proposal that allots further power to the government is immediately treated with extreme suspicion and ultimately is almost universally rejected. Of course they know enough to reject Libertarianism and to claim they are not anarchists, yet they seek to systematically deny the government the tools it needs to do its job. Their beliefs are particularly bizarre since they more-or-less willingly surrender to the government the use of retaliatory force (read: police) and national defense (read: military). They'll give up the state the biggest power of all, firepower, but begrudge it the power to employ metal detectors at airports. For them, it's not a balancing act between saving lives and respecting privacy. Even during wartime, they would declare it immoral to stop Japanese citizens living in the States from communicating with home during WWII, let alone accept internment. Cops can't even morally lie to suspects, according to some of them.

As usual, I think both are camps wrong. While I agree with the C-O'ists that extraordinary powers are proper for a government responding to an immediate threat, I nonetheless believe in critiquing such powers through a lens of extreme skepticism. At the same time, I disagree with the L-O'ists who place such tight limitations on emergency powers that they would be impossible to implement in an actual emergency. It's insane to worry more about the freedom of others to bow to a myth named Allah than your physical survival. Like values, freedoms are useless if you're dead.

If we didn't have these two sub-species of O'ists, we'd be debating the particulars: are we in fact under immediate threat? is spying helping? is it helping enough to be worth the privacy concerns and specter of future (or current) tyranny? is it helping more than alternative actions that might cost us less? But we don't, and consequently neither side has bothered to ask the real question: is there a right to privacy?

I realize the entire internet shuddered just now, but I'm completely serious: who out there is 100% confident that he can provide and justify a fully consistent definition of the right to privacy? I certainly couldn't claim that. Before you can even define such a right, you need to determine to whom the private information belongs. Are your phone calls your information? Are they Verizon's? What about the recipients of the calls? The answer isn't remotely clear, which is why this debate is just a bunch of flailing of pre-O'ism ideologies. There's little to be gained from such gyrations.

Don't let it be said that S. can't take a side, however: I am solidly against the NSA in this (and almost every) case. While I don't know where to draw the privacy line exactly, I know where it generally lies, and that is way, way, way back behind where the NSA/Bush/Obama like to operate. So I guess that's a half-win for the L-O'ists this time. Congratulations, your certificate is in the mail.

Disagreeably yours,

S. Misanthrope

P.S. Hi NSA! Obama sucks.